[Editorial] Photography: Is It Still A Man’s World?

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.

Artists in the Workplace: 1990-2005
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?

Image via Dailymail.co.uk

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”.

Image via Jamesallen.com

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.”

From a personal perspective...

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.

In conclusion: We’re comin’ for you, boys.

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?

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38 Comments

Most of the wedding pros I know are women. I feel like wedding photography is more a women's world, I don't mind though.

 Jaron had some interesting stats to add in, he said 69% of wedding photographers are women according to WPPI... which fits with that "Wedding Industry Ghetto" article. It's a pretty well-paying ghetto, though, right?

"Those statistics on income discrepancies turned my stomach. " ......

If it is Jack & Jill working for the same employer doing the same job and the income is not equal THEN there is a problem.  There is not enough info in the articles to make any judgement on income salaries. 

Lauren Jonas's picture

Great article, Reese!

I predict that in less then 5 years from now the majority of photographers in the portrait world: families, kids, grad & weddings will be female and a very large majority of them will be part time. By part time I mean they will not be able to supply the needs of the family on photography alone.  Another source of income will be required ...husband or second job.Way to many people (males & females) are coming into the industry for all to survive.

Patrick Hall's picture

I know I probably prefer hiring female assistants...you know so they can flirt with the guys while I flirt with the girls.  I don't think Meredith has been to the same weddings we are shooting...far cry from a ghetto

This should clear it all up for you's fstoppahs.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDFCMHLtNl8&list=UUuw8B6Uv0cMWtV5vbNp... 

 Patrick Hall, I hope you're remembering that wedding where I was assisting you and the wedding planner kicked that guy out of the reception for harassing me! ;)

Patrick Hall's picture

 you mean the one where he grabbed your ass?  Yeah I remember that...good times!

I have a theory on this. 
See, at least as far as I know, the men/women ratio among photographers leaned far more to men back in the day with analog film (someone please correct me if I'm wrong, I have no statistic to prove this). Today that ratio is far more even.Why is this? I think it's because of digital. In the film days you had to know all these things about developing film, light metering, the zone system and such. I'm not saying that women are to stupid to learn these things, so don't get me wrong. What I AM saying however is that in order to take beautiful pictures (which both genders wants to do, I presume) you had to have all this technical knowledge. This may be stereotyping but I think women aren't that interested in the technical stuff as men, but just wants to shoot. A lot of men turn to photography because they like cameras and the technical thinking behind taking a picture while women by nature just want to take beautiful pictures.

I know a lot of female photogs, but I very rarely hear them talk about "wow, I can't wait to get my hands on this new camera" and stuff like that, but it seems to be a common topic among men. Is it that men, in general, start to shoot because of the fun of learning some new technical stuff and then learn to take beautiful photos along the way while women start shooting because they want to take beautiful pictures and then learn the techy stuff as they go?
I worked as a photog at one of those "be a model for a day" studios a few months last year.Roughly 80% of all photogs working there were women. However, despite the female photogs outnumbering us male ones, they came to us when they had technical problems (like asking why they only got a picture on half of the frame, this being due to shutter being set above sync speed). And mind you, these girls were professional in every sentence of the word and took some amazing pictures and really knew how to set their lights and so on, so I don't want to downplay their artistical know how.  Of course, as stated above, I may be stereotyping women a bit as there sure are alot of female photogs interested in all the techy stuff but I think women in general are less attracted to the technicalities of photography.

Today, with digital cameras, the learning curve of becoming a good photographer is far easier and I think women aren't discouraged to start out by all the technical stuff they needed to know beforehand in the film days. Today you can learn that shit as you go, and cameras are so good at metering and such that you really don't need to know how to meter externally unless you're into very specific kinds of photography and even then most of the metering can be done using the rear LCD and the histogram.So all in all, I think more women are starting out with photography these days because the technical advances lets you as a photographer keep your mind on the final result rather than taking a class in photography before you even dare to use an SLR. You'll get the technical know-how by shooting and experimenting (fun) instead of sitting at a desk reading about it (boring).Please let me know if you think I'm totally wrong. Again, I have no statistics or anything to back my statements. I base my thoughts solely on how I perceive men/female photogs, coming from a male perspective. I would like to hear from you female photogs if I may be on the right track or if I'm way off.  :)

