I think that it’s often difficult for people to understand or see the real struggles that female and nonbinary creatives face in the photography industry. If you’ve been keeping up with current news, Canon has faced some criticism recently. They aren't the first and won't be the last to make a huge diversity misstep.
On July 14th, Canon announced that they would be relaunching their Crusader of Light program in the Philippines. Once all of their brand ambassadors for the program were announced, many readers were shocked. Not a single member of the 11 Crusader of Light team is female, non-binary, or LGBTQ+. This is not the first time that this has happened with a big name brand, and if you look across most of their ambassador lists, you will find that they are mostly male.
According to an article on The Phoblographer, here are the stats:
Number of Female Canon Ambassadors
• Canon Philippines: 0/11 female ambassadors
• Canon Hong Kong: 1/14 female ambassadors
• Canon India: 1/10 female ambassadors
• Canon Mexico: 1/6 female ambassadors
• Canon Malaysia: 2/10 female ambassadors
• Canon EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa): 34/113 female ambassadors
• Canon Canada: 9/29 female ambassadors
• Canon USA: 12/38 female ambassadors
This is a real problem, and it is not just Canon; it is industry-wide and deep-rooted. In 2017, Nikon did the same thing when announcing the D850. They launched a campaign and made this statement: “Meet 32 creative individuals from Asia, Middle East, and Africa, and join them as they embark on an experience with the latest FX-format D850 in their respective genres of wedding, nature, commercial, and sports. With their expertise in photography and videography, the D850’s technology, and Nikon’s craftsmanship, this is one DSLR ready to set a new world of limitless creative imaging possibilities.”
Not a single photographer out of the entire 32 member ambassador team was female.
Olympus UK did the same thing in 2016 when they announced their Visionaries and ambassadors. Out of 13 photographers selected, only one was female.
DIY Photography made a whole article on this topic in 2016, listing all of the stats for the big brands' ambassador programs, and apparently, not much has changed.
As a female photographer, I can tell you as a matter of fact that the issue is not a lack of female photographers who are qualified and capable. Instead, it is pushback and a real choice made by organizations and companies in who they hire and promote.
In my life, I have had multiple occasions where I was not given opportunities that I felt were based on my gender or age. Here are a few examples.
There is a local photography club that I have been a member of on and off for many years. A client of mine told me that he once asked their president why, as a local photographer who has an arts degree, traveled and worked on large campaigns, and won international awards, I was never asked to speak for them. I was told that the response was “why? She has nothing to offer. What would she even have to teach?” My website then and still to this day lists my accomplishments, magazine features, articles, gallery features, and more, including my favorite, when I won the National Geographic Travel Chase Adventure Competition. The prize for that was a luxury vacation with National Geographic to any of their destinations. I chose to go to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks with them. I still treasure my National Geographic badge and the gear that they gave me.
Well, in October 2020 the club reached out to me to speak for them, but said that speakers are not financially compensated. This was odd to me, as I know many photographers who have spoken for them and been paid. I reached out to a male photographer friend who had spoken for them and asked him if he was compensated for his lecture. He told me that they did pay him without issue. I went back to the club with this information and another board member contacted me to discuss it. I was told that they wanted me to do a Zoom presentation but “unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to pay you.” I politely declined. She apologized for any miscommunication and confusion. I just checked their website, and on the page listing the entire 2020-2021 speaker lineup, only two of them are females.
In October 2017, a large camera brand, who we will call Brand A, approached me to become an ambassador and instructor for them. I was so excited to have this opportunity to work with a well-known brand and felt like I was finally having a huge career breakthrough. In emails and then phone calls, we discussed the details of joining the program and made plans for me to start with a podcast and several photo workshops. They invited me to meet with Brand A team members at a large photography convention.
I met with the rep at the convention and was introduced to several other company reps where we discussed my upcoming work with them. It was then that I was invited to go to their convention afterparty, which was held at their main stage once doors, closed to the general public. This party was open to any member of the Brand A professional service program. This is one of those programs where anyone who owns their gear and is a professional can pay a yearly fee to join and get specialized gear service, loaner gear, discounts, and support. They had big banners advertising the member’s afterparty and prizes that would be given away at it, including a recently announced camera kit.
