By Marie Gardiner – ‘Do you photograph weddings and families?’ they ask, eyes shining with the possibility of babies covered in cake, and happy couples.
‘No, mostly landscapes,’ I reply.
‘Oh…’ A smile stays fixed on their face while they try and think of something supportive to say. ‘That must be nice.’
I imagine them picturing me skipping through a field in a floral dress, picnic basket swinging from one hand, camera in the other. They probably don’t think of me half way up a snowy mountain on Skye in January, or ankle deep in mud trudging through the forest.
That’s okay, I don’t always ‘get’ what I do either, or find it easy to explain. I recently went to see comedian Stewart Lee’s ‘Content Provider’ show. Part of his skit was his family being unable to fully believe he makes a living as a comedian; saying in a loud, patronising-yet-supportive voice: OH YES, BECAUSE THAT’S YOUR JOB, ISN’T IT.
Bear with me here, because often this difficulty with people taking you seriously, reaches another level when you’re a woman. Now, now. Before you roll your eyes or click away, let me try to explain…
Click, Click, Bish
Photography is in general, dominated by men. When you start to get into the particular aspects of photography though, it’s even more divisive. Women, on the whole, tend to filter into very specific areas.
When it comes to things like landscape or journalism, we’re hugely out-numbered. But is it that fewer women are working in these areas, or is it a case of a) women not being able to get into them because precedence is given to men, or b) the women are there, they’re just not talked about?
To give you an example, I follow an account on Twitter called Women Photograph. Every week they post a roundup of the images in the press/media and the ratio of those taken by men, to women. Here’s last week’s (09/26/17) [all credit for the stats to Women Photograph]:
The Atlantic: 28.6%
So aside from the BBC, who are coming in at (frankly unusual) a damn near 50/50, the discrepancy between the rest is startlingly clear.
Then we move on to *that* Nikon campaign. 32 photographers chosen as ‘Brand Ambassadors’ for the new D850 and not a single woman among them. This caused a bit of an outcry, as you can imagine. I felt angry, my first camera was a Nikon D90 and I shoot now with a D800. It’s not anger at not being an Ambassador (I’m not good enough for starters!) but it’s anger that Nikon demonstrated that they don’t think women are good enough.
It also resulted in a few odd counter-arguments as to why actually this might not be sexism, so let’s address those right off the bat.
Argument 1: Women were invited but didn’t turn up.
This was, believe it or not, Nikon’s actual response to the furore that followed the release of their campaign. Well, we invited some women, but pfft, they decided not to show. I can almost picture them rolling their eyes and shrugging their shoulders in an ‘omg you know what women are like’ kinda way.
I’m not sure any of us are naive enough to believe that Nikon invited a large number of women, who by complete coincidence, all didn’t turn up. In fact, one official Nikon Ambassador posted on Twitter to state that she’d never received an invite.
It’s also puzzling to imagine how many desks this must’ve crossed to get signed off and nobody said, ‘oh wait a minute everyone, just a thought… and I know it’s silly and probably won’t matter *snort* but has anyone noticed there are no women in this picture?’
Argument 2: You just said Nikon use women as Ambassadors too, quit whining that they weren’t in one picture.
Kainaz Amaria wrote:
Of Nikon Ambassadors, 7 of 29 are women, of Canon Explorers of Light, 8 of 40 are women, of the Sony Artisans, 8 of 49 are women.
It’s an issue across the board, but it becomes even more problematic when these huge brands, with even bigger budgets, influence and reach are signalling to the world that women in photography just don’t matter as much as guys.
Argument 3: Uh, well maybe guys are just better at it and that’s why they’re more prominent.
Not even kidding, I’ve seen this presented as fact. If we assume that the list further up the page is one based on quality/ability then to assume (taking Reuters as an example) women would only make up 10% is both sexist and (if you stubbornly refuse the premise that it’s sexist) at the very least it goes against mathematical probability. Even if we accept that there are fewer women working in photography (and as I mentioned, I don’t even necessarily think that’s the case) then 10%, 13%, 15% even, is too low.
Argument 4: Shoehorning women into these roles just because they’re women is positive discrimination.
At a certain point, when discrimination or sexism is called out, the pushing back against the tide can start to feel to some, like the people benefiting from the privilege in the first place are now being discriminated against.
In reality, there would have to be a focus on women in photography, a supporting of their work, and encouragement of women moving into the profession in order for the playing field to start to be levelled.
Big brands like Nikon, Canon, Sony are the people at the top of the tree who should be supporting women in photography. After the Nikon debacle, they’re probably all around their respective boardroom meeting tables, scratching their heads and thinking about how they can capitalise on negative publicity and tick a few boxes while they’re at it.
They’ll probably come out with some campaign that on the surface, looks like it’s supporting women (hopefully they won’t do what BIC did) and that’s okay (I guess), we have to start somewhere. What would be more beneficial though, is if they sought out the best women photographers and mentors in the field and made people aware that they exist! To put funding into workshops, scholarships, programmes…. whatever, to encourage girls and young women to take up photography.
We need more supportive groups, like Women Photograph who are seeking out women in the industry and featuring them, but more importantly, making us aware of each other.
Featuring Women Landscape Photographers
So this got me thinking, it’s all well and good to write a post on a blogging site, but what can I do? For a start, I’ve followed more women photographers on Twitter. It sounds like a small thing, but before I deliberately looked for them, I didn’t come across many.
I also wanted to do some features about women in photography, so, starting with what I know, the first one will be women who photograph landscapes. If you’d like to be featured or know someone you think would, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org with:
- Name/Age/Location (you can include a picture of yourself if you want to, too)
- Short paragraph on why you photograph landscapes in particular
- A landscape image that you think best demonstrates your skills
- Any links you’d like including (website, Twitter, Instagram etc)
- Anything you can think people might like to know that I’ve not thought of!
You don’t need to be a professional photographer to be featured. If there are enough people who are interested, I’ll do another one. If nobody cares, I’ll quietly drop it and you’ll never hear about it again.
If you’ve got this far, then hopefully you are interested, even if not as a photographer… even if not as a woman; get on board, your support is valued and appreciated.
Thanks for reading, Marie.
About The Author
Marie Gardiner is a photographer and writer based in the north east of England. After completing her degree in Film & Media, she worked in media for several years as a broadcaster and web manager. Mostly, she writes educational photography articles and courses for a number of well-established, international companies but she also takes on bespoke commissions for articles and blog posts.
Marie’s first book, about the area in which she was born and grew up, called Sunderland, Industrial Giant: Recollections of Working Life is due to be published in November, by The History Press. It’s available to pre-order on Amazon now.
This piece original ran on Marie’s blog on October 3, 2017 and is republished here with her express permission.