Is Your Tumblr Blog or Facebook Page Helping or Hurting Geisha and Maiko?
I realize this is a very long post, but you will read to the end if you sincerely care about geisha and maiko. A few weeks ago I was contacted by people who wanted me to know there was a page on Facebook that was posting my images without my permission and without giving me credit.
I started to investigate, and I discovered that there are several Facebook pages devoted to geisha and maiko, and several Tumblr blogs as well.
I looked a little deeper, and I found that people on different blogs and pages were involved in a war of words over the theft of images of geisha and maiko. Some people were accusing others of stealing images because they were posting the photos on their blog or page without giving the photographers credit.
There was a lot of back and forth about who was right and who was wrong, and of course Blog A's followers were telling him that he was right, and Page B's fans were telling her that she was right.
As far as I can tell, none of these people actually asked any of the photographers like me whose photos were on these blogs and pages if they could use our images or not.
I can't speak for others, but I have certainly never received a request from anyone to post my images somewhere else, and I will write about this in a follow-up post next Sunday, December 9.
As a photographer, I am very concerned about copyright infringement and image theft, but as a photographer of geisha and maiko in Kyoto for more than ten years now, I am just as concerned about the way geisha and maiko are perceived and portrayed.
I am concerned because I know the geiko and maiko themselves are concerned, as are the owners of okiya and ochaya (the places where geiko and maiko live and entertain, respectively), and the people in the offices that run each geisha district.
Everyone I have ever spoken to who plays some role in the geisha districts is concerned about how geisha and maiko are portrayed in the world outside, especially how they are portrayed in Western countries, where there are several completely inaccurate and demeaning stereotypes of what geisha and maiko are.
Since these people have allowed me into their homes and businesses to photograph them, I share their concern and have done everything I can to portray geisha and maiko accurately and honestly.
I wonder if the people who have blogs and pages dedicated to geisha and maiko share this concern. I hope they do, and I realize that most of them have not had the opportunities I have had to speak with geiko, maiko, and their okasan.
So, I have a few things I'd like people to keep in mind if they are serious about having sites that portray geiko and maiko accurately and positively and do not accidentally belittle and degrade them.
Most importantly, I hope people understand that geiko and maiko see themselves as symbols of Japanese culture. They are carrying on traditions that have been lost or forgotten in most parts of modern Japanese society, and they work very, very hard to learn and maintain these traditions.
As a result, when someone who doesn't know any better mentions geisha and maiko in connection to prostitution or other sexual themes, that person is not only insulting the women themselves but also traditional Japanese culture as a whole.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening on some of these Tumblr blogs. Two weeks ago I posted an image here, and someone posted the image on their Tumblr blog. I was surprised to see that there were more than 100 notes connected to my photo, and I clicked on them to see what they were.
As soon as I saw some of the names of the other Tumblr blogs that had reblogged my photo, I started to cringe. I'm not going to put any of those names here, but let's just say they were full of sexual connotations and that many people would find them inappropriate at best and disgusting at worst.
I became even more horrified when I followed the link to one of these Tumblr blogs with a "colorful" name. I found my image of a maiko on the page, and all around it were images that any geiko or maiko would be humiliated by. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but it doesn't matter.
The person who had surrounded my image of a maiko with images containing graphic sexual content is belittling and degrading geisha and maiko whether they realize it or not.
This person did not visit my website or blog and copy the image. The original source for his link was another Tumblr blog, and I checked again today and I found that almost every Tumblr blog connected to geisha and maiko has links to photos of geiko and maiko posted on other Tumblr blogs with content that any geiko or maiko would be humiliated by.
This is not helping geisha and maiko. It is hurting them.
I realize any image posted on the Internet can be copied almost anywhere. All we can do is try to educate people who might not know when they are doing something offensive and not make it easy for them.
So, I am asking anyone with a Tumblr Blog or Facebook page or any other site: Don't let your site be a gateway for the humiliation of geisha and maiko, at least not with my photos and preferably with nobody else's.
If you can block these people from reblogging or liking an image, do so. If you cannot, please stop copying my photos to your site. In my opinion, you are not helping geisha and maiko. You are hurting them.