Is the Fashion Industry Sexist Towards Female Photographers?

Is the Fashion Industry Sexist Towards Female Photographers?

“In 2017, just 13.7 percent of magazine covers from the top 10 American fashion publications were photographed by women,” according to Erin Cunningham of Refinery29, and yet, according to the 2010 United States Census, the female population of the United States is 50.8 percent. So, why are there so few women shooting the covers of fashion magazines?

“It’s time that changed,” according to Cunningham. She reached out to female fashion photographers for her article “30 Female Photographers Sound Off on Fashion’s Gender Imbalance” to get their views on the industry and why there aren’t more females shooting the covers of fashion magazines. After all, most fashion magazines are directed to the female consumer. Sure, there are magazines like GQ and Maxim that are focused to the male reader. But the majority of fashion magazines are aimed at the female consumer and female fashion. There is a saying in photography "that to be good at shooting your subject, you need to know your subject." If this is truly the case, wouldn’t it make sense that more women photographers should be shooting for the fashion industry? After all, the magazines are featuring female models wearing women’s clothing. Surely, a female photographer can better relate to the model and the product the model is showcasing.

Photographer Amand Charchian is quoted in Cunningham’s article: “I find women have an amazing capacity for empathy and connection that is conducive to prescient and timely content creation.” So, why aren’t the fashion magazines and ultimately the fashion houses demanding that more women photographers be used if they do in fact have these amazing capacities? Wouldn’t these capacities aid the photographer in developing photos that connect even more strongly with the female consumer? Isn’t a female photographer better suited for the job? “Women have a very sensitive vision: they go deep beyond the surface, they try to understand situations and personalities, and they are quite honest,” Carlotta Manaigo is quoted as saying in Cunningham’s article.

Is this true that women would make better fashion photographers? Honestly, I don’t know. I tend to believe that every photographer incorporates a part of themselves in their work and who they are is developed by the lives they have lead. So, perhaps being female aids the female fashion photographer and is an asset that male fashion photographers don’t have. If that is true, then maybe the number of female photographers shooting the covers of fashion magazines should be higher. However, Cummingham seems to imply in her opening statement that the percentage of female shot covers doesn’t match with the female population of our society.

I believe that the final product should speak for itself. We should be less concerned with what type of person shot the photo and more interested in the numerous facets of the photo. I especially like this quote from Daria Kobayashi Ritch: “For me, it’s not so much about male versus female, but giving everyone an equal voice.” Ritch goes on to say: “We should strive to give everyone a chance to share their views and stories, because the first step to understanding one another is listening and seeing life from each other’s perspective.”

Ritch’s sentiment that everyone should be given an equal chance is the foundation the photography industry and the fashion industry should strive for. That doesn’t mean the results are always going to come out similar with a 50/50 split between male and female photographers. It means that everyone should have the chance to have their work evaluated solely on the quality of their work and not on some category the photographer may or may not fall into.

This doesn’t only apply to male versus female but rather for every category that humans put each other into. Why even place labels on each other? If the fashion industry is genuinely discriminating against female photographers, then shame on them. But if the yardstick merely is percentages, then that is not the same as “everyone should have a chance to have their work evaluated solely by the quality of their work."

Log in or register to post comments

27 Comments

David Pavlich's picture

There's a couple of ways to prove that there's a bias. First, get someone to admit it and you know that's not going to happen.

Second, do a blind test of photographs that are considered cover photography class. No name on the photos, not even EXIF data. Have a panel of editors pick the best and the worst and let the chips fall where they may.

What's difficult to understand that if the vast majority of the publications are geared toward the ladies, who is it that's making the cover photo choices? Is it men or women? I don't know, that's why I'm asking the question. Are the magazines run by men or women? Again, I don't know.

Is there a belief that men are better photographers than women in the fashion world? Don't know. At some point, though, someone or some entity is going to have to go beyond just demanding that more women be featured as the cover shooter. I'm of the school that believes the best should be awarded. If it's the women, then they should be the cover shooters.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I think you would find the above test irrelevant as at the top level clients generally aren’t hiring on portfolio. Everyone in that space has an amazing portfolio.

Hiring happens mostly based on relationships, track record, connections, etc.

There may be bias, there may not be. Most likely a bit of both or either depending on which company but I would expect that ultimately a big part of it is that men tend to be more assertive in pursuing those opportunities.

There are certainly sexist strongholds in the industry just as there are racist ones and ageist ones but the picture isn’t a clear cut line. Rather it is muddled and varied.

There is also something to point out that photography aside the majority of arts majors are female while the majority of business majors are men. This suggests a pattern (albeit not ubiquitous) that women, on average, may be investing in more artistic vision and development while the men may be further investing in the business aspect of the craft. This could lead to situations where female photogs, on average have an advantage in artistic quality while the male photographers, on average, have an advantage in the business side of things. I imagine the latter actually leads to a competitive advantage in commercial markets though.

David Pavlich's picture

I certainly can't argue any of this because I don't know. As I said, the best should be rewarded. The problem is, you can't snap your fingers and command that 50% +1 cover photographers MUST be women.

