Image above: Emily Shur
I’m beginning to collect responses to last week’s post on sexism in editorial photography. The response was totally overwhelming (if I somehow missed your response or email, please send it again) and the amount of insight offered was incredible. Ideally, I think someone should take the reigns and collect a lot of this information and organize it somewhere on the web permanently. I’m extremely reluctant to do anything like that personally, considering it’s not my place to speak for women and their experiences. But I can say that based on what people are sharing with me, there is something very substantial here and I’m hoping it becomes something bigger.
To begin, someone sent me a link to this article on women and work, which had a very relevant Nicki Manaj quote:
When you’re a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet, and you have to be sexy, and you have to be this and you have to be that and you have to be nice, and you have to — it’s like, I can’t be all of those things at once. I’m a human being.
Below are excerpts and links to the larger responses:
On female photographers not fitting the aesthetic of certain publications:
I don’t buy a blanket statement that an entire gender does not fit the aesthetic of a magazine. It’s fair enough to claim that an individual photographer or certain style of photography doesn’t fit a magazine’s aesthetic. Not everyone is going to like everyone’s work. Not everyone should. A good photographer makes a choice at some point in their career – perhaps at several points in their career – to make a certain type of work. We have to choose a direction. It’s very possible that feminine energy naturally lends itself in one direction and male energy in another.
On the management of stress, time, and shooting high profile people/situations:
Um, none of these things have ever been a problem for me. I’ve photographed actors, athletes, musicians, billionaires, politicians, world-renowned scientists, writers, chefs, artists, and countless others. I do the 10-hour shoot. I do the 10-minute shoot. I do whatever needs to be done. Like all photographers, I have found myself in some stressful circumstances over the course of my career. I always handle myself appropriately and get the job done to the best of my ability – not my ability as a woman, but my ability as a capable, experienced professional photographer. One’s ability to work well under stressful conditions is not a matter of gender, it’s a matter of personality. I’m borderline insulted that this topic even came up.
-Emily Shur’s excellent post
I would scour magazines to find the latest and most interesting work. I would rip out the pages from Vibe,Paper, and i-D with the work of Melanie Mcdaniel, Elaine Constantine, Dana Lixenberg, Cleo Sullivan, Anna Palma and Corinne Day. They inspired me. I loved their work. I loved their perspective. It made me think in a different way, and I learned from it. I would read The New York Times and be inspired by Brenda Ann Keneally. I printed at Printspace next to Baerbel Schmidt, Justine Kurland, Imke Lass, Sylvia Otte, Gillian Laub, Elinor Carlucci, Tracey Baran and an assortment of guys whose careers took shape much differently than mine.
When I arrived in New York City in 1995, I began assisting many photographers, including Jill Greenberg, Tria Giovan, Anna Palma and Ellen Silverman, none of who had assisted and all of whom had their careers going. I also worked for a bunch of male photographers. It was much harder to be a female assistant. I would work for fashion photographers as a second assistant and literally feel invisible on the set because the other women were skinny models who were sixteen years old. When I would pick up from the equipment rooms at any of the big studios, I was routinely treated like a “girl who couldn’t possibly know anything.” The men running the equipment rooms were bullies who hated their jobs and took it out on assistants who were not part of the cool club. Pier 59 anyone?
-Another awesome post by Erin Patrice O-Brien
I had such an intense and complicated reaction to reading this, and I’m not really sure where to start or where it will end up. My method for dealing with sexism is based on denial and dismissal. I enjoy discussing gender, sexuality, and discrimination but in a clinical and emotionally distant manner. During the few times I have been extremely mistreated or felt physically unsafe due to my gender it has been almost a relief to feel that it was warranted for me to call it out and react.
I feel that I have made it a mission to ignore much of the sexism I experience with the hope that this negates its existence. I think many women like me exist in the same way. I am strong, I am educated, I have some valued role models, and a decent amount of privilege (college, white, upper? middle class). There is a certain part of me that feels that I have no right to complain, especially when addressing small or more ubiquitous acts of sexism. Just writing this makes me feel whiny and self-righteous. My reaction has been to try really hard to prove myself, in all of my environments. I try to counter expectations put upon me as a woman, to the extreme of making myself at times seem insular, unapproachable and aggressive.
