Is Thomas Hawk a First-Rate Jerk?

[6/30/2017 UPDATE: One of the parties named in this article contacted me. And I have decided to change his name, in the interest of fairness and after listening to his story and given that this incident was ten years ago and everyone has the right to move forward.]

Thomas Hawk is at it again. But this time, he’s determined to smear a man’s reputation based on his own decidedly subjective account.

For those who haven’t followed Hawk’s blog, Hawk is a San Francisco photographer who campaigns against institutions wishing to ban photography. If a building or a museum won’t let him shoot a photo, he blogs about it. He uploads photos of those who wouldn’t let him snap shots, and fires back shots with impunity.

He’s been doing this for some time. Sifting through Hawk’s blog, Hawk’s unalienable right to take photos are often more frequent than the photos.

Now Hawk’s target is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Or rather a man named Klimt. Hawk was taking photos under an open photographic policy. There was an altercation. He was kicked out. It’s clobbering time. Hawk initially called Horace Klimt, its Director of Visual Relations, “a first rate asshole” and published a photo of Klimt. He later replaced “asshole” with “jerk.”

As someone who has had to persuade a few folks with chips on their shoulders that my podcasting equipment isn’t intended for terrorist purposes, I can sympathize with Hawk to some extent. While most proprietors I’ve encountered in my podcasting adventures have been friendly and permitted me to conduct an interview (some of them becoming so fascinated with the conversation that they’ve asked for the URL), there have been a few petulant managers who have remained hostile to the idea of a room or a table being used for unanticipated purposes. They have made unreasonable efforts to eject me. But I have not named these names. After all, maybe the manager was having a bad day. Maybe the manager has been screamed at by somebody else and the manager is taking this out on me. At the end of the day, I figure that the podcasts will trump these inconveniences. But in a few cases, reason (and bountiful tips) has won out, and I’ve returned to the establishment for another interview.

What troubles me about the Hawk contretemps is how Hawk and his acolytes are so willing to crucify Klimt when Hawk hasn’t once suggested that his own conduct may have been one of the reasons that things escalated this far. Unlike monologuist Mike Daisey, who showed real class in trying to contact the individuals who walked out of his show and poured water on his notes, Hawk hasn’t even tried to open up a broader debate by directly contacting SFMOMA. To give you some sense of the outcry, a commenter at the SFist writes, “If Klimt read this SFist article, he just soiled his pants and will be out of a job by Monday,” taking apparent glee in this shitstorm.

This is not a case where the offense comes from a third party. This is a situation in which we have only Hawk’s word to go by. But what of Klimt himself? It’s not as if Klimt has a high-traffic Web page or runs a major newspaper outlet in which he can respond to Hawk’s charges. Does he even have an online presence? Is this really a fair battle? Many have remarked upon this incident, but nobody has thought to contact Klimt to get his side of the story.

If Klimt had a history of banning photographers from SFMOMA when the museum keeps an open policy towards photography, then I might be one of the first people in line to criticize his actions. If there was video of the exchange presenting unimpeachable evidence that Klimt was out of line, then I’d be more inclined to cite this as another example of free speech being muzzled in a post-9/11 age. But this is only one incident, perhaps poorly handled by both men. And the broader debate about artistic expression has been lost in the skirmish.

Hawk’s blunt words about Klimt seem unreasonable to me. It makes the blog medium look bad. Hawk is unwilling to suggest that he may have been wrong, and his undiplomatic efforts here suggest that he is more interested in being a half-baked martyr than an activist. Hawk was just as autocratic in his grievances as Klimt was in kicking Hawk out of the museum. And it makes bloggers look like the first-rate assholes that the mainstream media continues to portray them as. In an age when Jason Fortuny humiliates people by invading their privacy, there are vital questions that must be asked.


  1. Just to clarify: I think you’re right about the implications here. Hawks’ response to his perceived mistreatment — to blog about it and cause a huge public stink without first approaching museum management with a regular complaint — is clearly immature and attention-seeking, and it does give bloggers a bad name. These are not the standards to which we aspire.

  2. Actually, Mr. Hawks’ account of this incident has the ring of truth. I’ve had one interaction with Mr. Klimt (not as a photographer) and it was not pleasant. It was a small thing: I had a complaint about a guard, who had treated me rudely in one of the galleries above, and Mr. Klimt just blew me off in the most blatant and condescending way. It actually made me feel worse than the interaction I was complaining about. He was just arrogant. It was plain he didn’t take me seriously and wanted me to leave, which to me seems like pretty lame manners, not to mention poor customer service. The net effect was to make me avoid him on subsequent visits. My experience was small, and consists of one brief incident, but for me it’s perfectly believable that Mr. Klimt might lose it in spectacular fashion were his authority challenged.

