Is Photography Overrun by White Males?

Is Photography Overrun by White Males?

Anyone can pick up a camera and learn how to shoot, regardless of sex or race. However, if you examine the top tiers of the genre, that basic tenet seems to be less assured. Why is photography seemingly dominated by white males?

The Facts

Both Canon and Nikon have ambassador programs, whose primary focus is representing the brand and furthering photography education. Part of educating is passive; that is, educating is not just the act of passing forth information. It's also a matter of representation — the role model. Like it or not, we learn, both on a conscious and subconscious level, partly through mimicry and a constant feedback loop of comparison. This is particularly important for younger people and children, who lack some of the finer nuances of critical thinking necessary to separate ability, character, identity, and biology. Adults aren't particularly proficient at that either.

Let's look at the actual discrepancy first. Canon's Explorers of Light contains 41 ambassadors:

  • Men: 34 (83 percent)
  • Women: 7 (17 percent)
  • White: 38 (93 percent)
  • Black: 0 (0 percent)
  • Asian: 2 (5 percent)
  • Hispanic: 1 (2 percent)

Nikon's program contains 24 ambassadors:

  • Men: 17 (71 percent)
  • Women: 7 (29 percent)
  • White: 23 (96 percent)
  • Black: 1 (4 percent)
  • Asian: 0 (0 percent)
  • Hispanic: 0 (0 percent)

On the other hand, let's look at the U.S. population:

  • Men: 49 percent
  • Women: 51 percent
  • White: 64 percent
  • Black: 13 percent
  • Asian: 5 percent
  • Hispanic: 16 percent

A quick comparison of the ambassador program numbers to the U.S. population makes it immediately clear that white males are disproportionately over-represented, while women and minorities are underrepresented. 

First off, the photographers who are represented by Canon and Nikon are all highly skilled and creative people and deserve the accolades bestowed upon them. That said, why are so many of them white males? Is it a top-down or bottom-up issue? Why does it matter?

Photo by Chelsey Rogers

Why It Matters

You might make the argument that when we look at photos, we're not looking at the photographer. We don't see the sex or race of the person who created that photo. That's true, but if you give 100 chefs the keys to a grocery store and tell them to prepare any dish and 95 of those chefs are Italian, do you think you'll get more pasta dishes or Pot-au-feu?

Photography is an art, and just like any other art, its individual instances of expression are subject to the eye of the creator, who carries with them the collective sum of their cultural experiences, along with other things. For example, my musical compositions are clearly derivative of the Western classical tradition as opposed to Eastern, African, or other music. That's because I was raised in an environment and culture where that was the music I was predominantly exposed to. I am a product of that culture and I exhibit that in the music I produce.

And thus, when we represent photography mostly by white males, we get mostly white male photography. That's not to say that the individuals within that group are inherently flawed, but rather that by over-representing that group, its collective culture becomes over-represented in its artistic output, which in turn perpetuates the illusion of said culture's prominence, which in turn influences the next generation of creators. In turn, other cultures and collective experiences become othered, and the idea of photography itself, the very intrinsic idea of the act, becomes misrepresented via disproportionate representation of its constituents. In photography's specific case, this has very real consequences beyond the idea of the photograph, the photographer, and the act of photographing.

Indeed, I simply Googled, "photographer," and the first six image results were white males. But photography is, like any other art, not self-contained; it is produced (for the most part) for consumption by those beyond its own practitioners. And while the misguided image of the photographer as white male is problematic enough in itself, the effects are far more reaching and influential when we consider the vehicle of photography itself: the photograph.

When photographs disproportionately carry the collective consciousness and culture of a specific group, they in turn disproportionately bias their consumers toward that group's ideas on anything from sexuality to social habits. Culture feeds into art feeds into culture. Culture feeds into advertising feeds into culture. Culture feeds into journalism feeds into culture. 

This not only affects the outflux of culture, but also the influx. How can a company reasonably market the (what should be self-evident) idea that photography is as much for women as it for men when men represent their brand over women by a ratio of five to one? There's a critical mass – a bifurcation at which the cycle becomes self-sustaining.

To that point, I recently posed a question in a similar vein in another article, and literally every comment was from a male, most of whom said there was no problem. While they're certainly entitled to their opinions, it's tough to take any denial of any problem's existence as gospel when it comes from the mouth of those who benefit from or are at the very least unaffected by the imbalance, particularly when the imbalance is so severe as to effectively silence the other voice in many circumstances — a mathematical overwhelming. And while I can't claim to have conducted my own rigorous statistical studies, I can say anecdotally that I know more women with a legitimate interest in photography than I do men.

photography-diversity-race-sex-gender-1

Photo by Paige Rosemond

Top Down or Bottom Up

So now, the question becomes: is it an issue perpetuated by a top-down approach or bottom-up? That is, are those who are the "gatekeepers" responsible for perpetuating this representation of photography, the photographer, and the photograph via their choices of whom to put in those positions? Or is it that the subset of the population that has cameras and then proceeds to achieve an elite status through their work with them is somehow skewed? Certainly, minorities and women are not less creative than white males. Furthermore, while racial and gender income gaps are statistically well documented, capable photography gear is more attainable than ever. Simply put, I don't buy the bottom-up reasoning.

