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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142 Comments

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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.

Deleted Account's picture

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.

Deleted Account's picture

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.

Yin Ze's picture

Ball is on your court, Bill.

Deleted Account's picture

Lenzy, is any of the BLM money (billions in donations I hear...) going to black people? Or has BLM unfortunately become Biden's paypal? Where does the money go man?

Deleted Account's picture

FYI, Europeans are the champions in farming subsidies. Not "welfare", but production subsidies, which come with terms about crops and production. And still I don't see many people wanting to become farmers. Why? And by "white people", do you also mean Polish immigrants who came here 5 years ago? The Syrians? (they are white too). Who are the "whites" you 're talking about? You'd think a cultured city photographer would know.

Alex Herbert's picture

Nah, all we need back is the 400 years that was taken from us. Then we'll be fine, thanks :)

Alex Herbert's picture

Oh, and if you could organise giving us half of everything that was gained from us during those 400 years, and everything we were deprived of for 100 or so years after that. I think that's fair.

Deleted Account's picture

That sounds reasonable, depending of course on who the "you" and "us" are, you have in mind.

Actually, no, it sounds ridiculous and, really, makes your cause appear silly. Taking your proposal to its natural conclusion, assuming the "you" means Americans of European descent and the "us", descendants of their slaves, you would have to wait in line behind Native Americans. After they've been given back the entirety of the Americas and all wealth built upon it, there would be nothing left for said descendants. And that's just a start: does someone of half descent get a half portion? My ancestors came here long after slavery ended and I can name each individual along the line, demonstrating how they had nothing to do with subsequent racist policies or institutions; do I get a pass? As someone else noted, do descendants of the Africans who gathered up others for sale to Europeans have to contribute? I read an opinion piece by Robert Johnson on this very subject and, even though his proposal was well reasoned, he only addressed those issues for which he had a ready answer, and very few at that.

Where am I wrong?

Yin Ze's picture

"You people"? "You only make noise".... You are really showing your true colors.

Yin Ze's picture

yeah, right.....

Yin Ze's picture

definitely is not. but use of words reveal your true colors.

Yin Ze's picture

I will pray that you will one day move out of your mom's basement and get some sun.

Yin Ze's picture

Then you should be the most religious person on earth short of the Pope.

Yin Ze's picture

Yeah, true. I'm more of a Protools guy.

Alex Herbert's picture

Take and give nothing back?? How do you figure that? I give exactly the same as anyone else in society, however statistics (from white academics) suggest that I'm not getting back quite the same as some others.

Brandon Foster's picture

Black people aren't given stuff, stuff is taken from them. America is set up as a caste system where black people are bottom casted. A perfect example is the fact that a slave created the formula for Jack Daniels, it is a 29 billion dollar company. That money went to the slave owner and his descendendants. With slavery they stole labor and family. Upon freeing the slaves they made sure that slaves could not compete with whites in the job market because slaves were skilled labor. Tulsa Oklahoma, redlining, I can go on and on. The fact is white women are the number one benefactor of Affirmative Action and Welfare programs in raw numbers. So is it fair to assume that blacks are hurt for handouts when America was built on handouts that only went to white people?

Yin Ze's picture

LOL, John Adamz. You truly are a polished fstoppers gem.

Alex Herbert's picture

It's not a single incident that happened 200 years ago (not sure where that figure came from). It's a system that has been consistent for over 400 years. Yes, slavery happened and was abolished (in very grey terms). Then came sharecropping, then came Jim Crow, then came segregation, then came redlining. Generations of 'Blacks' (as you like you like to call us) have been denied the same opportunities as their white counterparts. They were held back economically and educationally, unable to build, unable to save, unable to purchase property. These things have a knock on effect for generations, not to mention the education system is still not serving 'certain' communities nearly as well as others.

You should read more.

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