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

Previous comments

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.

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?

John Adams's picture

Well go back in time then with a time-machine.. to demand your time back. Also, Alex, nobody is going to give you anything just like that, do you even know what you want? Real world doesn't work like that. Also how you can demand compensation for 400 years back, I mean this isn't fair anyway you look at it. You can only demand compensation for as long as you can live, for example you can live, maybe say 70 years, or 90 years if you're lucky. Please give me a list with things you have been deprived from and why should you be compensated? Is it money, land, or something else? Of course you have no answers because you people, the protestors and people from "BLM" don't know what you want. You only make noise and like anything else you will have to go back to work to make a living like any other normal people do in this day and age.

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

John Adams's picture

You people I mean people who only take/want and give nothing back.

yeah, right.....

John Adams's picture

I don't care what you think. "You people" is not forbidden to say. Freedom of speech MF

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

John Adams's picture

Lol, well you also reveal your colors.. so? To be more exact, I'm colorless :)

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

John Adams's picture

You pray as much as you want.. religion is for fools.

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

John Adams's picture

Logic isn't for everyone.. you included.

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

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?

John Adams's picture

That's in the past. Long time ago. Now nothing is taken from them now. Blacks today in 2020 are different people. They don't have the right to demand compensation for anything of that sort for things that happened 200 years ago.

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

lol, please stop digging john adams. "Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt."

Well, there will be more black photographers soon after all those riots and looting

Alex Herbert's picture

care to explain the logic behind that statement?

The only surviving journalist, fearless, and the cops wouldn't dare to touch them.

John Adams's picture

Camera companies don't need blacks to support that movement. White people can also support that movement.

Resident fstoppers racist John Adams with another gem.

The stats prove that black people get a raw deal it’s as simple as that.Black sports people do well because there is a level playing field.
In terms of photography a company will choose someone who is good at photography and excellent at their own self promotion to be one of their ambassadors. I doubt men are 19 to 1 better than woman at photography and black people are so bad they don’t get a look in.

Michael Comeau's picture

How could you write all this and not name the company?

That's pretty lame.

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