Photography: Is It Still A Man’s World?
The majority of my generation doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about gender discrimination and gender issues in their career path, myself included. I actively avoided all the gender studies kids in college, finding their “keg-conversation” a tad too zealous for comfort. However, through my never-ending quest for FS Spotlight subjects, I can’t help noticing that a disproportionate number of renowned photographers are men. “Hm, coincidence?” I wondered. “Or is photography still a man’s world?” My personal impression was that while the world of established, renowned photographers is male-dominated, I know just as many young female photographers as male. But as I stared at the Fstoppers writer’s roster - 17 writers, 15 men, 2 women, I decided it was time to do a bit of research.
Let’s start with the numbers.Fortunately, the National Endowment for the Arts was way ahead of me on this one. The NEA Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005 report released in 2008 offers an in depth look at the 21st century artist and creative, and has some interesting tidbits on the contemporary world of photography. For starters, the executive summary specifically lists photography as one of the fields in which women remain underrepresented. However, the actual numbers state that 42.8% of all professional photographers are female. Not so bad, right? But the report goes on to clarify something I’d already suspected: While almost 60% of professional photographers are men, 60% of photographers under 35 are women. The majority of veteran, successful photographers are, in fact, men.
Dolla dolla bills, ya’ll.
The NEA went beyond gender statistics to ask, “What’s the bottom line, then?” According to their research, the median income for a male photographer in the United States is $35,500. The median income for a female photographer? Less than HALF that amount, a mere $16,300.
How do the statistics translate to real life?
The fact that the majority of established photographers are men wasn’t terribly shocking. However, I do have to wonder what this means in terms of the pending success of young women behind the lens. These quantitative discrepancies make me wonder about the qualitative ones, which are obviously more difficult to concretely discern. Are male photographers more likely to hire male assistants? If the majority of photographers are men, is the common public image, and therefore potential client’s image, of a “professional photographer” also a man? Are women less likely to be hired and succeed in certain areas of photography, such as sports or photojournalism?
Selective gender preference does exist, but does that mean it’s a prejudice?
Gender issues in the news media recently came boiling to the surface with the tragic, horrifying events in Egypt in 2011 involving South African television journalist Lara Logan, and again with the March 2011 abduction of veteran conflict photojournalist Lynsey Addario in Libya. Amongst the public, the overarching question was raised of whether or not women should cover conflict, especially conflicts taking place in cultures that regard women much differently than the Western world. As Addario’s essay in The New York Times says,
“Some comments [on our account of the events] said: “How dare a woman go to a war zone?” and “How could The New York Times let a woman go to the war zone?” To me, that’s grossly offensive. This is my life, and I make my own decisions. If a woman wants to be a war photographer, she should.” (Read Lynsey Addario’s response, "It's What I Do" on The New York Times site.)
Renee Blackstone’s article for the News Photographers Association of Canada details photojournalist Patti Gower’s frustration with being denied assignments in Iraq because of her sex, but these are particular sensitive, international situations. What about on the local level?
It’s no different, Blackstone asserts. Of the 315 members polled at the NPAC, 257 listed themselves as professional shooters, and only 31 are women. She also details the male to female ratios of the photo departments at many Canadian newspapers, noting, “With very few exceptions, they have been and continue to be dominated by men.” Blackstone interviews seven women in her article, and ultimately finds that there is a gender bias surrounding which types of assignments are given to female photographers over their male counterparts, as well as some generalization as to the overall “feel” of the images of female shooters.
Women are generally viewed to be more sensitive, emotional, and physically vulnerable, and that can prove an obstacle in certain fields, namely sports, conflict, and photojournalism. Many of the women interviewed found that their gender identity actually works to give them an edge, however, in assignments dealing with children, victims, or subjects requiring a sensitive, non-threatening presence.
Finally, Blackstone notes, “Many [female photojournalists interviewed] had mentors- all male, it should be noted - early in their careers, and all feel that, now that they are established, they are treated with professional courtesy and respect by their male colleagues in the business.”
So is life really that bad? Fighting your way out of the “Wedding Industry Ghetto”.
Blackstone’s article draws attention to the imbalanced numbers of men versus women in photojournalism, but she spends ample time discussing some of the up sides to be considered the “fairer sex”, and quotes photographer Yvonne Berg as saying, “...Just the other day I had to shoot a group of kids playing in a park. I was even hiding behind some trees to get just the right angle and no one said a word to me... there was no hint of suspicion or apprehension at my motives... I would venture to say that, these days, a guy doing that would be much less successful.”
However, not everyone seems to find embracing the more delicate female persona a plus, professionally. In a recent article almost comically entitled “Women In Photography Have to Fight To Get Out Of The Wedding Industry Ghetto”, author Meredith Lepore decries the injustice of women struggling to advance their careers beyond the aisle. (I’m sorry, but seriously, “Wedding Industry Ghetto”? They’re throwing bouquets, not grenades. Let’s simmer down a bit.)
The article highlights a fair amount of anecdotal evidence, with one formerly South Carolina-based photographer saying, “There is a sense they don’t take women seriously. While working in South Carolina news photography I was constantly laughing off crude sexual innuendos and questions about my relationship status from the men I was photographing. I’ve been shoved and elbowed at high-profile events where I was the only female.”
I’m not sure how to feel about Lepore’s Wedding Industry Ghetto article. Calling the weddings industry a ghetto is laughable, and I personally am pretty happy as a wedding photographer. Never once have I felt that shooting weddings has held back my career, but at the same time I get a lot of artistic satisfaction and inspiration from shooting many different things.
As to the other bits, the innuendos and elbowing? This, unfortunately, is something the majority of my fellow female photogs can relate to. Have certain assignments passed to my male counterparts because of their XY chromosomes? On occasion, yes. Part of the beauty of the differences between the sexes, however, is the differences in their perspectives. I’ve shot side-by-side with enough men to know that there is inherent value in having multiple perspectives.
What about the money, the fame, the glory? Is it harder for women to get a toehold to success? It appears that depends on two things, what area of photography one chooses to pursue, and how one defines success. If you define success wholly in fiscal terms, then ladies certainly have a harder time of it. Those statistics on income discrepancies turned my stomach. If you define success as practicing your craft as a professional? No. While the field of photography is predominantly male, those numbers seem to be changing relatively rapidly (up 11% between 1990 and 2005).
So is photography still a man’s world? Yes. The numbers don’t lie. But more and more female photographers are making their mark on the industry and the world, and I believe things are going to continue to change around here.
My last question is this: if such a high percentage of the population of female photographers is under 39 years of age, why is it that so many of our readers appear to be male? Ladies, we’d love to hear from you. What do you think? What are your experiences as professionals? Is it harder for women to succeed in our field?