What I want to say with all this is that while I don't think that male photogs outnumber the female ones by that much, it may appear that way since guys are more likely to sit behind a desk writing/reading about photography while their female counterparts are out in the field, shooting.
I think us guys could use some of that "just shoot" mentality as well. So guys, stop nerding behind your computer monitors and go shoot! And gals, stop being so creative and get a bit nerdy, so that we guys might catch up with you, artistically. ;D

 Hey Jockemon! I think it's important to remember that things have changed a lot not just in terms of film to digital, but in terms of the overall climate of our times. I think there are more women in every field now, and that our overall opportunities have increased as gender equality has become more widespread, but at a certain point in time, women weren't even expected to go to college. I went to the University of Notre Dame, and my roommate's mom was the first graduating class of women at my school... So maybe it has more to do with that?

Valid point. But to me it seems that women's liberation thingies and women in photography are not directly related, at least not to the extent that it may be the biggest reason. Please note that I don't live in the US and have no experience from that sort of thing over there, but in Sweden where we've always been about a generation or more ahead of the US when it comes to womens rights.

Over here there haven't really been any change in the male/female work climate for as long as I can remember, although I am quite young and can't really say how things where 30 years ago. 
To make a comparison, 45% percent of the people making up the Swedish parliament are women (the lowest score since 1998 might be added). The same number for the American parliament is 16,8%, statistics taken from this site: http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm <--.
Recently I went through some photos of my old relatives taken about a 100 years ago, many taken by professional female photogs it turned out though.Anyhow. I might be imagining things but to me it seems that the whole "female photogs" thing really started of about 10 years ago or less, at least over here, while women have been expected to have a job for at least two generations (my grandmother never was expected to stay at home with the kids, but to have a real, fulltime job).I think of it this way. Women and men can compete in a game of chess with one another and still play on the same terms, neither having an advantage (this is debatable though as some think women actually have an advantage in the kind of mental training used in chess). However, 98% of all professional chess players are men (or so I was told on the news a few years ago), and a big part of todays greatest chess players are young and haven't ever experienced the harsh climate regarding women and their education. Have it been the same thing with photography, until now? I don't know, but from the looks of it there are similarities.Anyhow. I don't think your argument is wrong in any way, but I think that the change of view regarding educating women is not a big enough contributor alone.Of course, there is no single thing that has made women interested in photography as a profession alone, so maybe (or rather; probably) both our theories together, combined with several other influences is the real cause.And again, to make it clear. I can only make arguments of how things are in Sweden and there are great differences regarding the overall climate for women between our countries (I might be wrong assuming you're from the US all this time, in which case I'm sorry). So what's valid in Sweden might not be in the US.Thanks for your answer by the way, it was very insightful :)

 Thank you for YOUR answer, that's really interesting!

In my photo workshops, absolutely always the % of women are higher than boys... 

And what's absolutely true is that boys are thinking about ISO, strobist, HDR... and girls about composition, color... 
in this page you can see this % of boys and girls!!http://www.loscursosdealvarosanz.com/alumnos/

Geoff Lister's picture

I edit for a major school newspaper in Canada. I have equal numbers male and female photographers, I would guess, on my pitch list (I haven't examined every single name). Of my dedicated, shoot every issue, whether it be a picture of a poster or a three hour photoshoot, photographers? None. Women who want to shoot sports? Zero. Always wondered if there was a correlation there, just with the fact that a) sports happen week in, week out without fail and can get you into a rhythm of volunteering. b) The old "If you can shoot sports, you can shoot anything" adage.

Patrick Hall's picture

Interesting perspective...what I've noticed is most of the female photographers I know are very lean on lighting and the technical side of crafting an image.  9 times out of 10 my female friend photographers are all natural light or mostly natural light.  But they do pick out the most important elements of a great photograph like content, expression, overall vibe, clothing, details, etc where I might miss some of those...that's why I always have a female on set usually. 

