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.

Log in or register to post comments

142 Comments

Previous comments
Yin Ze's picture

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

Bill Wells's picture

I'm thinking that he (John Adams) posted his opinion. So you might want to take your own advice and be silent.

Yin Ze's picture

Ok, tough guy.

Bill Wells's picture

Drama, Drama, Drama. Why are you so hostile about everything. Don't know where that "tough guy" came from or even what you meant by it.

Yin Ze's picture

"Not too bright, though"

Rick Rizza's picture

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?

Rick Rizza's picture

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

Bill Wells's picture

I think rick was referring to more black corporate reps.

The truth there are numerous black photographers that are the top in our industry.

Now when they are added to Nikon, Sony and Canon shooting teams people will say they got the position just because they are black. Truth is that will be true. Another truth is, it shouldn't have to be, because they are skilled enough on their own.

I can tell you, I never really thought too much about who is a "black" photographer or who is a "white" photographer. Most cases I looked at persons work first. If I like their work then I would see who they are. If I wasn't impressed with their images, I moved on and had no idea if they were black or white. Not always that way but most of the time.

Before we get too deep into this black & white thing. The real problem in our industry is the lack of recognition of women!

Yin Ze's picture

"Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt." was tailormade for posts like this. I have never seen so many people proclaim how colorblind they are when it comes to issues of race.

Bill Wells's picture

My dear friend. It is you that is racist. You may not realize it buy you are. You are all about hate and drama, mostly drama.

Now if you want to have a serious conversation that is another thing. But please leave your racism and drama out of the topic.

Alex Herbert's picture

Rick wasn't referring to black corporate reps, he was from what I can tell making some sort of tone deaf joke? He replied himself before you commented and said nothing related to your explanation.

The truth is, the people who sit down in boardrooms and decide who is going to visually represent their brand will usually only go for a black person if it sending some sort of message, or if said black person is some kind of undeniable superstar. Why? Because western media has made this the norm, even the representation I see is mostly tokenised to make some point or other.

You may not see colour (not super helpful when trying to stomp out racism) but trust me, brand consultants and PR people DO!

Yin Ze's picture

Resident fstoppers racist John Adams with another gem.

Bill Wells's picture

There you go again!

Yin Ze's picture

I will always call out racists like you.

Chris Perkins's picture

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?

Mike Ditz's picture

That's pretty lame.

Brandon Foster's picture

It makes sense not to because he isn't trying to embarass the company but he is trying to ask a question and make a point. He doesn't know the companies motives. Thats how racism works by the way. Most times when someone is mistreated due to racism they never truly know if it is because racism or a million other reasons. So its not always fair to assume that racism is the cause. Plus the company did a good thing by reaching out to the black community.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

I think camera companies should make cameras and pretty much stay out of politics.
So should all businesses, in particular large corporations with bundles of money.

Brandon Foster's picture

Business is politics.

Deleted Account's picture

All my photographic equipment is black, so I'm happy. Made abroad, oh, even happier. Kodak was lucky, they bailed out early. However, I noticed a slider in Lightroom that says "White". That's racist, they should remove it (even more egregious, they have it above the "black" slider... Adobe, what are you trying to say here?... and what's this "White Balance" thing?).
Jokes aside, if you have had real long term experience from countries where these tactics started and everything was politicized (100% of these countries are now bankrupt, no exceptions, China is buying them piece by piece, turning them into their own plantations), you'd be wise to be preparing your departure from the USA. People can live in average countries just fine, but nobody wants to live where you walk on eggshells 24/7. Mark my words, they will politicize the photographic subjects too ("landscape photography is a white man's habit" or something similar).

Yin Ze's picture

I'm glad this article was written if only to expose some of the thoughts people have hear that are not only photography-based.

Shey Smith's picture

Nothing has changed. Even the very notion of Black people entering traditionally White spaces has usually been met with a good deal of individual racism. The majority of comments on this article have not bucked the trend.

Deleted Account's picture

Has that happened to you and how?

Deleted Account's picture

...

Deleted Account's picture

So basically Andy says in this article that companies deliberately appoint non-black Ambassadors?
Or that companies should forcefully appoint black Ambassadors to artificially create "diversity", as only Americans perceive it? Or that companies should start sending money to Joe Biden through BLM?
The cat's out of the bag, and regardless of what people say in the open to avoid mob attacks (you Americans love being mobsters, right? a little decency of character wouldn't hurt you once in a while), they can see through the cr@p clearly. You are failing to make yourselves matter in your art.

More comments