A recent study exploring gender bias in the photography industry found that despite making up almost half of the photography-related workforce, female photographers are significantly underrepresented and less well off. paid than male photographers.
This bias spans the entire industry, from everyday work and harassment to portrayal by major camera brands and the media. To coincide with International Women’s Day, the marketing company Wallflower Studios commissioned the report titled “Give us features, not flowers“. It is an interesting and somewhat disappointing read.
So why did Wallflower Studios feel the need to create this report? I mean, gender equality has become such a buzzword in recent years that it’s almost gotten boring, and women have taken giant strides towards equality, haven’t they? Well, not according to this report.
At least in the US, female photographers (for your information, when I say female photographers I mean everyone identifying as female, but that’s a lot of words to include, so for ease of reference I ‘will continue to use the words ‘woman’ or ‘female’ or ‘woman’) account for almost half of working photographers (49.3% to be precise), according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the study found that most of these women earn an average of 40% less than their male counterparts. That’s a pretty staggering difference. But it’s not just pay inequality, the report found that women are seriously underrepresented in all areas – business projects, publications, awards, exhibitions and even social media. This has a natural downward spiral effect which further compounds the problem.
“Brand ambassadors and contracts are disproportionately awarded to men,” says Wallflowers. “Every time a new camera comes out, YouTube is flooded with camera reviews, but you can hardly find any female creators involved in campaigns.”
“Unfortunately, even after being challenged, brands fail to correct the imbalance,” they continue. “Every camera brand has at least double, triple or quadruple the number of male ambassadors compared to women, and the representation of female photographers on the brands’ own social media profiles, which you’ll see in our searches below, is also being left behind.”
In fact, I asked my colleagues at DIYP for their own anecdotal take on this. They had to admit that the majority of people working at shows and for big brands were actually all men. Popular online photography magazines also employ mostly male staff, with a few exceptions or token women on the team. At DIYP, we’re a small team, but essentially 50/50 in terms of gender equality, which I’m proud to be a part of.
Camera brands create these programs to promote their products. They invite respected or rising people in the industry and it is an excellent visibility for any professional. Unfortunately, many of these ambassador programs continue to support a specific demographic – not one that reflects society.
– Wallflower Studio
The report states “that in 2021, Canon US appointed 12 female photographers out of 38 female ambassadors, and this year it’s only 14 out of 36. It’s even worse for Canon Europe which has 109 female ambassadors and only 14 are women. “. Additionally, in the Philippines, Canon Ambassadors were all male. Nikon Asia announced its new brand ambassadors for its flagship camera and all 32 were male.
The report highlights the rather ironic fact that Canon even wrote a report titled “Why aren’t there more female photojournalists?“. The answer? Maybe there would be if there were more opportunities for deserving female photographers to redress the balance. Moreover, for people of color, the statistics are even more depressing.
A notable exception, however, is Fujifilm Italia, whose entire team is made up of women. Of course, we don’t know the details of their hiring mechanisms, but I think I speak for most women when I say we’re not asking for more than 50% representation, just a little more equal balance.
We have to keep in mind that brands like GoPro may naturally gravitate toward male ambassadors purely because of the types of adventure sports they pursue and show. Of course, there are amazing women who participate in these sports, however, the percentage of them may be lower. For example, 90% of all grassroots riders in the world are actually male, so if GoPro were offering this type of activity, we would naturally expect some kind of gender bias.
And it’s not just the camera brand industry. Surprisingly, in 2019, ‘photography of women‘ found that the world’s leading newspapers printed far fewer photographs of women than of men. They continue to track the representation of female photographers and, unfortunately, their latest data shows little progress has been made since.
In the workplace, whether it’s the fashion industry or photojournalism, the majority of employees or contract photographers are overwhelmingly male. Associated Press found that 86% of its photo staff are male. Reuters photographers are 80% male. In the past 60 years, only eight women have received the Pulitzer for reportage photography and six for news photography. And since 1955, the World Press Photography of the Year has only been awarded to four women. It’s pretty dark, to be honest.
Likewise, art museum studies showed a staggering under-representation of female photographers in their exhibitions and collections. The Tate Modern in London, for example, displayed only 6% of the photographic work of women.
It’s this weird assumption that women don’t know and understand technology and I have no idea where it came from and why people have decided that cameras are just toys for boys
– Kaye Ford
The report also asked women photographers to talk about their own individual experiences, and I have to admit that much of what they said is true. I’ve been “mis-explained” many times by older male amateur photographers who frankly don’t know what they’re talking about, which, while harmless enough, can be annoying and frustrating at the best of times. What’s not so trivial, however, is when he enters harassment territory or flagrantly flouts equal rights in the workplace.
Founder of Equal lens Jaki Jo Hannan has noted that some female commercial photographers she spoke to had turned down work or felt they couldn’t take certain jobs because they were still breastfeeding babies at the time, and that was neither appropriate nor welcome to this environment.
“I see so many women missing out on jobs all the time and what happens is a lot of male photographers who get that job keep getting more because they have [those jobs] in their portfolio, and it becomes this perpetual cycle that widens the gap,”
– Jaki Jo Hannan for Creative Review
Coming from working in the world of classical music, I have to say that I have generally found the world of photography to be much more inclusive. But I’ve always had the attitude of not letting those things hold me back. If I want to do something, I will find a way.
That being said, it would be really great if talented female photographers were more visible across the board, got paid what they’re worth, had access to equal representation by creative outlets, and didn’t feel unsafe or intrusive. At work.
As an industry, we can and must do better than that. What are your thoughts? Do you think women are fairly represented in photography? You can read the full report here.