Are Cameras Just for Men? The Industry Needs to Change

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.

Olympus Xplorers series features active men and passive women

Screenshot from olympusXplorers in Lapland.

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.

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greg tennyson's picture

The day I show up to a gig and I'm outnumbered by women I'll issue you a public apology.

If there was a mechanism to exclude "photographers" who earn a net loss from filling out your survey I'm sure the demos would be a liiiiiitle different.

Michael Kormos's picture

Or perhaps Olympus just chose three great photographers to help market their camera?

I made an account here purely to say that this is by far the stupidest article I have ever read on this site.

Carl Murray's picture

Wow, that article is easily one of the more stupid I've read for a while.

Hahaha! Yeah, it's hard to beat.

Christos Dikos's picture

Take a look at the featured photos up top. Editor's choice, most popular; the vast majority of portraits are of women. So is modeling just for women?

Crystal Johnson's picture

Oh boy...all the nasty remarks and naysayers every time this issue comes up. Clearly it's still an issue, and it's really hard to see it from the female perspective that do in fact deal with it on a daily basis. It has nothing to do with #metoo, or forcing men out of the field. It's not about putting women above men, but women having equal footing when it comes to representation.

A lot of brands do not represent women across the board. Marketing is gender specific, and that's really nothing new. But their ambassadors are more male than female, and that is a problem when females are buying gear too. Sony opened a female ambassador program, and Jill Greenberg opened an agency for female photographers for a reason; to represent a gender that is NOT represented in this industry. Men like seeing men selling them stuff, same with women.

I'll never understand why men feel like they're being wronged when women want to be represented in this field? Are we taking something away from you by asking for professional female photographers to represent us with brands? I suppose those few 'famous' female photographers should make women happy right? I mean, a few breadcrumbs is better than nothing huh?

Clearly there's a deeper seeded issue when women are seen as 'momtographers', not technical, shoot only natural light and not good at business.... and men are just seen as photographers.If a female shoots children, well goodness, she must be a momtographer! I suppose though on the same foot we should just use GWC for any male photographer that shoots women in the nude,close to it, or posing her in provocative ways. Fair is fair after all, and there are PLENTY of men in this industry that use photography as a tool to try to score, be a creep and harass female models/photographers.

"It's not about putting women above men, but women having equal footing when it comes to representation."

"Sony opened a female ambassador program, and Jill Greenberg opened an agency for female photographers for a reason; to represent a gender that is NOT represented in this industry."

And therein lies the issue. Wanting equal footing, and then supporting women-only initiatives. You can't have both. If there was a men-only group by any major brand, heads would roll. Women-only? You're golden, because somehow it promotes equality. The height of hypocrisy.

Crystal Johnson's picture

I don't think you understand or see the reason behind the SAF or JG's agency. This field is predominantly male, and in that the handfuls of ambassadors across all brands are predominantly male. Women only initiatives are a thing right now because there IS a lack of support for women in this industry. Women DO still deal with chauvinistic commentary and blackballing when it comes to photography groups because women are seen as 'momtogs' or not serious business owners. Hell, it's been said on Fstoppers plenty of times, yet people disregard the men charging $50 for 2 hours of work! How should a woman feel when her peers are trash talking her gender in a group setting? Should she just smile and take it as something normal? Or do you think comments like the ones above, and past articles are really supportive of female photographers? Nope, not really. This is why women seek out female only groups. We want to be equal to men, but talking shit to a woman and belittling her because of her gender is not equality.

Looking over every single comment in this article, and past articles it's abundantly clear that men do not grasp the issue that surrounds this industry when it comes to gender politics. I do not mind being with either gender when it comes to groups, but I, like many other women, have felt that negativeness towards female photographers come out.

You know, it's pretty funny you say heads would roll if there were male only groups, but the thing is that, again, this field has been dominated by men for over a hundred years. Women have been locked out of groups in the past, have been pushed out of courtrooms when trying to shoot newsworthy work, have been told they cannot shoot because they are women in stadiums...but yeah I suppose it's more serious for you men not having your own groups for support I guess.

Carl Murray's picture

The comment section is gonna be a dumpster fire on this article.

While in general women drive consumer purchases, is this also right for cameras?
I have seen many women photographers doing perfect job with single camera and one, maybe 2 prime lenses, while males drool too much at every new DSLR and want to have collection of lenses they don't really need :)

Duane Klipping's picture

Funny how people can twist the simplest of things to promote their political agendas hidden by the guise of political correctness. I did not even see it this way and only focused on the product. I could of cared less who was holding it.

Really people just need to be not so uptight and realize there is not a conspiracy to only promote white male anglo saxsons.

There are plenty of people of all sexes and races who shoot with DSLR/mirrorless cameras. I see them all the time.

What's next on the PC agenda. Lack of gay men and women being represented? Why can't we just enjoy our craft with each other and stop the labels.

Angelo Duarte's picture

I exclusively purchase products and take up hobbies when I see my demographic represented. I refuse to get involved in anything unless I see a half Indian British male aged 30-35 in the advert, everyone knows if you don't see someone just like you in the advert you wouldn't be any good at it anyway.

