Can Camera Companies Support the Black Lives Matter Movement if They Have No Black Ambassadors?

Can Camera Companies Support the Black Lives Matter Movement if They Have No Black Ambassadors?

Last week, one of the world's biggest camera manufacturers retweeted a short film of a Black Lives Matter protest shot on one of its cameras. Given that the company’s photography ambassadors for the country where the protest was staged are 19 white men and one white woman, how does it justify lending the movement its support?

The footage was a simple series of short clips from a protest in a major European city cut together to give a taste of the atmosphere and locations. The filmmaker shared it on Twitter, tagging the camera brand’s Twitter account for that country. Pleased to see a major manufacturer lending its voice to the Black Lives Matter movement, I then wondered whether this support was reflected more widely in the company’s public profile.

On its website, the brand lists ambassadors from around the world. For this specific country, 19 of the 20 ambassadors appear to be white men. The other is a white woman.

This is not to point an accusatory finger at any specific company (hence not identifying them) or to assume that there is an unconscious bias towards choosing a certain type of photographer over others. It’s far more complex than that. This is to draw attention to a pattern in the photography industry that is a reflection of a broader issue.

Who Has Keys to the Clubhouse?

Fstoppers’ Anete Lusina wrote persuasively last week that photography has never been so democratic. More people have access to powerful image-making tools than at any point in history, with a smartphone in everyone’s pocket and manufacturers making cameras with phenomenal abilities at ever-lower prices. “It’s a world open to anyone,” the title states, and to a degree, this is true. The article cited an excellent project by Historic England that deliberately sourced imagery from across the country, rather than drawing on the photographs of a small number of established professionals and artists as might often be the case.

However, despite programs such as this, photography remains much like golf. Sure, anyone can buy some weird sticks and hit a tiny ball, but not everyone gets to relax in the clubhouse afterward.

Golf

There are gatekeepers — curators, journalists, creative directors, magazine editors, and manufacturer executives who choose their company’s ambassadors — and for a wide range of reasons, it remains an exclusive club where very often everyone looks the same. Some of these reasons have nothing to do with race, color, privilege, or wealth; sometimes, it’s just an insular society that needs a little nudge to look outside of its immediate circle. Other times, there are systemic barriers at play.

History and habits aren’t necessarily consciously racist, but they tend to like the status quo. If you don’t have the right connections and look a certain way, the clubhouse is much more difficult to enter. To push this daft analogy to its limits, if you don’t already mix in the right circles and have the right appearance, you might end up smashing balls at a driving range for the rest of your life, despite the fact that you can plow a three iron 250 yards and land your ball on a tea cozy.

So, should this camera manufacturer immediately replace some of its ambassadors to create a more diverse collective? In short, no, though it certainly wouldn’t hurt to add people of color (and almost certainly increase gender diversity) so that the photographers who represent its brand are more representative of the people who use its cameras. Such a move would only increase its appeal and broaden its customer base. (If you think that their inclusion should be based solely on the quality of their work, I refer you back to my golf analogy.) This might strike some as a cynical reason for increasing a company’s social equity efforts, but it’s a better reason than none.

Beyond that, with its newfound awareness, the brand might want to consider more programs to create opportunities for those who do not enjoy the same privileges. Marketing executives from the likes of Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Fujifilm are already having conversations with organizations such as Women Photograph and Diversify Photo, who campaign and advocate for greater visibility for photographers who tend to be overlooked.

The conversation seems to be moving forward; it's just that ambassador roles are taking a while to catch up.

Lead image by Prime Cinematics.

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118 Comments

Stuart Carver's picture

Fbecomingtooinvolvedinpolitics.com

Michael Krueger's picture

So by your logic I can't support Black Lives Matter because I'm white?

This website is trying very hard to make everything about race and some of it's writers are beginning to look racist by doing it.

Articles about race, Mac vs PC and “gear does/n’t matter” attract a lot of comments.