On another note, I'm not sure I find sports photographers super proficient in other fields that are not photojournalistic in nature.  Sports guys know the dynamics of their gear like no other and how to get a shot in extreme lighting while their subjects are moving fast.  But their subjects are also always super interesting in and of themselves so I feel like half the battle is already won because of their subject matter.  I know tons of sports photogs who have horrible commercial, lifestyle, and studio images in their ports.  I think photo journalism and conceptual photography utilize different sides of the brain and don't overlap as much as one would think....and maybe that's why few females are sports photographers.  I dunno, that's just my overall impression through my experience.  

 Not being terribly drawn to studio work myself, I don't completely disagree that more men seem to be into the gear aspects while many women seem to focus on other aspects. But if that generalization truly applied, it would seem that women would be a great, natural fit for photojournalism, which often allows for no lighting, right?

Patrick Hall's picture

 Well good photojournalism often requires 1) being tall, 2) being super assertive, 3) carrying multiple cameras, 4) running around and moving fast. 

So even if girls tend to be great with natural light, many of them might still prefer the slower pace you get when shooting weddings, social events, family portraits etc.  I know after going to the BCS football game, no part of me wants to carry those lenses or fight a crowd with a camera over my head.  Maybe women think like me :)

"Well good photojournalism often requires 1) being tall, 2) being super
assertive, 3) carrying multiple cameras, 4) running around and moving
fast." ...your weddings must be so much different than mine! ;)

 I think he meant photojournalism for a newspaper

could the money thing be where some women are only shooting part time, having a family etc?
both my wife and i do this together, having the two views of the photos and editing really helps us i think

I'm no professional but I felt that there are less female professional photographers around the city I stayed in as well. I'm from Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia btw. 

It would be fair to say that the lack of females over the age of 39 would directly relate to the income differences in this field.  How can somebody support themselves at half the rate their male counterparts are earning. Until everybody increases their rates to earn a livable salary nobody will make it to 40. And the mentioned average is below the median income in most areas, not to mention the equipment costs. 

great article.. there's even less of a percentage of female videographers unfortunately

 What's up with that? Would love to read a piece about that...

Garrett Graham's picture

Hot topic! I personally know more female photographers than male. I also feel that the majority of amateur female photographers are far more naturally talented with their work. Most of the guys (myself included) I know have to work harder and need the technical know how to compete :-)

I think that's a shame that they mentioned Wedding photography as ghetto, I know plenty of people that make 100k a year in that ghetto. But further on I think this article is pointing out that within the top paying fields of photography (fashion, and advertising) their aren't a lot of women. The reason for this starts at the assisting level, statistically the most likely person to get hired as an assistant on a fashion shoot is a gay male. Male because most assistance have to be more technically savvy then most photographers, plus be able to lift and move a lot of heavy equipment. And gay so that they will not hit on the models. I'm not gay but I've been assisting in this industry for a few years and this is a fact. 

I study photography, out of 30 people left in my class there are 5 other males all the rest are females. Though most of them are people who got a camera for xmas 3 years ago and their friends told them they should be a photographer and will never actually get jobs other than shooting club nights.

For example, in the field of business, more women than men get MBAs, but most high-ranking positions are populated by males and median income for men is higher. Some economists that found that hard to believe (since they believe in free market and that most companies would hire a person on merit alone, since they like profit more than having men around), so they got to measuring stuffs. They found out that men, on average, work more hours in the first 10 years of their careers (I'm writing by memory, but it was 59 to 50 hours per week, give or take) and far more women have stints of more than six months out of work than their male counterparts.

So they concluded that, even though there is some bias, most of the difference in income and top positions comes from the fact that women, on average, are more likely to say "hey, I'm making enough money as it is, I'd rather go travelling/have kids/ride bikes/play golf than be a CEO" than men. 

Projecting that to photography, I can see how that might be the difference, since we all know how cut-throat the industry is, how top-heavy the assignments are and how much time and effort it takes relative to pay. 

That being said, from the people I work with (photojournalism, music, entertainment, portraiture), I haven't noticed any discrimination toward our female colleagues. 99% of people couldn't care less what gender someone is (unless it directly relates to the assignment at hand). It is far more common for men to make room or to get protective about female shooters, whereas we'll just shove and elbow each other :)

 That's interesting. I do wonder how much going on maternity leave/having kids can be an obstacle for one's career. I wish there were some statistics on the success of female photographers without kids vs. with children

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