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

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Ken Flanagan's picture

Chillax my man. He's just a guy writing an article thats purpose was to convey an idea based on some statistics, and research. The article was created to stir conversation which highlights the current state of the industry in terms of race, and gender, which is exactly what he did. If you agree then awesome, and if not, respond with a retort that edifies the community.

Bank Fruckman's picture

If this were the only racist anti-white article I read this year portraying white males as a problem needing solving, you'd be right. Sadly it's about the 20th and we're only 11 days in. It's part of a pervasive, deplorable trend.

Hating on men has been commonplace and accepted for a while. Now the same is happening g for white people in general, but bonus points if they're male (unless they don't identify as male, then they are a woman and as such off limits for crticism).

So sadly, you're very, very wrong.

Ken Flanagan's picture

Don't get your feelers hurt man, you will be just fine. You have the right to your opinion too weather its right, or wrong, just as I have the right to use copious amounts of commas, misspellings, and grammar mistakes.

Bank Fruckman's picture

My feelings aren't hurt, and I took no offense at what you said. I just don't agree. :)

Alex Cooke's picture

You seem to be investing my words with a lot of meaning I was very careful to avoid even implying. Anti-white and anti-male? Did you miss the part where I said every one of the photographers on those lists are deserving of the honor? Please point out, in quotes, exactly where I said whites and men are bad. Also, are you male or white yourself? Because if so, you do realize a man can't mansplain to another man and a white can't whitesplain to another white, right? Lastly, as I mentioned in another comment, if you can't refrain from calling me disrespectful names, don't expect me to engage with you in discussion. I'm not interested in mudslinging and name-calling.

Bank Fruckman's picture

I get that you were careful to avoid saying it. Nonetheless your white guilt and SJW mindset shine through clearly enough. Sorry, you can't hide it.

"are you a white male"

Irrelevant. Unlike you I don't obsess over gender, race and identity politics.

But since you asked, I'm transblack, like Shaun King.

"Because if so, you do realize a man can't mansplain to another man and a white can't whitesplain to another white, right?"

I think it should be obvious to you that I don't subscribe to your intersectional feminist nonsense, gender studies skewed view of the world.

I live in reality, and was therefore using those terms sarcasticly and ironically.

"don't expect me to engage with you in discussion"

How egotistical and arrogant does one have to be to think I care?

Oh please Mr. Cooke! Won't you please do me the great honour of talking to me! Why, it might just make my day! Oh please Mr. PhD, pretty please?

Lol. I think you're a brainwashed doofus, remember?

Sammie Saxon's picture

Alex I appreciate the post, it was very informative.Sadly you cant post anything about race or diversity on the internet anymore.

Melissa Ann's picture

It's okay to talk about race in the right context, but in relation to photography, it's rather unusual. We are all united here for the love of photography I imagine, and then this article shows up..... this isn't a political/social site. Ah well!

Craig Staples's picture

Alex, stats like the ones in your very very long essay only show one side of the story.
It seems your thought process hasn't even come to the simplest of conclusions... maybe there are more white male photographers in the industry because proportionately more white males are into photography than the other demographics mentioned

J Cortes's picture

Goodness , everyone is a photographer these days. Does it matter what race has a higher representation in any camera manufacturer's ambassador program? I'm latino and I never look at any of these ambassador programs and think to my self that Nikon , Canon, or Sony should consider more people of color or different genders for their programs. Rather I just wish, I was good enough to be among them. I applaud and appreciate your thought process regarding the whole race thing , but I don't think it's necessarily warranted, or needed on this forum. I come to Fstoppers to see the latest trends, inspirations and gear talk, and that's about it.

James Douglas's picture

I actually identify as beige... Lemme get a high five from all the beige photogs out here!!

Bank Fruckman's picture

Stop appropriating beige culture.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

You are mistaken. I've checked in Lightroom (quite authoritative source, I believe) and your skin colour is orange. So, speaking of all orange males... what was the question?

dylan reid's picture

Lead by example, stop being a photographer. You're a white male, so you must be part of the problem. Tell the other writers and editors on FS to lead by example too... since they are also all white males.

Bank Fruckman's picture

Token black guy, why are the whities even letting you take pictures?

