Image Above: Cait Oppermann
WEBSITE COMING! Women in Photo…
I’m excited to announce that my friend Kimmy Fung is working on a website to house this conversation about sexism in editorial photography. The site will include links to various responses, new discussions, and a directory of working women by region.
If you’d like to be involved or make contact, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. She/we are looking for donations to cover hosting and production costs. If a handful of people donate $10, she will be set (one year is looking to cost around $100). Please email the above address to get info on making a donation. I’ll have more info as it develops.
The discussion gained traction online, most notably over at PDN Pulse and A Photo Editor. As to be expected, the comments reveal some interesting and sometimes disheartening perspectives. PetaPixel also posted a follow up response.
And from the Tumblr blogs:
Most art buyers and photo editors are female; they’re doing the hiring. Why this is, I don’t know, nor will I speculate. It is insulting to start mentioning things like “they couldn’t be photographers themselves so they became editors.” I went to London in March to meet with art buyers and met two males (practically the only ones in Europe!) who joked about having a protest to get more male art buyers into the profession. Yet females in the workplace don’t often get along. There are a lot of subtle power struggles, subconscious jealousy, and sometimes females just plain don’t like each other. A lot of this begins in junior high. Anyone who has survived junior high can attest to this. There are a few “female photographer” photo groups out there, but is there any female group that in any way compares to the supergroup of the good-looking editorial guys in their 20s and 30s who shoot everything? (You know who I’m talking about.) No. We don’t band together in the same way. And that’s fine. It’s just worth noting. In a way, I can understand why female photo editors are hiring men—there’s that playfulness in your interactions which you can pull off with someone of the opposite sex. It’s human nature. I have way more guy friends than female friends. Most of my photo assistants on big jobs are men. Why am I not hiring women either? It’s a good question. Does any of this mean I don’t get a sting when my all the cute local guy photographers 8 years younger than me are now shooting for the publications I shot for a few months ago? Or when I see the list of photographers in an issue and it’s literally all dudes? Of course not. All of these issues should be aired out and made plain, and hiring decisions should of course ultimately come from the work. But it’s naive to think that there isn’t a social dynamic that is a huge factor.
It’s no secret that there are basically mostly female photo editors and male photographers. In some ways, it’s nice to see so many women in a position to commission photographers, but to be honest, there isn’t a lot of commissioning female photographers. My saying this isn’t girl on girl hate, it’s just a fact. I couldn’t tell you why, but for some reason, it seems like photo editors are either pressured to or feel more comfortable hiring men. Repeatedly. Over and over. The same men. Men who are often wonderful photographers, but in no way more qualified or “better” than a sea of equally (if not sometimes more) talented women.
So if we can determine that it doesn’t matter what people in the hiring position think, what do we do about the fact that there is a very real imbalance between male and female photographers getting jobs in the commercial world?
My friend Pete and I were discussing the topic on a recent hike. We decided to grab as many magazines in his house as we could find, and count how many assigned shoots were done by men and how many were done by women. We tried to pick a cross section of magazines and who they were written for such as: people that love the outdoors, men’s fashion, women’s fashion, travel, etc. We counted the shoots from 5 magazines.
The following ratios reflect how many shoots were awarded to men vs. women:
6:2, 9:1, 8:0, 11:3, 10:1
I went home and counted more:
12:0, 4:4, 8:1, 12:4, 5:4, 10:4
And yes, I find that most photo editors are females which is exactly why I find it even more upsetting that males are dominating the editorial world. If photo editors feel that using female photographers would shift their aesthetic, because we don’t have that male viewpoint, then they should let their aesthetic change a bit in order to include women
Jennilee Marigomen and I have also been talking about Canada specifically, and she says:
Although the market is a smaller scale here in Canada, I can agree with a lot of the points you have made from what I see happening here, but more so in other places. Because I have a full-time job, I am not actively pursuing work with magazines, so I haven’t really experienced sexism first hand. Because there is less work here, I am always humbled when I get commissions with my aesthetic in mind.
As a side project, I work on an online magazine and receive photography submissions on a regular basis. Most of the pitches and submissions I receive are from males. Every person that has approached me about meeting to look at their portfolio has been male. I believe that I am pretty equal when it comes to commissioning and featuring work by photographers. I don’t concern myself with the gender of the artist and think that beautiful work is beautiful work. But I can only work with what is presented to me.
When I think of my favorite photographers, many of them are women. When I think of the successful female photographers I have met in different cities, they all have something in common - they are very inspiringly strong and confident women who do not shy away from sharing their work. Their work is as strong as their backbone. I guess these qualities are considered to be more masculine. They are the ones who win awards, competitions, get gallery shows, and land big clients.
I talked about this with a friend who works in the Product Design industry, also male dominated. Something he has seen over his years in Canada and Europe is that although the work can be good, there is sometimes a lack of confidence amongst some women. However, the ones who are confident stand out and the issue of them being a women is not relevant.
I agree that photography has a long history of being a boys club and there are many factors that play into this - the pigeonholed female vs the male aesthetic, favoritism, sexism, gender stereotypes, etc. All very important topics. But one thing I can agree with is that when it comes to numbers males are more aggressive when it comes to approaching art buyers and photo editors, who see hundreds of portfolios a week. And the females who I believe do the same are the ones who are successful. And I think that the people who do the hiring prefer to work with people that have a relationship.
In response to the point of female Photo Editors mainly hiring male photographers, I have almost always worked with female Photo Editors, all who have been very nice.