Today is the International Women's Day so while it's nice to celebrate how far gender equality has come, it's even more important to look at the issues still present in photography industry today.
Before we start discussing this topic, I wanted to take you all back to last week. My friend, who's a female photographer, got contracted for a commercial job and hired me as her assistant. On the day of the shoot, our subject, a male with several decades on us, greeted us with a confused face. After shaking our hands, he said, "this is very modern. I'm generally used to photographers that are men". This, of course, didn't stop my friend working hard to create a great rapport and deliver exactly what the client was looking for, all the while pushing that comment far away behind her. Devious or not, these types of comments are unnecessary and set us back several decades.
So, why do we still keep hearing comments like these? The reality is that women now make up the majority of students in undergraduate and graduate photojournalism degrees, according to The Guardian, and yet only 15 percent of entries to the World Press Photo awards were those of women. You may question the quality of work by the said women or even mention the lack of confidence as the reason for not entering, which is partially true, however, the issue stems deeper. Freelance photographer Daniella Zalcman offers her explanation by noting that "women are not getting many of the most important assignments from the wire services, newspapers or magazines, and that there are still telling gender disparities in the industry".
As a response to potential editor queries, who may say they have issues finding properly qualified and experienced female photographers for various locations and assignments, Zalcman has created an answer to this. Namely, an online database, "Women Photograph", which contains work of 400 women from 67 countries. Unfortunately, while Zalcman does not believe that this list will directly solve issues in photojournalism, she does hold a hope for showing editors that there isn't a shortage of qualified female photographers, "just a lack of equitable hiring".
Similarly, photographer Cybele Malinowski, after experienced her fair share of discrimination in the industry, together with entrepreneur Angela Liang co-founded Agender, which is "a platform for female photographers designed to exchange ideas and advance careers". They are already hosting their second annual exhibition, named "Balance for Better", which opens up today to mark International Women's Day, with half of the sale profits going to Sydney Women's Fund. The whole point of the exhibition is both to celebrate women and also to show to future female photographers that "if you're hungry, you're talented, you're driven, you can definitely get there".
Liang believes that it all goes back to our childhood and how men are generally taught "to be bold and assertive, women are taught to be apologetic", which Liang believes contributes to women being more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome, which in return makes it more difficult to approach potential opportunities or pitch ideas. Therefore, on the surface it may seem that if women wanted it enough, they could have achieved it but in reality, it's a lot more complicated than that because it's not just the lack of confidence at fault.
While the conversation is not about giving one priority over another, it's rather about giving equal opportunities at the very start. Giving visibility to role models in the industry is just one of the steps to be taken, for young girls to gain confidence and see clear examples of women who have already succeeded. A New York freelance photographer, Natalie Keyssar, noted that she doesn't believe we are doing "enough to teach young girls to stand up straight and say "I deserve this job, and I'm the best person for the job"", which she has also seen during portfolio reviews, where she felt compelled to tell younger women "to not apologize for their work because the young man before her didn't".
These are just a few examples, and the reality is that the things that are said or the decisions that are made often grow out of unconscious bias instilled within us. Liang explains, "many creative directors and producers will simply go back to the same photographers they’ve already worked with time and time again, who are more often than not male", thus further continuing the stereotype that "women should stick to what they know: weddings, beauty, children, families".
Although we should be thankful for how much further the industry has already come from its early age, equally we should not lose the sight in ignorance of "I haven't seen it, therefore it doesn't occur" or "It has not happened to me, therefore it doesn't exist". It may become tiring to some to keep the conversation going but that's the least we can do to help those in the industry already as well as those only dreaming about it being a part of their future. We all have the power to make conscious changes in how we treat other people and as such we all have the power to help steer out industry the right way, starting today and continuing every day.