Hans Rosemond's picture

There's a fine line between trying to be clever and being a douchebag.

Bank Fruckman's picture

And I suppose where that line is depends on who you ask. :)

Alex Cooke's picture

Bank, I've been really accepting in allowing your opinion. But if continue to post comments that are purely baiting and insulting people, you will be banned. There's a difference between disagreeing and trolling. Doing things like going through my portfolio and rating all my photos one star (do you really think I can't see that?) and calling other members the "token black guy" really call into question your ability to separate staying on topic and engaging in respectful discourse and straight-up trolling.

Bank Fruckman's picture

I was giving my honest opinion of your photos. Are we supposed to lie?

That's really the biggest problem we face in this world. Everyone seems to value "niceness" over truth.

You give your article a title like "If photography overrun with white males", and then turn around and claim you meant no disrespect to white males. Okay, so then why didn't you title your article, "How can we get more minorities into photography?" It'd still be a garbage premise, but at least it would be less racist.

Let's try some variations on your headline.

"The NBA overrun with black males"

"Elementary schools are overrun with women teachers"

"Engineering school is overrun with Asians"

"Chicago is overrun with black murderers"

You see how none of that's okay?

And yet you not only think your headline and article are okay, you think it's virtuous.

Well it's not, it's race-baiting bullshit, but it makes you feel good to virtue signal. "Look at me, I'm a privileged white boy, but I care, I really do care about you poor little minorities".

And then you demand that people should be nice to you about it. Hey, if people want to be nice to you that's fine. Some of us prefer to tell it like it is.

Go ahead, ban me. I've been reading Fstoppers for years, I only signed up to let you know your bs political articles had lost a reader. I never participated before, I'm sure I won't miss it in the future.

Alex Cooke's picture

Stop it. You know exactly what you're doing. If you want to participate in an adult conversation, be an adult. I'll even let you have the remarkable coincidence that you despise all my photos. Fine. Stop making comments purely built for baiting and name-calling.

Bank Fruckman's picture

I give you credit where credit is due, you at least let me talk. Fstoppers has not yet followed the trend of websites disabling comments so they don't have to hear any dissenting voices, and more importantly, so their readers can't see them.

But here's the deal. I made ONE, count it, ONE comment like that and it was obviously satirical.

All the rest of my comments have had substance and honest opinions. If you feel "baited" by that, that's on you and perhaps you should examine why they make you feel that way. Perhaps you might even examine why your ideology compels you to write divisive political articles with racist, sexist headlines on a website that's supposed to be about photography.

As for your photos, I changed my mind, the one of the couple by the water is okay.

Alex Cooke's picture

I'm not continuing this game. You've edited several comments that were initially nothing but inflammatory speech. I've not demanded anyone be nice to me, simply asked that they act like respectful adults. If you think I'm a race-baiting, virtue-signaling, brainwashed doofus with a superiority complex (all things you've said), so be it. Support it with a rational, evidence-based opinion, and I'll respect it. Calling me names, editing them out when you're caught in the act, questioning the character of a person you know nothing about personally (aka your fake quotes of my inner monologue above), and mocking a person's feelings and/or insinuating motivations you couldn't possibly know are all acts based in speculation and devoid of evidence-based reasoning, aka, they're trolling. My involvement in this discussion ends here.

Bank Fruckman's picture

What "fake quotes"

I used your own headline and changed a couple of words to show you how racist and baiting it was and how it wouldn't be okay if said about ANY other group.

Do you disagree? Put you money where you mouth is then. I expect your next article to be about how baby and maternity photography is overrun by white women.

It'd be true, but I'm guessing you wouldn't think it was okay to write an article about it.

Also, it's not actually a problem. Even though it's true.

Sergio Tello's picture

You should explore the reasons why most models are female in your next article.

Sedric Beasley's picture

The ambassador programs from, Nikon, Canon and even Sony Artisan of light have been around how long in years? If you combine all of those programs together the numbers are even worse because for as long as these programs have been in place; there have been numerous talented minority photographers.

LA M's picture

LOL...waaaay to step in "it" Alex.

I feel your article bro...

Mark Fleming's picture

Give me a break.

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