Rather, I think what we're seeing is a third mechanism: top-down by proxy. The lack of diversity in professional fields and representation in culture is well documented in the United States. Simply put, women and minorities are often not represented at a proportion equal to that of their proportion of the total population. For many, it is normalized, and because of that, they may operate with the sense that the skewed proportions are actually representative.

I'm treading dangerously close to claiming to know individual intentions of those who appoint the likes of camera ambassadors, which I obviously don't; so I'll take this chance to mention that this again harkens to the idea of the collective consciousness. And because of that collective consciousness, we experience a diffusion of responsibility, a sort of unconscious meta-bystander effect within the collective consciousness — social inertia, if you will. 

Conclusion

A disproportionate representation of a group in an artistic realm results in a cultural deficit of expression, and when that art form often informs, shapes, and literally is popular culture and journalistic dissemination, that deficit in turn skews the culture itself and rewires the collective consciousness of its members. Skewed becomes normalized, and the art form becomes culturally insular, while that which it outputs becomes single-minded by inclusion and othering by exclusion.

Even if the art form itself experiences this phenomenon not as an internal event so much as the projection of a wider culture onto its existence, that does not prevent those who participate in it from working to correct disproportionate representation; indeed, if that art form can be insular in its cultural expression, surely it can be insular (with respect to the wider culture) in its rebuttal of said insularity.

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427 Comments

Previous comments
Bank Fruckman's picture

No one said that. But intellectual dishonesty and SJWism go hand in hand so, meh.

Jacob Colmenero's picture

lol what? I am a Hispanic male however I know PLENTY of non white male photographers who I love?

Levik Hertzel's picture

Not many white makes spend their money on new air jordans and kanye sneakers or purses and shoes... All a matter of money you have to buy what you want.

Be no's picture

nice racist comment. add more BS to the disaster argument. doesnt serve our people well Levik

Bank Fruckman's picture

It's not a racist comment!

He pointed out a lot of black people like kanye sneakers and a lot of women like purses and shoes. Both are objectively true statements.

Facts are not racist.

Siobhan Kyle's picture

How in the actual fuck is that a fact?

Bank Fruckman's picture

Hmm, let me get this straight. You disagree that women are more inclined to own more purses and shoes. Let me guess, women owning lots of purses and shoes is just a "social construct". If only men were raised and conditioned to want way more purses and shoes than they need, they too would have overflowing closets!

That's about what you were going to say, right?

LOL.

Anonymous's picture

Exactly. If those statements are facts, then it is a fact that white males only drive monster trucks.

Bank Fruckman's picture

"Exactly. If those statements are facts, then it is a fact that white males only drive monster trucks."

Uh, no. How does you brain even make such an illogical leap? Seriously, how to you go from "more likely" to "only"? Or are you just being intentionally dishonest?

If you'd said that it was a fact that white males were *more likely* to drive monster trucks than other groups then you'd probably be right. Just taking a guess here, I don't know the actual demographics of monster truck drivers.

But since you clearly dispute that women tend to own more purses and shoes, please provide empirical evidence that men are just as likely to own lots of purses and shoes.

I'll wait.

Anonymous's picture

Because I don't own more shoes than some men. You are making a blanket statement that women own more shoes, when in fact I own two pairs and I am a woman.

I also do not carry a purse. I have a messenger bag, like a lot of men, where I put my laptop.

You are all over these comments just to contradict and argue with everyone. Yet, you said you were no longer going to read FStoppers. Why are you still here?

Bank Fruckman's picture

"You are making a blanket statement that women own more shoes"

Uh, yeah, obviously it's a blanket statement, as terms like "more likely" and "in general" would indicate.

"when in fact I own two pairs and I am a woman"

You're kidding right?

So because you *personally* don't own a lot of shoes and carry a messenger bag instead of a purse that means that it's not true that women are more likely to own lots of shoes and purses than men?

Really? That's your argument? Are you actually serious?

I never watch sports on television. Therefore it is wrong to say that more men that women watch sports on television. I mean, obviously I am the barometer for the entire population, right?

Be serious, you know very well that is objectively true that women, in general, tend to own more purses and shoes. It's laughable that you're even attempting to dispute that.

