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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Tony Northrup's picture

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

So... no reason, then?

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

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.

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

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.

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?

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

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

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.

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

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....

Eli Weitz's picture

@Tony Northrup:se Says the apparently financially successful white man! Like others here seeking to tout diversity, you only address the upper tier photographers.

I go to many free B&H EventSpace corporate sponsored classes, their sponsored foto-walks, & industry events Optic - Foto EXpo Plus. There is plenty of diversity among the hobbyist, serious hobbyist, pro-sumers, & everyday pros trying to make a buck.

So you're obviously speaking out abt the high-tier fotogs' diversity. Why does the lack of it pain you?

Do you believe there should be more black high level pros? What are you doing to make that happen? Besides seeking to make change for one specific group?I thought it was abt talent & skill!

Bill Wells's picture

This very thing is what has hurt the black population. The black population is being told day after day that they must be given "stuff" to survive. Wow!!!

That is exactly what happens. Oh you need housing, here you go section 8, you need food, here you go food stamps. College admissions, oh you can get admitted because the color of your skin. You need to apply for a job, well you will get it because of the color of your skin because my company needs more black numbers.

About all I now for sure is, Black Lives Matter, is not the answer. Both sides want to "use" black people. Then it all goes away and things return to normal.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

Showing a real lack of knowledge, Bill.

Racist white men creating racist policies at every level of government since the inception of the U.S. is what has hurt the black population.

As far as welfare programs go, white people have always been welfare recipients in significantly greater numbers than black people, both on an aggregate and a per-capita basis. Black people living on government resources has always been a lie: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/americans-welfare-perceptions-survey_n_5a...

If you turn off welfare programs, that's going to affect way more white people than black people.

And if you talk about farm "subsidies" which is just a euphemism for welfare for farmers that's been going on since the Great Depression. $28 billion in government money to farmers in just the last two years: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/12/31/790261705/farmers-got-bi...

I can promise you that endless well of government money has not been going to black people. All those farmers out in the midwest who've been living off the government for generations look like you, not me.

If you want to tell some people to go get a job, start with those farmers.

Not that I disagree but can you give specific examples of racist policies within the last fifty years. I'll readily agree that racists, of all colors, exist.

Alex Herbert's picture

There are countless online resources, published papers and articles with very specific examples, but the documentary "13th" on Netflix is an easy and accessible starting point.

Regrettably, I'm too lazy to look for something, I don't know exists, not that I doubt you. How would you even go about searching for such a thing? And I have no access to Netflix or any television programming for that matter, much preferring books.

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