You wouldn’t think that “women and photography” is an issue worth broaching. The contribution that women photographers have made to photography is undisputed – from early pioneers such as Julia Margaret Cameron, to early art photographers such as Marianne Breslauer, Ilse Bing, early war correspondent Margaret Bourke-White, first woman-member of Magnum Inge Morath or documentary photographer Dorothea Lange. I won’t even mention the countless female photographers who pushed the boundaries of art photography from the 1960s onwards. Actually, I will because
I like to name-drop women photographers get brushed aside all too readily still and any opportunity to mention their names must be seized: Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Annie Leibovitz, Sally Mann, Hilla Becher, Cindy Sherman, Rijneke Dijkstra… oh, the list goes on and on.
Strange then, that photography seems to be still dominated by men. Strange, but maybe no wonder. Photography is still perceived as a technology-driven medium. It is inhabited by gadget-obsessed males who can spend hours discussing the advantages of Fuji Provia 200 over Kodak Ektachrome 200, tenderly hugging their 5 d iii and comparing the length of their
penises lenses. Photography, it is by-and-large accepted, is a weird mixture of art and technology. To be proficient in photography, you cannot just be intuitive, you need to know the workings of the machinery you are using, you have to understand the laws of physics that govern the realm of optics and you have to keep up-to-date with the hardware development. Machinery, physics, hardware. Three keywords that seem to exclude the participation of female enthusiasts. Ok, I am being deliberately provocative here – we *are* living in the age of emancipation and equality and the small(er) number of women photographers may not just be down to the legions of male photographers who are jealously guarding their profession from contamination by female participation. It might be the women themselves who shrink back from photography, for whatever reason. And not all genres of photography are characterised by the dearth of women practicioners. It is safe to say, that within art photography women are well-represented and there is little sexism among art photographers.
In the area of press photography, I am not so sure. This seems to be a part of the industry that is still ruled by testosterone. As was brought home to me recently, when I attended a major, global public relations event in London. I had travelled over there to
fangirl at cover the UK launch of “The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey”. At the back of my mind was the tentative idea to wangle my way into the press pit in order to ogle Richard Armitage unrestrictedly get pretty pictures of the main stars. With my press card at the ready, I attempted to secure a place in the cordoned-off press area. Alas – I was too late to be accredited and therefore had to restrict my ogling photography to watching from the sidelines, literally.
In the end, however, I was quite happy to have been excluded from the press area. I had finally positioned myself in a spot from where I had a view of the entrance to the press area. Deliberately so, as I wanted to drool a bit over the photography hardware on view. When the event finally ended after about two and a half hours at -2 degrees Celsius (my dedication to my
movie boyfriend craft knows no temperature limits bounds…), I waited with bated breath to see my fellow professionals emerge from behind the barriers. I was not disappointed – they spilled out in groups of two and three, laden with three or four cameras each, rucksacks full of lenses and other assorted paraphernalia on their backs, the occasional stool and stepladder under their arms, or monopods over their shoulder. I counted 40 press photographers present. But then the shocker: Among them there was just one woman. ONE!
I am not lying when I am saying here that I was shocked. I truly was – I just cannot quite fathom how this area of the industry cannot reflect the gender balance the same way all other areas do. Photography does not demand particular physical strength which might exclude females from practicing the job. Why then are there so few women in this field? Are there socio-cultural reasons? Are male practicioners in press photography more aggressive, therefore get the better shots and are simply more successful than women? Do women not feel wanted in the ranks of press photographers? Do they not have what it takes to get the shots and sell them off? I am genuinely at a loss here – why? Does anyone have any idea? Is photography a sexist’s paradise?
The experience has taught me something.
Be early if you want to get a close-up of Armitage. Sexism is somehow alive and kicking in photography. In a day and age where women are train drivers, army officers and carpenters, there can’t be anything that would hold them back to become press photographers. Yes, I know. The mere fact that there are *more* male press photographers than female, is not yet an indication of sexist behaviour and/or attitude of the industry. But there has got to be something at the bottom of this. And it certainly puts me off *big time* – because *I* have not got a long penis lens to compete with.