Photojournalism Is for White Men, as Revealed by a Stunning New York Times Photograph

Photojournalism Is for White Men, as Revealed by a Stunning New York Times Photograph

There’s no question that the New York Times photo of James Comey during his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, where he detailed his uncomfortable and suspect dealings with President Donald Trump, is going to be one of the iconic ones of our time. There’s also no question about who overwhelmingly seems to dominate the photojournalism field based on this photo: white men.

Doug Mills, the photographer who carefully planned and shot the photo, used a monopod from above the gaggle of photographers. If you read this detailed write-up about it, you’ll see another photo that has an even clearer view. Counting the photographers, about 32 seemed to be white males, and only two women in the group. There may have been a few minorities, but it’s hard to tell.

Take a look:

Regardless of what the exact count was, it’s stunning that news organizations don’t consider this when sending out photographers. Yes, news outlets have hit tough times, and those tough times disproportionately affect minorities in newsrooms, but it’s still something an editor should think about. This is even more important when it involves a president that specifically targets minorities when crafting policy.

The Comey photo reveals that there’s still a huge gender/race gap in photojournalism. If you look at the list of New York Times reporters in the White House Press Corps (or at least the ones listed here), there’s a lack of diversity across the board. It’s a similar situation for the board of the White House Correspondents’ Association. Fox News, according to that same list, seems to be doing better on this front.

Many commenters pointed out this issue not only in terms of the photographers, but also in terms of the people in the room who controlled the levers of power in government:

Some of the comments on the New York Times story about the photo.

Some of the comments on the New York Times story about the photo.

In January, shortly before the inauguration and on the cusp of expanded racism that followed the new administration, Fstoppers Writer Alex Cooke looked at the diversity problem in the photography industry as a whole and called out an important reason to foster diversity in photography and specifically photojournalism:

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 particular photo from the Comey hearing reveals that no one’s listening.

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136 Comments

Previous comments
Boris Schipper's picture

I think if a subject gets such a strong response it is a sign of a weak spot.
If someone states something i don't agree with I might react, but I will always try and really understand why they say this, even if my instincts or my ego tell me it's bullshit.
Then there are two options, either I learn to agree with him (or her) and I have learned something, or, I tried to understand but I still disagree and I don't care about his opinion because I think he's a nitwit.
I upvoted this comment because I have noted on another post, quite a while ago, that people get really offensive here when it's about race.
If it has such an influence on you, not you Patrick, on people in general, that you feel the need to react in a way that get's really personal and unpleasant, i think it's a sign of fragility, a weak spot.
I don't have the linguistic ammunition to express what I think like many of you, english is not my native tongue, but I did want to express my surprise about the harshness of some comments.
Why do you care so much if it doesn't influence you or what you believe in...

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I care because being a white male in America, I hear sentiments like this article a lot. I can easily understand how minorities get tired of hearing hurtful comments but, of course I can't understand anything else that goes along with it and wouldn't pretend to.

It just gets old. In this case, Wasim's comments really were completely off base so...I snapped. Sorry!

jonas y's picture

Weak spot, not really. I found people who are generally sick and tired of the lies the regressive left are preaching. The left-leaning media lie about they are being some phobic and racism for decades and people start to call these rubbish out, while the believers of victimology set minority cities in flame. BTW I am a minority who live in a deep blue state.

Anonymous's picture

I know it wasn't fair. I actually like a lot of your posts but there was one in particular, I can't remember which, that really p*ssed me off. My only defense is, I'm old and set in my ways. :-)

Donny Cotten's picture

It would seem to me that having the need to make everything about race is the issue of those that can't seem to excel for the ever-present chip on their shoulder. Stop playing the victim, get off your rumps and perform to the best of your ability instead of making accusations and baseless diatribes against others that have paid their dues.

Ben Perrin's picture

I'm sorry that we aren't the sheep you want us to be...

michael buehrle's picture

why are the bulk of his pics on his website of white people ? wouldn't he be part of the "problem" then ? maybe this article was just some kind of an experiment from the fstoppers guys ? if not it's just a waste of time. there are so many great women and "non white" photographers out there and i'm not angry that they they are better than me. you get out of it what you put into it.

Donny Cotten's picture

Does it matter what color a photographer is? I was under the impression it was the quality of the work that matters in photography. I guess for race baiters it all about race instead of performance. I don't see a good image and have to then see the photographer to decide if I like the image or not and nor does anyone else.

No one is being stopped from posting images on this site...regardless of race/color or creed. If your images aren't here it's your fault.

michael buehrle's picture

i agree with you 100%. he doesn't think so. your work should speak for you.

Dear fstoppers,

Iv been following your website anonymously for a number of years now. Lately you have run a number of articles about racism, diversity, and women in photography. What gives?

In case you don't know, photographers are colour-blind. Especially those of us that mainly shoot black and white.

Anyway, I only signed up today so I could tell you how much I disagree with your SJW politics. Shove it where the sun don't shine. I will never visit your site again.