Pretty sure the logic isn't that you cant support black lives or participate in the practive of diversity if you're white. Its more along the lines of "you cant show off your black friend to everyone if that black friend isn't allowed to be in your house... or isnt given the opportunity to be in your house"

Yes, they can. No, they have black ambassadors.

"Given that the company’s photography ambassadors for *the country where the protest was staged* are 19 white men and one white woman, how does it justify lending the movement its support?"
If they should gain a black, male ambassador, Andy will change it to "...19 white men, one white woman, one black man and ZERO black women..." ;-)

they have A black ambassador. Not plural.

You are right. And (by mistake, probably) they have asian presence. That’s about US. Other countries too hard to google.

https://www.nikonusa.com/en/learn-and-explore/nikon-ambassadors/index.page

Ivan Lantsov's picture

this man racist STOP RITING!

I understand your point but, like everyone, he's free to display both his wisdom and his foolishness.

Would a company that had 19 Black ambassadors and no white ones be subject to racism accusations? As far as BLM, I've seen no evidence that they practice what they preach. BLM was founded by avowed Marxists (their words) and attracts the same radical sort.

Alex Herbert's picture

BLM is a movement, not an organisation. Much like Anonymous. It's a hashtag that people can attach to things to get them out in the open. It's a name for a cause that's easily remembered, and states it's purpose in it's name. Yes, those 2 women started it, but do you think they have ANY sway over the millions of people who realise something isn't right and want to change it.

That sure sounds like an organization to me.

Funny because organizations usually have a .org. BLM may have an organization that adopted the name, but its more of a movement beyond that. People say BLM and have no affiliation with the organization whatsoever. But "https://bluelivesmatternyc.org/" on the other hand... hmmm

So organizations must use dot-org? What makes an organization?

or·gan·i·za·tion [noun] an organized body of people with a particular purpose, especially a business, society, association, etc.

Unlike dot-edu and dot-gov, anyone can register a dot-org so, that being the case and since organizations, of whatever makeup, can register a dot-com, your comment is just ridiculous on its face. I'll happily agree Black Lives Matter is, aside from an organization, a movement and also a phrase that probably means different things to different people but it most definitely *is* an organization.

Aside from Alex's assertion, I don't care if it's an organization or not. It is what it is and it isn't what it isn't.

Last time I looked it was an organization, they take corporate money, run ad campaign’s and pay staff very well. The people running it are getting rich. Looks and sounds like an Al Sharpton scam.

Joe Malone's picture

Equality doesn't seem enough these days, they now want better.

As a catch phrase BLM means whatever a person thinks it means.However, if a person doesn't want to be associated with the BLM founders philosophy they might want to choose a different phrase to tout . I prefer All Lives Matter or "all men* are created equal" . Unfortunately, people who say All Lives Matter, and mean it, are harshly criticized by the left as insufficiently woke and pure ideologically. *referring to all humans.

Alex Herbert's picture

Because "All Lives Matter" is an empty statement that draws attention away from the actual issue. Why don't PETA, RSPCA, ASPCA, Cancer Research and UNICEF just change their names to "All Lives Matter"? Maybe NATO and the UN as well.

As an organization BLM is Marxist. As a slogan BLM is racially divisive and political. All Lives Matter is an inclusive and apolitical statement. It affirms that all lives deserve the same respect and treatment. It reinforces the founding principle that we are all created equal. It rejects the idea that race is a meaningful way to distinguish people. We are one race. I oppose classifying and counting people based on artificial ethnic or racial categories. That just reinforces stereotypes, which are basis for all discrimination and prejudice. People are individuals. See them and treat them that way. My children would be called biracial by many, but not by me because that is meaningless.

Alex Herbert's picture

Awesome for you, but unfortunately you live in the real world where ignoring problems doesn't make them go away. Issues need to be focused on in order to be resolved. There is A LOT of work that needs to happen before this world can be post-race. Maybe not for you, but for those on the other side of it, your 'biracial' children included.

Criminy, even the golf analogy is BS. Ever hear of a guy named Tiger Woods. Should every sport be expected to have racial percentages that matches the general population, e.g., NBA, NFL? Of course not. That's not evidence of systemic anything.

