Women in Photography – Gender (In)Equality
The issue of women’s success (or lack of!) in photography has always bothered me: surely it isn’t merely a capability problem? Some of the statistics on this are pretty shocking. An article from three years ago found that only 5% of the pictures used by leading photography publishers are taken by women, and only a tiny 2% of photographers on the books at most commercial agencies are women. Most recently, from the British Journal of Photography, we are told that 80% of photography graduates are women, yet only 15% of professional photographers are women and a whopping 8 out of 9 award winners are men. According to PDN online, a quick count of fine art photographers represented by New York galleries showed only 30% of them were women.
So, what’s going on? One could argue that this goes way back into the arts in general, with its history of excluding women from its professional dominions. Throughout history, by and large, women have been seen as the objects of art, not the means, and the narrative rarely describes them as the ‘genius’ creator. Little has changed: the desirable bodies on display in art, photography, TV and publishing are ubiquitous (just look at the number of female nudes in many photography sharing sites and how many ‘likes’ they receive). A quick glance at various published photography journals and magazines showed that 8 out of 18 had a woman on the cover while only one featured a man.
Perhaps most shockingly, was 2017’s Nikon Asia’s faux pas where they announced their brand ambassadors for their new Nikon camera and all 32 were men. Not only that, but in the launch, they presented a topless model for the ambassadors to shoot. From this we can see that success in photography, borne out by figures from other big brands ambassadors (Canon UK’s 2019 ambassadors have 25 women out of a total of 83), is still very much a boy’s club and it’s not because there aren’t very talented women photographers out there.
Women in photography are passionate about their art and in many cases are enjoying the freedom that freelance photography gives them. I for one, am making my love for photography work for me, around being a full time mum. It’s not been easy either. I’ve lost a job recently because I couldn’t complete the commission in the time scale because my working days are shorter to allow for school drop off and pick up and the relentless after school clubs. But that’s my choice and it allows me to find a balance between my personal and professional life.
On a positive note, women have cornered the market in new-born, maternity and family photography. Perhaps it’s because it’s the mums who would usually book these and so they like to have a female photographer with more of a maternal instinct, perhaps it’s because women have a more instinctive feel for what other women want in their photo albums and frames. But it shows that women are more than capable of producing high quality work with technical know-how.
Alex Cooke from FStoppers sums up his thoughts succinctly in his article, ‘Is Photography Overrun by White Males?’…
‘When photographs disproportionately carry the collective consciousness and culture of a specific group, they in turn disproportionately bias their consumers toward that group's ideas on anything from sexuality to social habits. Culture feeds into art feeds into culture. Culture feeds into advertising feeds into culture. Culture feeds into journalism feeds into culture.’ So, maybe the boys club is pretty deeply ingrained in photography and the world around us.
There is change happening though, and with more awareness, there will come more change. It’s not that male photographers are in the wrong, it’s a whole shift in attitude that needs to occur from buyers to galleries to big brands to publishers.
So perhaps the answers in gender equality in photography, which are undoubtedly there, stem from historic attitudes, further compounded by modern societal views. One thing is for sure, there are some awesome women photographers out there and we should stand shoulder to shoulder, heads proud for getting to wherever we have got to in this ‘man’s world’…
Check out these famous women photographers;