It ended up being a pretty big event and very crowded. I was super nervous. I didn’t personally know many of the people there. In the corner, by the stage, I saw a familiar face. It was a well-known photographer that I had met a few years prior. As a member of the Brand A service program, I had borrowed a camera from the local sales rep. After my project was completed, I let the rep know, and he asked me to return it at a video shoot that they were having. It was there that I met this photographer, had a brief friendly chit chat, and then left. So now, years later, at the party, I approached him, relieved to see someone that I kind of knew in a sea of complete strangers.
I was surprised to be met with immediate disdain. When I approached, I said hello and got looked at funnily right away. I thought that he didn’t recognize me. Fair enough, we had only spoken for a few minutes one time before. I reminded him of my name and that I had met him a summer or two ago at the video shoot. He said that I was wrong on the year, that it was three years ago, which is more than several, which means two. Okay.
He asked me why I was there and how I deserved to be there. I referenced being invited by the manager of their instruction program because they were hiring me. He didn’t believe me. He wanted to know my credentials. It felt like an interview where I had to prove myself. I always feel like a jerk if I say things that I have won or done. I am not sure how to bring up accomplishments without coming across as boasting, so I usually just don’t. However, there are times like in this article or at that moment it is relevant, such as when I am directly asked. So, I listed some recent competitions that I had won. I also referenced winning another photo competition by another company that he also works with so maybe it would click for him. I also reminded him that the party was open to any member of the pro service program. I did not understand why this mattered to him or why I was being interrogated.
I was straight up told, loudly: “you don’t belong here.” I was so embarrassed. People were staring. He told me that he was going to text the other company to try to get proof that I wasn’t “lying about winning” and pulled out his phone to do so. I literally went to another country with this brand as the prize. I still have all the emails and photos. I was so shocked that in minutes, this man was trying to tear into me just for being invited to a brand afterparty. I didn’t understand his angle. Why be so nasty to me? He said that the company didn’t text back right away to confirm my story. I said okay and that I wasn’t lying and didn’t understand what his problem was. I walked away into the crowd, feeling so small.
I should have stood up for myself more, but I just avoided him for the rest of the party. I didn’t know this person well, and he is a long-time ambassador of Brand A. I saw no reason for him to react this way to me saying hi to him at an event. I went from being so nervous and excited meeting with the brand and being invited to the party to being completely crushed.
Not long after the convention, I got an email that the brand “was a little behind” and they wanted to reschedule our plans. I was informed that they were having a different division schedule me to speak in California instead. I was told to wait to hear from the Ocean County division. I never received contact from that division and reached out to follow up with no response. I still have all of the emails. They just ghosted me.
In December 2020, I decided to be bold. After years of hearing nothing from Brand A, I reached out to the manager that I had been working with. I asked him directly for any insight into why things didn’t work out. I wasn’t sure that I would get a response or what it would be, but it was something that haunted me. In March 2021, he emailed me back. He was very frank and open that it boiled down to the company getting wrapped up in the mirrorless announcements, “so we kept booking people we already had in the system.” He apologized to me and explained that over the years since that happened to me, the brand had downsized its educational division until it was completely dissolved.
So, why does this matter? If you reference the statistics that I listed for the big brands, you will see that existing talent for their programs is very heavily male-dominated. So, if the choice is to keep and recycle the same people over and over, it is obvious who that leaves out.
There are also many instances when in polite company, someone asks what I do, I reply photographer. They assume instantly that I photograph weddings, and I explain no, I'm a nature photographer. They ask to see my work. They look at it and are skeptical — flat out do not believe me. I get the same comments from random strangers online: "you took all of these photos? These are really yours?” They are shocked, but I have grace towards them and gently explain that it is all my work. More often than not, I am asked to prove it, so I send them a video or a photo of me in the field. Usually, they don’t respond or block me after receiving a video showing me photographing. People don’t like when you prove them wrong.
