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

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

Visual Envy's picture

So much ignorance on this subject by these comments... completely misses the point which isn't surprising at all.

So help us out then. What is the point?

Alex Herbert's picture

The point is... that if talk of equality causes a knee-jerk reaction in you, then you my friend, are probably a racist lol

Really? I didn't get that from the article at all. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were being flippant but, of course, I know better. ;-)

Joe Martinez's picture

They can support the movement, but until they do the real work of including more Black ambassadors (specifically Black women), it's all performative and accomplishes nothing except bandwagon activism. These companies have the ability to do so much more and while they've known about these problems for decades, now would be a great time to rectify those mistakes and move in a more inclusive direction.

Alex Herbert's picture

But then all the racist people on this forum will stop buying their gear :(

Do brand ambassadors actually reach the majority of the user base?

I've been shooting Canon forever and recently added Fuji. I couldn't name one ambassador from either. I understand ambassadors have event presence, may create tutorials and are featured in marketing colateral but I haven't purchased a single piece of equipment, software or educational material as a result of an ambassador's content.

I've also never once considered the ethnicity or gender of a brand's ambassadors when making a purchasing decision.

I don't know how representative I am of photographers in general. Perhaps others put more stock into brand ambassadors than I do.

My concern is that adding black photographers to the roster will ultimately serve little practical purpose as far as getting cameras into the hands of black people goes. It certainly won't hurt, but I don't see how it will help either. It will add a tick to one very specific diversity checkbox which is good in theory but realistically accomplishes very little in places where it matters.

Active participation in the community itself would have far more positive impact.

I think a better allocation of resources would be camera companies donating equipment and educational materials to less affluent public schools. Expose kids to career options and give them skills to pursue those careers. Making more free content available online would help. A diverse cast of presenters would be advantageous.

A complimentary line of affordable equipment would also go a long way.

The same for me. I’ve seen how cool Mathew Jordan Smith as an educator on creativelive, I see how he tells about his gear («I shoot Nikon but it doesn’t matter »), then I see his works, then I realise he is Ambassador, but I’m on Sony and can’t care less.

I guess not a lot of Black photographers use Fuji. Only 2(in South Africa) are on the list out of more than 100...

https://fujifilm-x.com/global/photographers/photographer/

At least minorities are well represented in South Africa.

Oh, look one of FStoppers racist writers making another racist post. Cool. Hey, Andy, you're not woke or insightful you're an indoctrinated fool that feeds and supports racism. People like you are the reason racism still exists...

No, it is not important to me that the camera companies have "ambassadors" for any reason.

Important to some in the photo press, maybe, because money is to be made, but most likely nobody else cares.

Do you need an ambassador to help you decide on a Sony, Nikon, Canon or whatever? I didn't think so.

Enrique Olivieri's picture

Isn't this a photography website? Isn't this a place for photography artists and creatives to learn and share? I think this article would have been better suited for Facebook and Twitter were you can debate and express your internal hate because it makes you feel better or how correct your views are as compared to everyone's else's. I'd really hate to see this website become a political forum, it really has to stop. I understand we have the privilege of the 1st Amendment in the USA, but why can't we just keep this site a "safe place for photographers and creatives alike" were we can all learn/share our love for photography and keep the political agendas out.

Given the range of views displayed by various individuals, I sometimes wonder if we all *do* love photography and, if so, does the love represent the various, sometimes conflicting, love, among people and even love, twisted to the point of evil?

How can you seriously want to fight against racism, if you use the racism slogan "Black lives matter" ... ?
That's something to really think about it.

Joseph Pellicone's picture

Personally I dont support ANY COMPANY that promotes ANY political agenda one way or the other. First of all its NOT SMART Business. You are bound to alienate up to half of your customers. Why not keep your political beliefs to yourself and be a courteous vendor to ALL customers?