  3. I think this kind of thing he does (posting pictures of people who ask him to stop taking pictures) will do absolutely nothing to further his cause, and may in fact lead to the opposite. Inviting the wrath of the internet down on someone’s head is a really immature and obnoxious thing to do. Especially because you have no idea who is going to go out and do really awful annoying things in the name of “justice”.

    Thank you for posting on this, Ed. Since you are a guy who doesn’t mince words and sometimes pisses people off, I was curious to see where you would come down on this.

  4. I’m a photographer and don’t like the sensationalist way thay thos incident has been reported on Toms blog.

    I think the biggest issue is that “Thomas” (ironically not his real name) chooses to name people that he feels are in the wrong. Trial without jury.

    If he really wanted to further the cause of photographers the article would have been about the Museum’s policy being unclear or something along those lines… and may have resulted in a less guarded response from the SFMOMA.

    I hope the SFMOMA continue to allow photography – but wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t… people like Tom don’t know where to draw the line.

  5. “Hawk hasn’t even tried to open up a broader debate by directly contacting SFMOMA.”

    Well from the attitude he allegedly received from Klimt, who didn’t want to discuss or see the photo’s why would Tom think he would receive any different attitude from the other management.

    It’s like the police investigating the police, it simply doesn’t work. And from the official MOMA response it’s quite clear they simply have closed ranks and espoused that Klimt was right because they say so. I doubt they reven reviewed the situation.

    How about some CCTV footage from MOMA to clear it up.. probably wouldn’t be favorable for them so they wont release that.

  6. forsure! Thomas Hawk is completely talentless has the worst photo composition and lighting techniques i have ever viewed. (does this guy concider himself a pro?)

  7. gotta love stumbling on these comments and reading what people who were never present for an event have to say about things. my favorite part is how certain you all are, regardless of your side, about what happened. totally laughable. especially the comments made by people who don’t like hawk. you’re the funniest and most misguided of all.

    anyway, i had the distinctly unpleasant advantage of being there and witnessing the strange unfolding of things. klimt behaved as though he were an obnoxious little boy with too much power and not enough mature intelligence to understand his own behavior. he was literally bordering on spiritual obscenity. i think that’s why hawk originally blogged about it calling him an asshole before changing it to first class jerk.

    oh, and for someone to say that hawk is completely talentless as a photographer is one of the funniest misperceptions a genuine person could possibly lodge. you’d have to be a mentally and visually impaired idiot to think that thomas hawk’s photography sucks. his range is hands down amazing and his skills are something anyone who shoots a lot would be envious of possessing. and, further, he has kick ass equipment and carries it with him at all times.


  8. […] Hawk has had his share of controversy. And some may say that he is over-promoted on Google+ (my God, over a million people circling […]

  9. Just stumbled on this post…..but Andrew Peterson (aka Thomas Hawk) has a lot of history with this kind of behaviour, and since a particularly viscous online attack on a famous photographer in 2011, now seems to have suddenly stopped the hate posts published on his blog…..

    If you google ‘thomas hawk jay maisel’ you will find links to Andrew Peterson’s last hurrah in his numerous and viscous online hate campaigns against people who couldn’t or didn’t know how to defend themselves.

    Jay Maisel is one of the most respected photographers in the world in his particular field and Andrew Peterson operating under the pseudonym of Thomas Hawk embarked on a dark, relentless and viscous online attack on Maisel.

    Unknown to Andrew Peterson (aka thomas hawk) at the time, Maisel knew how to defend himself against this online thug.

    Andrew Peterson suddenly stopped the hate and removed all traces of this hate campaign from his blog. I do think though, that this is in the public interest to know what happened, and has been documented elsewhere on the web, although most of the poison that Thomas Hawk wrote has now been deleted by Hawk himself, but the residue will remain on the internet for the whole of eternity.

    Check out the google links for ‘thomas hawk jay maisel’ They make sad but interesting reading.

  10. Thomas Hawk is a scumbag douchebag…I have told it to his face and he whompered like the soluless pussy bitch that he is

  11. Thomas Hawk was always whining about how people prevented him from taking photos. Poor little Tommy is unfairly tortured everywhere he goes.

    It’s funny since I’ve rarely had problems and I’ve taken plenty of photos. Maybe because I don’t take photos in private spaces where people say or post requests that photos aren’t allowed. Maybe because I have some respect for others and am not a belligerent tool. The poor little angry Tommy schtick got old.

    I hope he has stepped back and gotten some professional help since it might serve him in the future and make life better for those who have to deal with this blowhard. Maybe he’d be a bit happier, too. He is someone I’m glad I never got to know well, though I ran across his giant ego on Flickr a few times.

  12. You should see his behaviour on Flickr….unfathomable…that this kind of people are not banned outright from flickr and their accounts deleted…but he is friends with smugmug , flickr’s new owner, and this gives him a free ride

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