Olympus has produced a beautiful series of videos on YouTube whereby its ambassadors visit some stunning locations, exploring Lapland, Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Namibia. What’s noticeable is that all of the Olympus Xplorers are men.
As an industry, photography has a reputation for being male-dominated, and this is reflected in some of the major manufacturers occasionally forgetting that half of their potential market is in fact female. Just over a year ago, Nikon presented a team of 32 photographers as the face of the Nikon D850, but failed to include a single woman. Unlike its Instagram, this Olympus campaign seems to be of a similar attitude: the Xplorers series on YouTube revolves around the heroic image-making achievements of men. Across the various videos, one or two women have a very brief presence, holding a camera for split second, but otherwise spectating as men discuss maps or light fires, and then posing to be photographed. Ultimately, it reinforces the stereotype that men are active and achieve things, while women are passive and, when included, are there simply to look pretty.
In stark contrast, the outdoor industry — a sector that’s arguably perhaps a little more progressive in its attitudes towards gender — is up to speed with the fact that women are equally capable of going on adventures. This is a realization that has largely been driven by greater recognition of equality and women’s increased spending power. To a frequent consumer of outdoor industry-related media, the way that Olympus is perpetuating stereotypical gender norms with its Xplorers series feels strangely out of place.
The photography industry seems to be a little slower when it comes to understanding gender politics, and while it may seem that the overwhelming majority of photographers are men, the numbers don’t necessarily agree. These statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor suggest that of 205,000 photographers, 47.7 percent are women. When you also take into consideration the fact that women account for 85 percent of all consumer purchases, you have to question why so much of photography’s media is geared deliberately towards men and is at times markedly sexist. I’ve lost count of the number of male photography YouTube gurus who are perfectly happy to present themselves as technically skilled, all-knowing fonts of wisdom while female models stand awkwardly alongside, not speaking, often unnamed, offering some flesh for an audience that is assumed to be unable to make it through a video if there isn’t something pretty to look at.
In its defense, Olympus’s Instagram account is a different story, featuring several well-established female outdoors photographers. Perhaps its YouTube department simply needs to catch up.