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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Guy Butterworth's picture

why would you have system where the school funding Is based on house hold income , that just guarantees the poor are further disenfranchised .. equally opportunity for all , no matter wealth, race, colour or religion ... all schools should be funded equally, without question or discussion , all hospitals should be funded equally ,, all social services should be funded equally and not based on the household income of the area they serve.. the relationships between , wealth, privilege and entitlement need to be broken and redefined ... peoples Goals and perception of what is important in life needs redefining ... chasing the dollar , does not bring true happiness, it does not build communities and lasting relationships , it destroys them ... the I is not greater than the WE.. wealth is not a measure of intelligence , but it might impact on how your character is defined by others ...

Eli Weitz's picture

Guy, the method of funding schools based on property taxes is VERY old & pragmatic. Not being a pre-eminent economist, I have no way of knowing what is a better way to do it.

If you want change, tell it to the Dems who want to limit school choice; & Joe Biden, who, as a young Senator, said in response to desegregation: my kids would be going to school "in a jungle".

I only mentioned what funds schools, I am NOT responsible for what happens w/the policy put in place well before I was born.

Terrence Taylor's picture

"It is about making your own luck, & then keeping at it to let your efforts create 'luck' opportunities for you." When you're a person of color that will only take you so far.

I don't work in my degreed field because of bias and racism. It just wasn't worth the fight.

Alex made some important points but you chose to gloss over those, why is that?

Things will continue on this route as long as people like you disregard our experiences. You don't live our lives 24/7/365 but you want to tell us our experience isn't real or just isn't that bad. Your percieved reality is not ours.

Racism and prejudice is not over just because there was a multiracial (black) president. Just a few months ago there were nooses hung from trees near where I live. I reside in the San Francisco Bay Area too. Tolerant liberal bastion?

And you're right it isn't necessarily a conscious decision to be racist, bigoted or prejudice. That is what "implicit bias" is. And if you don't recognize that, things will not change.

Eli Weitz's picture

Terence, you said "things will continue on this route as long as people like you disregard our experiences". PEOPLE LIKE ME…? --- DISREGARDING YOUR EXPERIENCES??? 😒

#1 How do you expect me to know you/your experiences? Helluva way to start presenting your 'case' or story to get the consideration of someone who you don't know & never knew you!

#2 Since we don't know ea. other, saying to me "people like you" is racially charged prejudice, against someone you don't know & do so w/only weak assumptions to justify your conclusions!

Now who is being prejudiced???

You don't know me, or why I said what I said; yet you come at me w/that reply as if I consciously tried to hurt your feelings, or worse that I am at fault for contributing to the continuing 'implicit bias'. If you say that, you REALLY don't know me!

I had wanted to convey 'you get what you strive for & don't give up' & what I learned fm Rick Sammon's tips on photography: you get lucky shots bc you *make your own luck* (look up Oprah Winfrey's past to appreciate how much, besides race, she had to overcome to get where she is today, a media mogul, worth $2.7 Billion, making a $300 Million yearly salary!) An example of making your own luck: you round that turn in the street & see a great scene, & you get the 'lucky' shot- it's bc you 'went on automatic' - bc all of your prev preparation made you ready; then it is just a matter of tripping the shutter.

I was going to give you all sorts of encouraging words & spent a while doing so & a call came in to my phone & the encouraging text was lost. Upon re-reading your msg, it really seemed like you were blaming me for wrongs to you & you presumed it is a race thing on my part.

If you voice your frustrations on someone you don't know & you jump to conclusions abt the intentions of someone you don't know, & point fingers at them saying "people like you" - THAT is prejudice & it makes your words paint a picture of you having a chip on your shoulder named "BLAME" & don't hold back fm letting your frustrations out on a stranger.

I haven't had an easy life & hearing such presumptions fm those who don't know me, but ascribe the continuance of their problems, or racial experiences, in general, when I wasn't even there at the time gets old quickly.

