Although women were pioneers of photography

The male dominance in photography is still a fact. There is a noticeable lack of equality when it comes to commissioning, exhibiting, and publishing work. Data collected by Woman Photograph, an initiative to support and promote female photographers, shows that from April to June 2019, eight of world’s top newspapers published far fewer lead photos taken by women. The figures ranged from only 4.2% (3 out of 72 published photos) at Le Monde to 47% (44/92) in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The photojournalism business gets worse as you go deeper. The UK National Union of Journalists membership shows that the photography industry is particularly lacking in a gender balance.

In the December 2018 report on The State of News Photography, 69% of female photographers reported that they were discriminated against at work. When asked further about obstacles to success, they cited sexism (54%), industry stereotypes or practices (53%), and lack of opportunity for women (49%).

Commercial photography is not immune to biases and inequalities. There are gender imbalances in commissioned projects, membership in professional bodies, and representation. Only 18% of The Association of Photographers accredited members are women. Equal Lens, a campaign for equality in the advertising industry, found that less than 25% of commercial photographers are women.

Read more: Big data analysis reveals the staggering extent of gender inequality in creative industries.

Considering that two of photography’s earliest trailblazers – Anna Atkins and Julia Margaret Cameron – were female, this situation is extraordinary. These energetic and resourceful women paved the way for many practitioners, yet 150 years later, gender inequality in photography is still very apparent.

Snap Change?

The language and imagery of photographic advertising directed at women have historically reinforced patriarchal power structures and institutional dominance in the industry. Ads aimed at male photographers were based on the assumption that they had more technical ability and knowledge, while characters like the Kodak Girl were used to appeal to women. She was first introduced in 1893 and has been widely marketed as a symbol of female independence, freedom, and progress ever since. But the hidden meanings of phrases such as “even mum can use it” are less positive.

The statistics above show that despite the negative stereotypes, women still picked up their first cameras. However, the long-term impact of gendered communication is evident.

It’s not only about ensuring women have more and better job opportunities. According to the NUJ, “Men and women experience life differently and offer different perspectives. Yet, the idea of what makes ‘good photography’ is largely defined by men’s work. To remain relevant and to accurately reflect the communities that it reports on, the photography industry needs to be more diverse.

Women can document places and experiences that men can’t. Merla/Shutterstock

Things are improving slowly, and women and men alike are now challenging the patriarchal discourse of photography. Les Rencontres d’Arles is the most prestigious festival of photography in the world. It runs every year from July to September. In 2018, only 34% (of the photographers selected to exhibit) were women. More than 300 creative professionals sent an open letter to artistic director Sam Stourdze, criticizing the festival’s program and asking him to strive for gender equality in 2019, which marks the festival’s 50th anniversary.

Early reports indicate that these challenges do and can have a beneficial impact. This year’s program includes many more women, both emerging and established practitioners. This diversity results in a more rich and nuanced collection. The fact is, it was a challenge of the status quo that brought the issue into focus. It wasn’t something that was incorporated into the festival.

However, the type of inherent equality that is needed in this industry has started to emerge at a more grassroots level. There are now collectives like Phrame and Redeye in Manchester and Finkelstein in Melbourne, Australia, which only exhibit female artists. These galleries promise to demonstrate that more diversity leads to a richer, more nuanced, and more varied collection of visual responses.

There is more that can be done to promote the work of women photographers. Professor Adrian Hadland, a researcher in the industry, shared with NUJ’s Women in Photography Conference attendees data collected from female photographers on what can be done to improve career advancement and support for women. The most popular answer was “more assignment.” Mentorship also ranks high, and it can be a highly effective way to build confidence and develop professional networks.

These are not difficult requests. We need to be more proactive.

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