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

Mr. Cooke: thank you for addressing this topic. Some of the readers may not know, but across this country there are Black and other non white photographers who are creating incredible images. It is discouraging to attend the professional photography conventions and to not see Black photographers as presenters/instructors. It is also discouraging to go to museums and galleries around the country and not see the photography of black photographers on display and to not recognize that Black photographers have been involved in photography since the medium's creation. There are so many names, past and present that I could list here; names that I suspect many of the readers don't know or care to know. I'm not sure what can be done---to provide these under appreciated photographers a wider forum to demonstrate their skill and expertise.

Anonymous's picture

You should list those who inspire you. A lot of us would love to look up their work and learn about other photographers. People need to counteract all these negative and hateful comments with some positive and constructive comments and maybe everyone will learn something. I'll start: Gordon Parks. Everyone should study his amazing body of work.

Donna, I never even heard of Gordon Parks! Nice work as you stated!!! That was a great suggestion as well...Now I have look at who I would suggest!

Anonymous's picture

Glad to hear you enjoyed his work. I'm looking forward to seeing who you would recommend.

All I know is this...I am taking your suggestions and running with it...I have found LOTS of photographers that I have never heard of :)

I think you have actually done Mr Cooke some semi justice and given it a bit more of a practical context. so thanks.

I do disagree with the general article..however the issue you pointed out presents a more worth while talking point..with some genuine cause and effect.

Its certainly understandable why in that situation it could be discouraging to some extent...people will naturally tend to be lead more (unconsciously) by those of the same race perhaps. So i can see why you might want to see more black people presenting talks etc. However, what do you think is the practical solution? You point out that there isn't enough black people in those positions, so do you think there are instances where a white person was put forward un merited where a black person deserved it (based on skill and expertise)? If so...thats the problem that should be discussed, and in my opinion the only thing that matters as its specific racism. Can you point to a photographer that doesn't currently get the credit they deserve over others because of the colour of their skin?

I would also like to present another scenario....would it be fair...for a white man to say he is discouraged to enter into a profession because he does not see many white men in said profession? to me, a large proportion of these arguments tend to think that solving historical racial issues, real ones, are done by punishing those races who benefited historically to make up for it. I think this is flawed system, if you are suggesting that black people should be given more credit because they are black AND photographers, I don't think this solves anything and only creates larger problems. For me the best solution is to simply stress that in most situations, specifically skill and talent related, skin colour should be disregarded all together and have no part to play in the decision making. That way we push those who really deserve it because they deserve it. Personally I am inspired by photographers work, and only their work...I cant think of a single situation in my life where I have thought about the colour of their skin as a factor as to whether I appreciate their work.

The town in which I live is clearly an aberration from the norm. It is a strange town in a lot of ways- very small (around 450,000 in the metro area) but with a huge number of scientists and engineers. Here there is probably a disproportionately large group of stay-at-home wives/moms who are bored and decide to become "professional" photographers. This is anecdotal, I realize, but I saw someone post on Facebook recently, asking for recommendations for a photographer in the area. There were very quickly around 20 names mentioned, of which 19 were females. The photography business here is very largely dominated by female photographers.

Joshua Boldt's picture

I love that half a million people is small to you. That really made me smile. The nearest city to me is 200,000 people and it seems huge. My nearest neighbor lives a mile away from me. The entire state I live in isn't even a million people total, but my state is geographically almost the size of the New England region of the US so we're pretty spread out.

If you search for photography business here it is overwhelmingly women also. Most photography is family photography though, like babies weddings etc. Not a lot of corporate and business photography, but those are mostly guys for some reason if you can find them.

Haha I guess it's all relative. I know people who think of this as big, but I've spent a lot of time in Atlanta, so I come home and feel like I'm isolated from the world.

Joshua Boldt's picture

Do a Google image search on "olympic photographers" and look at all the men with $10,000 plus in gear. Search for "top wildlife photographers" and same thing. Now, wonder for a moment why a for-profit company like Nikon probably has more male ambassadors promoting their products to other males who put down that kind of cash. Money is money, and you either impress your board and your stockholders or you get shoved.

