Nikon's recent choice to promote the new D850 with a pro team of 32 men has started waves of conversation of gender inequality in the arts. During the uproar, I received a few messages requesting for me to share my own experiences that are unique to being a female photographer. Whether we like to admit it or not, America is pretty far from complete gender equality. Many are surprised to learn that the accepting arts industry isn't an exception to the current gender norms. As to not a let male-dominated industry intimidate me, I try to ignore the upsetting gender-specific challenges I face. But there are a few too hard to ignore as they're present in my life daily.
When I first started to pursue photography as a career in Atlanta, I didn't notice many differences as a woman. That all changed when I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, a city with a drastically smaller arts industry than I had become accustomed to. Ironically, it was the man that I relocated to work for, Clay Cook, who taught me the most about the adversity I was going to face as a woman in this industry and what it would take for me to plow through it. During a crew lunch following one of my first shoots with Clay we chatted about our weaknesses and goals. My memory isn't the best but I will never forget the words he spoke to me that day. Like every day working with Clay, I learned a lot, but it was one simple sentence that I am reminded of all too often today. With the utmost seriousness, he looked at me and said, "It”s going to be really hard for you as a woman Gabi.” No one could have prepared me for the year to follow that would prove just how right he was that day.
"You Should Try Modeling"
I hear this at least once a day; I am being told to do various things instead of photography. This has happened to me at the bar, the grocery store, doctors offices, photography conventions, my own photo shoots, and even weddings where I was the photographer. Before people even see a single piece of my work, they don't believe or approve of what I've shared with them. Because how could the thin woman wearing makeup and a dress in front of them be a professional photographer? Being the way that I am, I have to prove myself, I always ask these people to add me on Facebook right there. They always send me a request and react with an “Oh wow you're actually good“ or similar in attempts to make up for the judgments based on my gender they just made. This is just a small example of the heavy tension I am constantly against as a female in a world I'm not meant to be in. And of course, even after proving myself for years, that I could completely fend for myself, my father still doesn't understand what I'm doing. He has said that what I am aiming to accomplish is "too hard" and suggests other places I could work. To this day I am fighting to prove that this is what I should be doing and will do forever, both to strangers and my own family, something men don't have to worry about proving on a daily basis everywhere they go.
I Took My Gender Out of My Social Media
To detach my gender from my work and to sweep it under the rug, I stopped posting images of myself, something Clay suggested I do to be taken more seriously in spite of being female. Sadly, it worked, people began to appreciate my work once they were no longer getting stuck at the initial shock that this tiny woman created it. Now when you do come across a post with me in it, my back might be turned or my face covered and behind the scenes, images went from being of me in action to photos of my camera.
Always Wearing Some Sort of Camouflage
I respond to many comments where followers mistake me for being a man and it's pretty funny. I've even met random social media followers in person who have tilted their heads in confusion or disappointment when they realize I'm a female. In attempts to neutralize peoples reactions to me, I make sure to put together outfits that aren't too girly when I wake up every day. I’ve come to realize that for some reason the more feminine I look, the younger and less experienced I seem to people I shake hands with. When I walk out my door in a nice dress and shiny shoes I rarely make any promising business connections. But when I throw on jeans, a leather jacket and boots with my hair slicked back, I am treated drastically different. Even though I am the same artist and businesswoman while wearing a dress, because of my gender I have to provide reassurance with a tough physical appearance.
It's a bit unnerving for me to look back on the girl at lunch a year and a half ago because back then I had no idea I'd have to evolve tremendously, solely to make up for the disadvantages my gender causes me. I got tough, courageous, vigorous, or according to my thesaurus: ”manly” is what I became. The only real difference there is to being a woman in the industry is that on top of perfecting our craft we have to learn how to be a man.
Images used with permission.