Edgar Moskopp's picture

this is not to be seen as an excuse but as a background information:

Olympus hired the Germanroamers (a popular Instagram-gang / group here in Germany) to do the videos. The Germanroamers themselves do not have a single female member.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Andy Day I’m not reading all the comments bc the ones I’ve seen totally got you wrong, but thanks for pointing out a very real issue in the photography world. I’m no SJW by any stretch but this is totally on point, unfortunately.

Andy Day's picture

Thanks Dana! I think I need to keep exploring this topic and keep trying to engage people. A lot of the reaction seems to be one of the following:
1. but I know lots of female photographers so the premise is wrong
2. women still buy cameras even though the advertising is for men so therefore there is no problem
3. positively discriminating towards women is unnecessary and part of a broader liberal agenda to bash white middle class men

To everyone that takes one of these views, I'd ask them to take a step back and examine the broader social power structures that are playing out within the visual culture. If we have a visual culture that reinforces a patriarchal paradigm, we will have a society that continues to see imbalances between genders (girls who think that competitiveness is unsexy, pay disparity at every level of the workforce, fewer women in the boardroom and in politics, etc etc). If I one day have a daughter, I want her to grow up in a world where her level of aspiration is not governed so powerfully by her gender. If we try and address disparity and address those issues within visual culture, our society will start to escape stereotypes and gender politics will become less problematic.

I don't mind the SJW label, even though some of the comments have thrown it at me as an insult. (I got called a white knight on this website once and in my experience the only people who use that term are racists, so I didn't take it too seriously.) I don't feel that I am an SJW - I just tend to see patterns in a particular way and try to address them critically.

Anyways. Glad to know that it chimed with you. I appreciate the feedback.

Horrible click-bait article written for the outrage culture.

Jamie MacDonald's picture

I just want to pop in and mention that here in the U.S. we have several female members of the Olympus Visionary Program. I also know we are always searching for more female representation in the program as well.
If you are a female photographer who shoots Olympus gear, I urge you to reach out to our team via the email address found on the Visionary page: https://getolympus.com/visionaries

Andy Day's picture

Hey Jamie, thanks for jumping into the discussion. I'd be interested in trying to help you find female photographers. Feel free to drop me a line (I'm easy to find).

As annoying as these [pick your minority group] not being represented pieces are, equally if not more annoying are all these so-called SJW Snowflake hating people getting their p*****s (women's underwear) in a bunch. Ignore these articles, and eventually, they will go away.

BTW, I belong to a minority, and I recognize biasses, but pointing them out makes things worse for everyone. These articles worsen the problem because people with differing opinions entrench themselves more.

Sony is doing something to promote women photographers, I'm not really for it, nor against it, because I believe in merit, but if they are good, then fine, Sony can do what they want to promote their brand. But it would bother me if Fstoppers or any other blog reports on it. Why, well if Sony feels they are missing 1/2 the market and want to outreach for a sales increase, that's a wise businesses decision. No need for White Knights to stir things up and create a larger division among groups.

Studio 403's picture

Go ahead and change, but keep your lens out of my nose.

Hey all :) I'm actually a female and an Olympus Visionary! So too is Laura Hicks. My website can be found here...
www.traciejeanphoto.com / www.instagram.com/traciejeanphoto / www.facebook.com/traciejeanphoto I just returned from a commissioned shoot by Olympus from Iceland. Feel free to ask me anything but most of all know that we woman are loud and proud Olympus supporters and the feeling from Olympus is very mutual! Here is an image from said journey!

Andy Day's picture

Beautiful work! Great to know that the Xplorers thing is an anomaly and not the norm. I'd be interested to write about your experiences to show Olympus's drive to engage more women, and also get your thoughts on the camera industry more broadly. Please get in touch. :)

Andy, I certainly would love to!! Let me know if ever you'd like to chat as well :)

Konrad Sarnowski's picture

OK, so I've checked their explorers site, and they have 20 photographers, mostly from Europe (and Germany) and 2 of them are women. Now, on the video, there are 3 photographers from this group... and this is one video from a serie to come... and you're jumping to above conclusions?... Have you asked Olympus about the process of becoming part of the team? Have you asked them why those 3 photographers, not others were in Namibia?...

Seriously...

Here you have one of the female photogs from the team: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfSVl_07Mns&list=PLBRIZFfRaUTaKWn30J8n5C1CNRvrGr4Qz&index=6&t=0s

Kevin Figueira's picture

Who cares? Move on.

Andy Day's picture

The women commenting on this article, I guess. And possibly the 47% that make up the photography community. So yeah, women generally, I suppose.

As a woman, I’m not offended by the lack of female representation. Having said that, if there were a few women in their videos, i would be watching those just because i can relate and would be inspired. The free open market will decide. Not smart of Olympus but i don’t want laws dictating who can/not be hired as brand ambassadors

Rob Ludgate's picture

Sony just finished running their Alpha Female campaign, https://alphauniverse.com/alpha-female/ So not as gloomy as this makes it look.

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