Andrew Babcock's picture

As a black photographer i can say that I haven't met a lot of other black photographers like my self. Sure we are few and far between but i got into this field not because black photographers are in short supply but because i love my work. You can't expect people to fall into line with statistical metrics in every field. Photographers are a particular type of individual, a type of person that culturally, in america, white people fall in to, and in particular males according to these stats.

Now if the problem is that too many white men are in the industry and we need diversity, lets look at the industry on a global scale and ask the same question. I bet the numbers wouldn't work and thus destroy your narrative.

No one goes to Africa and ask, are there too many black males here! So why do it to white males or any one for that matter here.

Ken Flanagan's picture

The most coherent comment in the thread. Hats off sir.

Alex Cooke's picture

A perfectly valid theory and one I'd be interested in seeing studies on. On the global scale, I don't know. I stuck to the U.S. specifically because it's the culture and history I grew up in and feel qualified to comment on.

Andrew Babcock's picture

Look, I know people on the internet are going to throw hate your way, not my intention. But I'm old school. In my way of thinking we don't need people to fill positions because of their color or background, but because they can do the job. I don't want people to see my color or my background through my images i want them to get the results they are paying for. Sure my upbringing may in some have an effect on my photography or my "eye" but that's a small part of the overall picture.

Bottom line, its about quality not color! But thanks for the response I respect you views none the less.

Alex Cooke's picture

Respect and supported arguments are all I ask of people (so thank you!). I certainly didn't feel any hate in your response; it's a joy to read respectful disagreement. I know I do my best growing when exposed to that. I totally respect your views too, and I truly appreciate you taking the time to share them.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Growing up in a culture making you qualified to dissect it is like saying you grew up eating Cheerios and therefore can tell a grain farmer what they're doing wrong.

Alex Cooke's picture

I have a degree in psychology with a focus on sociological and social psychology studies.

Jonathan Brady's picture

I didn't go that far, I have a minor in Sociology and Psych with a major in Business Management. I my not share your credentials, but I'm not far behind and I'm certainly capable, I just chose a different path. I'd characterize your article as woefully lacking sources and breadth to come to such sweeping generalizations. Given your background, you should be capable of something better.

Alex Cooke's picture

Except I didn't make sweeping generalizations. Read it again and tell me where I made hard definitive statements about the state of things. I gave a statistic and talked about its *possible* causes and impact.

Melissa Ann's picture

Exactly the point I just made to an angry commenter who responded to my comment. I'm in Africa, hence my comment was naturally from an African perspective. In reality this article is highly contextual, depending on the region of the world, and if the world population of photographers is being considered, or ONLY photographers in USA. I imagine in countries like USA, this article is highly valid.

Be no's picture

America just repudiated this crap. Open your eyes.

Alex Cooke's picture

I'm going to go ahead and ask everyone who has taken major offense to first remember that the guy who wrote this is himself a white male and second to ask themselves why it's impossible to have a civil conversation about this. Did I say anyone was racist or sexist in the article? Or did I go out of my way to say that I was not speaking of the individual and rather of the expression of cultures and their development? And did I speculate or provide documented statistics that you can verify for yourself? If your only response is to insult me and use foul language without any sort of logic or rational reasoning supported by evidence, don't expect me to reply with anything but a request that you act like a respectful adult and that you ask yourself why you feel so persecuted when the writer himself is from the aforementioned demographic and went out of his way to emphasize that this was not about that.

Fritz Asuro's picture

The need for writing such article is unnecessary. Diversity towards photographers is not something we need to concern ourselves. Let Fstoppers be educational and informative.

Marty Williams's picture

I disagree; the article and topic is very necessary. White males are not the only ones who should be viewed as superior photographers. Non white male and female photographers deserve recognition and appreciation because of their photographic abilities.

Bank Fruckman's picture

Yeah, the only problem is that they aren't. This is a made up issue. My god, 8 years of Obama sent race relations and people's brains back 6 decades. Amazing.

Fritz Asuro's picture

White male photographers are superior?

There is no barrier for any gender of any skin color that stops them from being a photographer. White males toping the demographics means white males are the ones that has shown interest to photography. It's USA, it has a lot of white people there, what did you expect?

This topic could have made more sense if there was some kind of law or rule that pushes only white males to be photographers.

Melissa Ann's picture

Interesting, I never knew white male photographers are automatically viewed as superior...... that's rather interesting. If this is true, then I can understand why this article had to be written.

Bank Fruckman's picture

You're self loathing. We get it.

This is not the first anti-white, anti-male intersectional feminist, social justice warrior article you've written on this website that is supposed to be about photography.

It's egregious! Don't you know! Like, literally the worst! Says the mansplaining, whitesplaining doofus who uses big words to satisfy his superiority complex as he tells us plebians about our original sin.

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