David Pavlich's picture

You're way too fixated on the color of one's skin...way too fixated. Beyond the skin color, what ever happened to talent being the deciding factor? I used to have to hire people. I would look at a resume and decide if the person was going to move into the interview stage by what was on the resume. When the interview happened, it was to see whether or not the person fit within the working parameters of the job.

If I needed a welder he/she had better be able to weld uphill. If I needed a mechanic, he/she had better know the difference between a planetary and a differential. Overly simplified, but I had standards, none of which had anything to do with color.

Alex Herbert's picture

I've posted this same point many times on many forum. Either you believe systemic racism exists, and things are harder for black people in general, or you don't.

If you do, then surely you accept that systemic racism has a part to play in many young black boys and girls being in a position where they are not encouraged and supported to pick up skills like, photography. Underfunded schools which don't have the equipment, forgotten communities which are not well funded and put their inhabitants in a position where focusing on basic needs is priority.

If society was truly equal we would see a greater diversity of photographers, because more people could start their journey from a more or less equal place.

Systemic racism effects way more than the hiring process.

Eli Weitz's picture

Alex, w/all due respect- You present 'systemic racism' as if it a conscious, current choice. I suggest whatever there may be repsesents the vestiges of what _was_ & .has been going away. It IS hard to shake off all vestiges of old influences, but things have greatly changed starting w/Lincoln, & his emancipation of slaves. Slaves (sent fm Africa, likely by fellow blacks who were just power hungry, evil people to betray their own like that) were freed. Few Dems voted for that, the 13th Amendment. The 14th Amendment gave blacks citizenship & equal protection. NO Dems voted for that. The 15th Amendment (ratified Feb 3, 1870) ensured the right to vote, regardless of color, race, or previous servitude. NO Dems voted for that.

However, people & this country moved on from separate but equal segregation to affirmative action, to electing a black president to two terms.

Jackie Robinson changed baseball in 1947 & was a star.

Ralph Bunche lead U.N. peace efforts & got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continued in Bunche's peace efforts. They accomplished much, & demonstrated that this country has made much progress.

You talk about opportunity. The American Dream has consistently rewarded those who perservere in all areas, look at Jackie Robinson.

School districts have always depended on tax base, NOT racial considerations for funding. Tax base = the resident's earnings, not racial status.

I call into question your comment "if this country were truly equal, we would see a greater diversity of photographers". I have attended many of the free, corporate sponsored photography classes at B&H Eventspace. There is always a mix in the audience & the trade shows & foto walks they sponsor. You must be referring to professional photographers that get corporate attention. You spoke of Ambassadors, but forgot to mention Matthew Jordan Smith. I've had numerous email contacts w/him abt his education programs. Great guy! Don't downplay him bc he is the only one to catch a break. I've had working pros tell me I have good pix, but considering the amount of competition I know that it is about keeping at it, & waiting for a break, like the fotog who didn't get nat'l recognition til he got a foto of Patty Hearst (Symbianese Liberation Army) w/handcuffs defiantly raised as she was moved fm one prison to another. That foto made the cover of Newsweek. Effort, time & place- self-made luck got that fotog the covershot!

It is about making your own luck, & then keeping at it to let your efforts create 'luck' opportunities for you. It's abt competition & self-made breaks; not about anybody being held back bc of race. Saying otherwise ignores the progress this country has made.

They have done experiments on skin color and how it effects peoples interpretation of things. In one experiment they sent out identical resumes with different names and the names that sounded like they were African American names got called at a drastically lower rate. On another experiment they had ebay listings and if the product was held by a black hand it wasn't selling as well. Look these things up. All people have bias. This is not a judgment against you sir, but this is true in society, especially American society. In New York on Long Island there still is evidence of redlining.

David Pavlich's picture

What you say is probably true. A shame, really. I picked candidates that I thought would help me being a manager easier. That means that I hired the talent possessed by the candidate. I guess some don't do it that way, but to hire because of color doesn't cut it either.

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