Anonymous's picture

Really? "Murica!"? You should contact every school you've ever attended and ask for your money back! Show them your comment and I'm certain they'll give you a cheerful refund.

Michael Holst's picture

No more student loan debt?! SWEET!

Anonymous's picture

Nicely done!

Julian Ray's picture

On a slightly different note. Hopefully one that is taken with the humor with which it is intended.
It's interesting to to see all the older (more experienced?) PJs shooting or looking for the shot while the one young guy is chimping. As a long time news shooter I can always tell who will get "the shot" and who'll miss it]. In one word. Chimpers. :-D

George Mitchell's picture

Wow! The comments levied here only proves there is a problem within our field.

Anonymous's picture

One has nothing to do with the other. In the same way people of color get tired of being stereotyped, being cast as racist, misogynists gets old for white men. Sometimes you've had enough and say things you wouldn't under other circumstances.

George Mitchell's picture

I beg to differ.

Anonymous's picture

Good. Disagreement makes life fuller and more interesting. :-)
You think they're the same thing or you disagree with everything after that?
Since there's nothing to argue regarding the latter, I'll address the former.

The few people commenting on this thread represents a tiny, almost immeasurable, percentage of Fstoppers readers. They're not representative of the whole but are made up of people who've been affected by the two attitudes here: minorities feeling they were left out as a result of bias and white males tired of being blamed for everything. You can't extrapolate the numbers to the industry as a whole and, especially to decision makers. In my experience, they don't give a damn who you are!

And you say...

Michael Holst's picture

In all seriousness I get it. It's gotta suck to see so much white influence as a minority living in the U.S. and yes it deserves some kind of discussion. This article doesn't give a very constructive opinion IMO. It identifies individuals in a situation with little context other than "they are white so we have a problem". If the logic used to raise an issue stands only from one perspective and could be linked to a double standard then no progress will be made. My own personal view on equality is that people should all be judged under the same lens. When we start to talk about how the industry is full of white men and then leave it at that, we dismiss the hard work, dedication, and craft it took to get to where they are. Is there room for minorities in photography? Fuck yes there is, all are welcome. The more the merrier (outside of the market being too saturated but that's a different topic). We all should be able to express our creativeness in whatever ways we want. Another question to ask that this article doesn't address, is there any evidence that any of the white men in that photograph did anything to warrant them being racist? Could the problem be that the system is the issue and not the individuals? Race bating is a thing we should take seriously. I know the Author of this article wrote it in good intention and that should be considered as a starting point for conversation.

Look, I realize it's hard to hear when you're a white man but criticisms about distributions of gender and race are not, listen carefully now, are not a personal attack on you or any of the individual photographers working in the field. The critique is about the social pressures that have created the situation. The problem is that without diverse perspectives, we will have a false, flawed, incomplete, one dimensional view of the world. Case in point, most of this community seems to be white men and has collectively created this f-stoppers gallery https://fstoppers.com/editors-picks/photos. Who's worldview is represented there? Mostly it's sexy women, nature and adventurous/conquering (white) men. It's not that there is anything wrong with what is there, the problem is with what isn't there. How much richer and more interesting could it be to have more experiences portrayed. Imagine if this was the only perspective shared in the world, what is being left out? Now imagine this was the only perspective translating our world in the media. What are we missing out on? We don't even know what we don't know until we listen to someone who has lived a different experience than we have. Women and minorities are in j-school and photo school. They work hard, have talent and good ideas, let's make a point of inviting them in.

Ben Perrin's picture

There is nothing here stopping anyone from taking photos or posting them here. Want more diversity? Then post more diverse images. There is no problem here except for some weird notion where people seem to believe that the world should be handed them because of their colour or gender or sexual preference etc. This is the mentality that bugs me, the notion that you have the right to whatever you want simply because you belong to a minority. Let people be recognised for their talent.

Anonymous's picture

I really appreciate your comments and they made me think which was, of course, your intent. While I agree with your summary of the effects of the situation, I disagree with your assertion of the causes. There aren't any invitations. You have to crash the party. That's the only way to ensure only the best make it in.

My other takeaway...Fstoppers editors are the problem! ;-)

William Howell's picture

I agree, more sexy female minorities scantily clad!

Wow I feel diversified.

I like this site, please don't push this crap here. Why antagonize a significant portion of your audience? No virtue signaling here please.

As a non-white photographer, I appreciate this article. And while we're at it, I'd really like to see fewer photos of "exotic" brown people.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I've often noticed that photography competitions really like their photos of "exotic" brown people - I feel like this can often make us feel like the "other" in American society - I appreciate the thoughtful comment.

Robert Nurse's picture

It's often hard to notice the hungry when one's belly if full. The point being made in article can be wearisome. I get it. But, is the author completely off base? Seems he's struck a nerve.

Darren Abate's picture

I've always seen great diversity in newsrooms and desks I've worked with, but all I have is 25 years' experience in news to pull from; I'm sure the one photo you saw that inspired you to voice this opinion is much more representative of the field as a whole.

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