-Jess Pierotti’s post
I can say personally that my sexuality has come into play plenty a lot, whether it was being pigeonholed as a photographer who can only photograph gay related material, or that I wasn’t appropriate for a job because of my sexuality. It is something that I have been fighting with for years. I’d say this is the norm, but there has been scenarios where a real intelligent dialogue has happened, such as when I photographed Fred Phelps and how aware TIME was of what it meant to have a gay photographer in that situation.
-Ryan Pluger’s response and the post he is mentioning above (definitely read it)
Also.. “one editor mentioned that most media, art and literature is made to fit a masculine perspective”. Again, I’m not usually one to talk about these things but what an incredibly quaint misogynist statement. These feel like insanely old-fashioned points of view. Are we seriously equating masculine perspective as to mean a smart, powerful, opinionated perspective? Are we so blatantly colored by our own biases towards female perspectives that we have to call an interesting and curious mind (if that’s the target) “a MALE perspective” to get respect?!?
-Kimmy Fung’s response
Another noteworthy point was the mention of the high capacity of female photography students. The majority of my class, and the year to follow, were females.. most, if not all of them, are not pursuing photography as a career. Why could this be? And does it have any effect on the females that do decide to pursue photography on a more professionally based level?
-Angela Lewiss post
However, I know I could shoot some killer editorials and I hope someone realizes that. In a traveling/outdoors perspective, I know I’m on par with a lot of dudes, if not more so. I hitchhike, I sleep in ditches, I meet strangers. I spent my summer living off the grid working on a farm, building greenhouses, doing landscaping work. I can chop wood and gut a fish. And I can take a crisp photo with some sweet composition. Maybe all these things don’t amount to a good editorial photographer. But I can also keep a schedule and stay ~*~*chilllll*~*~ under pressure. Or maybe my style of dream editorial photography jobs are a very small niche that are being filled by PRO DUDES (not sarcasm, I think these are wonderful people) like Peter Sutherland, Corey Arnold, etc. I don’t know! I try not to brood over this really. What I do focus on is SUPPORTING MY LADIES! And pointing out girl on girl hate when I see it and doing my best to prevent it.
I studied Film Production in college and since then I’ve been trying to make the transition from video editing to photography. I’ve completely felt the impact of sexism- from all ends. From being told “you are good assistant editor, but women tend to be more nurturing to clients rather than to the actual editing”- to being turned down for on set jobs because they were afraid I couldn’t handle the job “physically.” Even in film school, crewing up, both guys and girls would tend to ask the girls to produce, set deign, and edit - but when it came to DPing or gaffing, almost always they asked a guy. An older female student said to me, “women tend to be more organized than the guys, they make good producers. It’s compliment.” So while our industry is mainly me, this is impacted by everyone.
-Brianna Wilson’s post
I feel like newspaper/photojournalism world talks about the advantages to being a female photographer (ie: more gentle touch for sensitive subjects, can cover women-sensitive issues, less assuming than male photographers sometimes…) but that conversation never seems to carry over into the magazine world, at least from my limited experience there. Yes, sometimes women have a different approach to dealing with stressful and tense situations, but that doesn’t mean they are any less effective in dealing with them.
-Emily Berl’s post
My initial reaction to hurt or injustice is often humor. Thus I’ve been mulling over starting a blog called “Lady Bros” in response to all of the bro-ness that permeates the photo community that women are seemingly very excluded from.. ie. the surfing, biking, gear-jerking-off business that floods Instagram accounts and Tumblrs. I often joke that I’m never going to make it in this industry because I don’t do an extreme sport. Theoretical posts composed in my head for Lady-Bros include i-phone shots of my new pink camera bag, my unicorn-print yoga mat, foto-tampons specially designed to fit perfectly and discretely in said pink camera bag (shhh don’t let your clients know!). Lady-bro things.