The ambassador programs are regional. If you look at Nikon's Singapore ambassadors, for instance, you see Asian men. In a country like the US that is largely white you see white people. Again, money is money and their consumer base is largely white. Are advertising and economics forms of racism, or are profit just profits to big business? If your marketing analysis shows white men overwhelming buy your s$%t then you're gonna turn up the volume on your marketing campaigns and programs toward them. It's hard to judge them for that when their sole purpose is to make money. If TV viewers are largely white in the US, and money is largely white in the US, isn't it obvious that TV production would cater to whites? They don't exist for social justice. They exist to make loads of money. Power and money control power and money.

(I'm not saying any of this is "right" -- just pointing it out)

The reason this is receiving a negative reaction is because the term "overrun" implies too many, aka an inferred negative, and, most importantly, the SJW world has been perpetuating a negative "movement" towards white males for the past couple years pretty aggressively, so articles like this, regardless of their intention, fall inside that discussion whether you'd like it to or not. I think its fair to say the outcome of this article's response was known well in advance of posting it ;)

Timothy Daniel's picture

In response to ... everything below?... something below? I don't know there's too much insanity in these comments to try and figure that out.

Considering that so many of the pictures posted by the photography commmunity [including this website {though I do in general like fstoppers content)] are of sexy white women (Yes, I know, addressed in another fstoppers article with many many white male commentors), I would say this is an issue for all of us as a community. It holds us back because the beauty that's being observed is through the lens (is this a pun? a metaphor? Both? Neither? Who knows? Probably some know it all who will comment below this) of a white male photographer. And other photographers (like me [read: not a white male] when I started) believed that I also need to adopt what is PERCEIVED as the white male outlook on life in order to make it because what we see in media, advertising, entertainment, film (and yes porn [it's in the photo/video feild]) Is produced by straight white males for straight white males. If that's the world of entertainment, don't I have to do what's safe, what everyone else does to "make it"? Then wouldn't agencies see 'sucessful' (we all hate it) advertising and just find people who can do what's already being done? It's safe, it works well enough. It doesn't rock the boat and (enough) money is made (by white male execs?).

TLDROICYCFOATB (TLDR or in case you couldn't filter out all the brackets); People are hired to make what we see and what we see is the world as drawn by a white peni-(can I say this without getting flagged??). It's killing originality. Are you a man? Think like a woman you know, or try. Grown up? Shoot like you would have if you were a kid. Are you Asian? What would the world look like to you if you were British? Capture it. Or at least try. Open your mind. Learn another life. Learn 10 more lives. If that's too long to read I'm afraid the education system has failed you.

And then there's money. The median income for black families in america in 2010 (For whatever reason you feel like blaming it on [read: believe whatever you want, they still only made...]) was ~$39000. Do you seriously think that someone making that much money would spend $10k on photography gear? What about $5k? $1k? If you're going to get angry about how everyone has money for photography and how gear doesn't matter please go stand on 8 mile (one of my friends has had people chase him through Detroit in a car while filming) or in East Cleveland with $1k in camera gear taking photos and video and then come back here and let me know how it went for you. Repeat this process increasing the cost of your gear incrementally until you are at $10k. I realize that not every minority in America is poor and can't afford camera gear, but that's why there's a small representation in the study!

Last, non-whites are no(t as)-marketable. See internet comments on things posted by or about minorities...anywhere.

Also, I'm sorry I'm really really tired right now. I know the incoming comments with fill me with regret but must .. post ..

RT McDonald's picture

Are you trying to prove that the photography industry is "overrun" by white males (as your title insinuates) by evaluating and dissecting the Canon and Nikon ambassador programs? Give me a break! If you have a beef with Canon and Nikon, you need to talk to them and stop trying to make it a social issue! Good photography rises to the top - there's no quota system.

Thank you for sharing this most amazing and alarming research. Its high time to form a 'Photography Liberation Movement' and bring this injustice to the courts. Sue Nikon, sue Canon, request that whit male photographers be barred from their profession.

Trent Preston's picture

Possibly, women like to have there photos taken, men do not like to have there photo taken nearly as much thus choosing to take a path behind the camera.

