In Sept 2017 there were howls of outrage when Nikon Asia released a list of their 32 new brand ambassadors spanning Australia, Asia, the Middle East, & Africa. Why? They were all men. In their defence, Nikon did release a statement to say that they had contacted some women but they were all too busy. Unsurprisingly, Nikon’s 2016 Annual Report revealed that just 10% of their workforce was female. The lack of diversity in their workforce perhaps going some way to explain how they managed to commit such a media faux pas.
Historically the world of photography, at least publicly, has been dominated by men. In her TED Talk - The Female Lens, American photographer Jill Greenberg cites that there are far more women graduating from art & photography programmes all over the world (around 80%) yet
“for around 90% of the images that blanket our media landscape, from billboards to magazine covers, it’s a male photographer behind the lens. Almost all the images we see are filtered through a man’s lens, from his point of view”.
Our whole culture and society is primarily determined through mens eyes.
This dominance of the male gaze was the impetus behind Daniella Zalcman founding Women Photograph. Its aim is to redress gender disparities in photojournalism (only 15% of news photographs published are by women) through making available a database of more than 850 woman documentary photographers across 99 countries and supporting women in the industry with funding, mentoring and travel grants. The need for a more balanced approach in photojournalism is clear. A variety of voices and backgrounds mean more rich, more nuanced, more diverse storytelling. More representative of society as a whole. As Daniella states
“ There is a huge diversity problem in the photojournalism industry, and that's dangerous. This is less an issue of affirmative action and more about making sure that we're being responsible journalists… we can’t continue to represent the world to the general public through the eyes of only white men.”
The gender deficit in the arts spreads much further than just photography. Take museum fine art collections. Despite 74% of Fine Art graduates being women, the amount of work on display by women in our galleries and museums is woefully low. In recent years the Tate has allocated just 13% of its budget towards works by women whilst a report by the University of Luxembourg outlined that affluent men (the main buyers of art) consistently rate women artists lower than their male counterparts. This happens even when women’s names were randomly assigned to pieces of art. To give some context, Helen Gorill, in the course of researching her book - Women Can’t Paint: Gender, the Glass Ceiling and Values in Contemporary Art found that when men’s artwork is signed, it goes up in value; conversely when work by women is signed, it goes down in value, and the addition of a woman’s signature can devalue artwork to the extent that female artists are more likely to leave their work unsigned. Societal sexism at its most stark.
If in any doubt about the pace of change in this area (or lack of), the recent members exhibition showcasing the best of British photojournalism by The British Press Photographer’s Association (The BPPA) is dominated by men - 92% to be exact. In a lively twitter debate on the lack of female representation, one of the two female judges indicated that the problem was not with what the curators picked it was down to the lack of women entering. This is undoubtedly an issue and deserves further scrutiny.
In landscape photography, competitions are almost exclusively the domain of men. I recently published a list of notable outdoor and landscape photography competitions (including Scottish Landscape photographer of the Year, Landscape Photographer of the Year/ Outdoor Photographer of the Year/ Scottish Nature photographer of the Year/ Nature Photographer of the Year/ Weather Photographer of the Year) and the award winners as far back as I could trace on Instagram. Not one was a woman.
Data on the balance of male versus female entrants is not available (though it would be great if it were - giving a benchmark for assessing progress in increasing participation) but the perception is that the majority of entrants are men.
Looking at it it’s hardly surprising then that women don’t think photography competitions are for them. When I shared this information on Instagram feedback included:
“…[There’s] a feeling that there’s a type of ‘blokey’ image (has to be taken from the most remote place up a mountain, in a snow storm, at 4am) that tends to do well. You start to recognise that sort”.
“…these things aren’t as anonymous as they claim to be. The judges know people and they know where people have been and I do think there is more than a bit of insider dealing goes on. By that I don’t mean that anyone cheats, just the judges think ‘I recognise that, it looks like Joe Bloggs work, he’s a good guy, let’s reward it. So the same names win and that makes it even more off-putting to enter”.
But many women also cited lack of confidence to enter competitions. They felt that women didn’t make it anywhere in competitions, that you had to be part of the ‘boys club’ to stand a chance of competing and cited a lack of female role models. This stopped them entering in the first place. Some respondents referred to the Hewlett Packard internal report carried out to identify why more women weren’t in senior management positions which found that:
“Women working at Hewlett Packard applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements”.
Suggesting that perhaps women’s confidence or lack of plays a part.
Photography competitions might not be everyone’s cup of tea but they can play a role in both:
Your professional development. (By increasing discipline, exposing you to feedback from your peers etc): and
Increasing your visibility thereby opening doors to more publicity and opportunities.
If women aren’t entering competitions, they aren’t getting these opportunities.
Notwithstanding this, competitions are also one of our main ways of interacting and sharing images with the general public. If the majority of images on display are taken by men, the same male dominated visual narrative is repeated.
The pace of change is slow but there are actions that we can take to accelerate this. If you are a woman, get your work out there. Show everyone your passion, grow, learn, fail and do it all again. Seek out a mentor or offer to become one. Submit your work to competitions, to magazines, to publishers. Encourage others to do the same. For everyone - look at companies that you are following on social media. For example Canon, Nikon, Sony etc. How does their Instagram grid look? Is there a good balance of male and female photographers? Ask for competitions to publish data on on the gender of entrants. This creates a baseline to improve upon.
It’s absolutely not a case of pitting men against women. It’s acknowledging that there needs to be more equal representation across society, encouraging more women to put themselves forward for opportunities, questioning why things are the way they are, asking for statistics/ information on what organisations are doing to ensure more diversity and highlighting role models and good practice.
Progress will be clear when it’s not unusual to see a woman winning one of these competitions.
Note: This is an ongoing conversation and one that I’d like to explore further. I’m keen to shed some more light on representation beyond gender and discuss diversity, or lack of, in the photo industry in terms of people of colour, both in front of and behind the lens. Again, I’m struggling with a lack of data and if there is anything here that you think might be relevant - please feel free to get in touch.