-Morgan Levy’s post
And a couple of other responses not from Tumblr:
I have to say I largely agree with the agression/ testosterone thing. I also have to mention testosterone itself and its ability to help with decision making. Actually its the most predominate characteristic in testosterone and I’m sure you can appreciate why that gives men (who often but not always have more testosterone then women) an edge over female photographers and is very attractive to editors. Not only does it aid in split second decision making on location as well as going after clients and speaking in meetings it also helps men focus not only moment to moment but year after year. So while I don’t want to give women an excuse or a cop out or sound like im undermining them it is a reality and something I think about a lot and have studied in my brief interest in evolutionary socialism/ psychology.
Now does this fact create sexism against women who are equally talented, ball busting, hard working, decision making photographers dedicated to their practice? Absolutely, there is not question it does. Does it mean there are less of women that have what it takes to being cutting edge editorial photographers? … I hate to admit it but possibly. Should editors and other people in a postion of power give women a chance for their own benefit as well the photographers. Yes. Also I have to mention this fits in perfectly why a female would make a great editor but maybe not a photographer (speaking in generalities) because with little testosterone their attention is made available to many places and they can put together many different pieces while shifting their attention from one article to another several times possibly within an hour while working on an issue of their magazine.
From my/our end what can we do about?…I have no idea except prove them wrong.
As a skateboard photographer I come across this type of thing probably more then the average person or even an average female photographer and have been asked about it in a million interviews and I say more or less the same thing every time now:
“it doesn’t surprise me anymore. I just prove them wrong and also prove correct the person who was willing to go out on a limb and hire the less conventional photographer and then maybe next time they are faced with a similar situation they will think twice. And if im being honest I sort of understand. If I took my truck into a mechanic and the tech who was gonna pull my clutch was a female I would be apprehensive but I’d of course never let her know that and give her the chance and hope she’s proving people wrong one broke down dodge at a time”
In conclusion if a female wants to compete with men chock full of testosterone and aggression shes going to have to work really fucking hard. Cause if its been handed to anyone it probably wasn’t a female photographer….
-From skateboard photographer Alana Paterson
There is one anecdote that might be of interest. I was once contacted by a photo editor to photograph a very sensitive subject, a woman who had been abused as a child by the religious system here in Quebec. Essentially, she had been given up to nuns and gone through some bad shit in their care. And the reason I was approached to photograph this woman was because the photo editor thought I was a woman myself. She thought this both because of my name and the type of photographs I made. In the end, I couldn’t take the assignment, as I was going to be out of town when they needed me, and they asked a woman photographer friend of mine to shoot it instead (Celia Perrin Sidarous).
-An anecdote from Alexi Hobbs
The adage “those who can’t, teach” seems to apply in our industry if you replace teach with “edit”. It seems to be a common, unspoken perception that some people choose to go into photo editing instead of shooting because it is easier to break into, provides health insurance, a steady paycheck, etc etc. I’ve always sort of secretly wondered if so many women end up editing not because they “can’t” but because nobody actually let them shoot. Maybe they subconsciously looked around and saw few, if any opportunities for themselves and so made the decision to go into photo editing.
Once again, I don’t really believe this whole “those who can’t teach” thing but I’m just expressing a sentiment I’ve heard in various circles. I’m also addressing my own biases. Without realizing it I can sort of equate being a photo editor to a fallback job. That is my own arrogance obviously coming into play. Obviously some people set out to be photo editors and they are damn good at it.
I just can’t help but think though, that if there were more opportunities for females straight out of college, they would be assisting, studio managing, etc etc instead of getting internships at magazines.There HAS to be a reason magazines are populated with significantly more women than men in the same way that there HAS to be a reason that men vastly outnumber women in editorial photography.
-An anonymous working photographer
This discussion is getting more and more captivating. It needs to be heard and listened to and some things need to change. The fact that so many women (myself included) feel inadequate doing the things we do well is just sad. Not to mention the fact that we’re also inadequate at things we don’t love, but still do well (retail jobs, for instance). And we also feel inadequate in relationships and within familial roles more often than not. Sad.