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

So ok photography is racist. Let's dilute it! And while we're at it I have another question - why so many inventions were made by white males??? And all the classical composers were also white male. You're onto something big there, buddy. Conspiracy...

I am from Europe and back home we do have a saying that someone (Alex Cooke) is complaining...."that the humpbacked man has a straight kids".. Other words gat a life!!!! This is the free world and people have the free choice to do and become whatever they want in any proportions....are you trying to be politically correct? Then send your cries to Obama:):) You fail, do you know why? You forgot to focuse your pathetic attention to gays, lesbians and trans people you betrayed them!!!! Do not waist your time, enjoy your whotever your life is. There are waaay enough idiots on this world, we do not need any more of them. Someone who payed for your pathetic article mast be sick. Pathetic!!!!

clear to me Lee and company are okay running a political publication... disappointing when there was so much promise

Martin Van Londen's picture

So many fragile white males commenting on here. And most of them do not have a portfolio. Sad!

Anyways. I think these brands need to start looking into this and doing something about it. The creative field is diverse. They need to reflect that better.

A self-loathing white male SJW from Portland. But I repeat myself.

Lol. The SJW vernacular and insult repertoire is so predictable it's not even funny. Really bizarre affliction.

Btw, what's it like being a walking stereotype?

Martin Van Londen's picture

I actually do not loath my self. I love my self, because I'm not you.

That's clearly untrue, Martin, but I guess if you do enough LSD you can start to believe nearly anything.

It's easy clickbait like this that made me stop visiting Petapixel.

Is journalism overrun by paid politically correct jewish NWO agenda trolls?

It's interesting how the author wrote a very differentiated article that points to the simple and undisputable fact that white males are over-represented in photography, without damning that or shaming members of the group "white males" - yet he is faced with very undifferentiated, even aggressive comments.

Most of the people who comment aggressively and defensively probably didn't read past the headline and the first few sentences, otherwise they would have noticed that there is no reason for fighting. The article just points out the facts and asks for reasons, without criticizing any sub-group within the photography community.

As a European, it's often glaring how polarized the US society is ... it's either A or B, with nothing in between. And as soon as any topic regarding women or minorities is brought up, there are the people who immediately yell "social justice warrior". Why are you so afraid of talking about representation, equality and other things like that? No woman and no member of a minority will do you any harm. Not more than any white male, that is.

Can't we just all get along and dispute things calmly and friendly?

Regarding the topic, it's surely true that white males are overrepresented and that surely has an impact of the photographic output of the whole group of all photographers. It's ok to notice that and to keep it in mind. But I personally don't think that it is necessarily bad. As someone else said in a comment, women are overrepresented on PInterest, and that's ok too, so I don't see that it's bad that the photographic community is predominantly male.
If people are interested in a female approach, there's always great female photographers to follow. Elena Shumilova is a great example for having a unique female approach to photography.

And on a sidenote, I think the overrepresentation of males is at least partly a result of photography being a gimmicky hobby/profession. Men just wanna play around with some nice electronic toys.

Regarding the underrepresentation of minorities, I dont' really have an explanation other than that the sample size examined in the article is quite small. It might be unfit to draw any conclusions regarding the big mass of the average joe photographers.

Sure. That might be true if you ignore the racist, sexist click-bait headline.

P.S. it's still not true.

Andrew Richardson's picture

Racist and sexist? Do you own a dictionary? Or do you only copy and paste 4chan circle-jerk drivel?

Tell me, if the headline was "photography is overrun with black women", would it be racist and sexist then?

Be honest.

Andrew Richardson's picture

No, it wouldn't.

Now go ahead and tell me that I'm not actually being honest, because you clearly can't handle people with different opinions than you.

Mentioning race is not racist, mentioning gender is not sexist. Drawing attention to something doesn't mean you hate it or condemn it.

Why are you so angry? Who hurt you?

Great, so the next article on article on Fstoppers will about about something overrun with black women, and that'll be the headline, right?

"Why are you so angry? Who hurt you?"

Again with the oh so predictable SJW script. You guys are like the Borg.

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