You don't know me & have no right to assume what that the intentions behind my words were, or that you are correct in your assumption abt my intentions; or question me, or judge why I didn't address other of Alex's points. That is prejudging me & THAT is prejudice… on your part - against me, to support the narrative you already had in mind.

So why did you automatically ascribing your interpretation of what I wrote to be exactly what you took it to mean, at MY expense??? Plwase, don't answer me. Tell yourself th answer!

It is hard to see the stars when you fix your eyes on the mud on the ground, leave alone making those kind of out-of-context assumptions.

I subscribe to MLK's criterion for judging people, by the quality of their character… your words didn't show me much character, & since they were at my expense, bye BYE!

Brandon Foster's picture

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.

Tony Northrup's picture

Thanks for calling attention to the obvious and painful lack of diversity in our industry!

Deleted Account's picture

Obvious, yes, but why "painful"? Who is experiencing pain and how?

Brandon Foster's picture

People who are limited in their pursuit of success due to lack of diversity. The moon landing is a perfect example of how the achievement of a goal was more important than racism, and they allowed black women into the program. Because of this, we made it to the moon first.

Deleted Account's picture

I'm not sure I completely understand your point as it seems to be making several assumptions but I still don't understand how that relates to photography and, in particular, the use of the word "pain". Your point seems to be that racism is the horse and lack of diversity, the cart and I can certainly see that from a historical viewpoint and even in some careers today but that applies to several groups such as large framed individuals who would like to perform ballet (being lazy, I prefer low hanging fruit) but certainly not in photography.

Yin Ze's picture

Everytime i would see canon explorers of light, nikon ambassador and even now sony alpha group shots i was angered by lack of diversity. Canon appears to have 1 Black photog, no female Black photographers. Nikon has 1 Black photog out of 35 ambassadors. Sony has 2 out of 48.

Deleted Account's picture

Why would that make you angry? Angry at who? And why?

Deleted Account's picture

So... no reason, then?

Yin Ze's picture

i'm sure you can put two and two together and get five.

Deleted Account's picture

Actually, that's why I asked. I could assume your reason but would likely come up with the wrong answer. No big deal; I'll just assume it's a knee-jerk reaction and not something you've put a lot of thought into. I do that all the time.

Yin Ze's picture

I'm pretty sure you can put two and two together and get five.

Yin Ze's picture

yes. can u name any one other Black photog on that list other than matthew jordan smith. unless they are hiding something i don't see.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

If there will be two, you’d ask me to show 3, but for you it was surprise that there is already one, right? And you have no idea what happens with other brands, in other countries, right?

Yin Ze's picture

no surprise. just learn to read. i posted the number of ambassadors earlier.

Yin Ze's picture

I guess the newly appointed ambassadors should send Andy Day a thank you note?

Ed C's picture

At this point in history diversity in photography is very largely the choice of who decided to go into the profession. The vast majority of photographers are entrepreneurs. Are you suggesting that people from different races should be forced to be photographers so the profession is more diversified and people from other races should be forced not to or discriminated against because they are in the current majority?

Deleted Account's picture

Yes, they should. Black people are UNDER-represented in Country Music. More black people should be forced to join in, for diversity.

Deleted Account's picture

I used to love Charlie Pride, back in the day! :-)

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Country music re-education camps should be created! Rappers from all around the world would be brought there and taught to love country music.

Joe Malone's picture

Yes, equality of opportunity is to be lauded. Equality of outcome is both unrealistic, and an impossible ideal.

Deleted Account's picture

I also noticed they discriminate against Eskimos, Native Americans, Cubans, and perhaps Brazilians. Tony, you can correct these injustices. Just hire 2 of each and share the wealth with them. Make it a worker's cooperative. After all, "you didn't build it yourself". Don't just send $500 to Biden for your white sins to be forgiven...

Bruce Neeka's picture

Lets just fire caucasoid ambassadors, it will increase diversity eventually....

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