Why do non-male genders always have to prove ourselves? Why do people not believe that females can be photographers? I have learned from this to say: “I am a nature photographer. All of the work on my site and in my portfolio has been taken by me in my travels over the years. In reality, it isn’t as luxurious as it sounds. When you see a photo of an animal in the snow, I am out there freezing, but I love what I do.”
One time, I was at a gallery opening where some of my pieces were displayed among other local artists. A woman recognized me and approached me. I knew of her as a local college art teacher. She said to me: “Don’t you think it is interesting how if you are attractive but bad, you can just get into any gallery?” I said: “What? Do you mean me?” She laughed in my face. I said: “Well whoever you mean, this was a blindly judged jury to get in here.” I let her know that this was my first time in that gallery, that multiple artists were represented on the walls, and that I had never met them in person before being selected. She just laughed again and left.
Apparently, even when you work hard and earn things, even some of your own gender just assumes it has to do with anything but your own skill. It is not the first time that a stranger has made a nasty comment when they see that I earned something — “oh it’s because she is female.” My Instagram has 273 posts, 5 of them show me, usually in the far distance. I am not advertising my body or self-image to get ahead. I am actually self-conscious and usually hate photos of myself. It is something that I am working on and has nothing to do with gender, yet people find it hard to believe that a non-male can be “good” at photography, so they just make a sexist comment.
I am speaking on my own experiences, but I have heard similar stories from other female or nonbinary photographer friends. I won't speak for them, as their stories are not mine to tell, but I will address the facts and reality of a deep-rooted issue in our industry.
When I enter photo contests or gallery competitions, most of the time, there is an impartial jury. They are shown the artwork and know nothing of who created it. They select and award their favorite based on the judging criteria and merit, and that is that. Wouldn't it be great if the ambassador programs, directors of photography, outlets, news agencies, etc. had blind hiring based solely on your portfolio?
Overall, it is difficult for women to be taken seriously and hired. What strikes me as odd is that according to CareerExplorer.com, in the United States “65% of photographers are female and 35% are male.” There is a huge disconnect here.
It is not just big brands holding onto old boys' club values making misogynistic choices time and time again, it is magazines and news outlets who hire for covers and photo stories. An entire website, Women Photograph, exists to hold accountable the companies who hire photographers and where they are choosing to give their money. There are spreadsheets of data month by month and year by year of facts showing the dismal numbers. Women Photograph looked into EOY tallies: “At the end of every year, news outlets compile galleries of their favorite images from that year.” In 2019, only 21.31% of the photographs were taken by women. Why does this keep happening every single year?
In 2018 Photoshelter looked at gender equality and compared magazine covers that year to see the percent taken by women:
• National Geographic: 0/12 (0%)
• Sports Illustrated: 0/12 (0%)
• TIME: 2/12 (16%)
• Cosmopolitan: 1/12 (8%)
• Vogue: 5/12 (41%)
• Condé Nast Traveler: 3.5/12 (29%)
• Entertainment Weekly: 0/12 (0%)
• AARP: 0/12 (0%)
The first comment to that thread reads “Don’t care.”
Look, I get it. A lot of people just do not care. This does not affect them directly, or the system as it stands works in their favor. Well, this is not for you then, this is for everyone else who does care and wants to see real change.
The industry as a whole is not giving non-male creators a fair chance.
I am just one person. I am not a well-known photographer or big name. I can only speak on my personal experiences and the statistics and ask for change. I challenge the big brands to catch up on representation, pay rates, and opportunities for nonbinary, females, POC, varied age groups, and all people. I am no one to ask, but I do so anyway. Those who refuse are making a choice for all to see. Rather than after the fact apologies when you get caught making clearly misogynistic choices, choose the COVID times to revamp your programs and hiring practices. It is 2021, and this is a time of change.
If you are reading this and care, please raise your own voice so that the outlets, brands, and companies know that you want this change. As a female creator, the 65% want to be heard. If you are a member of an underrepresented group, let them know you exist.
If you are a non-male professional photographer, have a resume of work, and want to be hired by any of the big companies, brands, or outlets, post your portfolio in the comments below. Let’s show them that there are candidates ready and waiting. There are so many talented, awesome people who deserve a chance. Don't let them have any more excuses.