From what you've said, it's something that's been for a LONG time for whatever reason. If what you say is so, then it's up to the ladies to assert themselves and I'm all for it. But I'll never be for some sort of quota system to change percentages. It's no way to get what's best for anyone.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Yup, ultimately it should be the quality of the service offered by the photographer (quality of the work being part of this, but not the only defining characteristic).

Kirk Darling's picture

Most (if not darned near all) of the editors making the selections of photographers are women themselves.

Why aren't these women selecting more women?

"13.7 percent of magazine covers from the top 10 American fashion publications were photographed by women,” according to Erin Cunningham of Refinery29, and yet, according to the 2010 United States Census, the female population of the United States is 50.8 percent."

Yeah, that's a great argument if you believe photographers for magazine covers should be drawn at random from the general population.

And cover is only one page out of 100+ inside? What about editorials?

Or people could stop giving a s*** about what people wear and the problem will solve itself.

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

Honestly, isn't the fashion industry sexist towards all females anyways?

Kirk Darling's picture

Aren't most of those magazine editors women? The editors of Vogue are, and I'm sure they could have taken the lead.

William Howell's picture

Who cares if they’re the sexiest female photographers or not, as long as they do a good job!
You’re not even going to see them they are behind the camera.
I can’t believe we’re talking about the sexiest women photographers, it’s 2018, people!

Cristian Perotti's picture

It is a sarcastic comment right?

William Howell's picture

Yeah it’s my attempt at humor, what do you think?

Ken Flanagan's picture

Girls are sexist. I can’t even order a coffee without the catcalls at Starbucks. It’s gross. It’s not my fault I look good in fall colors, but I’m like “yo my eyes are up here”, but if I want a job shes like “sorry I was looking for a different kind of candidate” and we all know what that means.

Studio 403's picture

I have never understood what “sexist’s mean? Sexism is what? I just have to question all rhetoric all this buzz words, and so what? I want to chose whom I want to chose regardless of someone’s perspective.what we are talking about is envy or jealously. So what? . No one else business what I do. No one has rights to my work. Who I hire is one of anyone business . Chill ladies and gentleman. I get passed over a lot , I am 300 pls lbs. I am the one is the problem. Grow up my FS friends, No more big deals. Your will and will not be chosen for a project on skill alone. Some folks just don’t like me. I press the button and move on. Big deal. That’s my Wend rant . Lets not be bleeding hearts for every issue that marches down 5th ave.

Jeff McCollough's picture

If you are a good photographer and know how to market yourself and maintain good business relationships with people then you won't have this problem.

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

You know which other industry sexist towards women? Laying bricks and fishing lobsters.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Why don't women fight for their rights in those industries?

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

Women only want to get the good stuff but not paying for dinner on the first date, being left behind on the sinking ship, lift heavy stuff at work (which is not part of your work), having raised bar in sports, etc.

Georgi Andinov's picture

Top working fashion photographers at the moment are Charlotte Wales, Harley Weir, Jackie Nickerson, Lea Colombo, Coco Capitan...
SO... NO?

This is an illogical conclusion to the statement “In 2017, just 13.7 percent of magazine covers from the top 10 American fashion publications were photographed by women,” ..."female population of the United States is 50.8 percent. So, why are there so few women shooting the covers of fashion magazines?" What relationship is there between the general population and how many of the top 10 American fashion photographers were women? Presently most population gender ratios are determined by biological happenstance of genetic material at fertilization. Choice of jobs is a social, economic matter that has zero to do with gender diversity. Trying to force a 50:50 ratio in society of job functions is likely going to produce negativiry by thise who wish to freely choose rheir jobs or who they wish to hire.

Miha S's picture

Commies never learn

Allow me to propose, solely for the sake of open and honest discussion, the following logic:
That biologically, this being a nature/evolution type of argument, basic human behavior has until now been driven (and perhaps, despite many fervent arguments against, continues to be so) by things other than choice or enlightenment only. As that would apply here, the point being made is that women's "fashion" is and always has been, at its most base level, geared to influencing/teasing/titillating the male's mind, not other females or the subject herself. If tested, the theoretical would be something like this; if it was possible to have a civilization identical to ours in all ways excepting that there would be no males in this civilization, would there even be "fashion" as we're discussing it here?

Might this simplistic reasoning explain why fashion photography was and continues to be a male dominated vocation?

Please, I'm positing an honest anthropological argument here, not a sexist one. So, trolls, don't misunderstand and turn this into a shitstorm of sexist accusation, OK?

Michael Connor's picture

Isn't the fashion industry sexist as a whole?

Davide Giaroli's picture

"In 2017, just 13.7 percent of magazine covers from the top 10 American fashion publications were photographed by women,” "the female population of the United States is 50.8 percent."
But what percentage of Fashion Photographers are female? I don't know, but assume they are the 5% of the Fashion Photographers in the market, that would mean women have more chance to shoot for covers. It depends on how much female photographers are, not how much women live in the united state.
I work in the video industry and I was in NY for Boss Fashion Show last week. All the camera operators were men except one. Are we sexist? No, simply the large majority of camera operators are men.

Is fstoppers sexist toward female photographers? I just thumbed through the first 20 featured photos at the bottom of the page and only 2 of the first 20 (10%) were by female photographers.