I am completely honored, and more than excited, to be the featured artist of the current Photo London magazine. Previous artists include Sarah Moon, Dennis Hopper and Stephen Shore, all of whom are personal photography heroes.
The magazine includes an interview, a curated selection of works, and a behind the scenes video from a photo shoot with Bananarama. You can view and download the complete issue here.
MANY THANKS TO ANOTHER PRODUCTION FOR THIS INTERVIEW I MADE WITH THEM, IN RESPONSE TO THEIR MENTORSHIP PROGRAMME FOR FEMALE PHOTOGRAPHY GRADUATES
How long have you worked as a photographer, and what is your particular area of expertise?
– I set up my business at the beginning of the nineties so, wow, thirty years, something to celebrate!
– I am known for photographing people, and this crosses over multi genres.
What assumptions (if any) have you had to deal with in your career?
– I began my career working for teen magazines where I received countless commissions (including many international assignments) mainly from female fashion & beauty editors. They had no assumptions and gave me equal opportunity.
– In the past, assumptions were generally made by businesses that had a predominantly male workforce. e.g. Traditional photographic suppliers often made the assumption I was an assistant photographer, purchasing on behalf of a male photographer.
Do you feel in the minority as a female photographer?
– No, but there are still many occasions when someone onset will say “oh, it’s an all female team today,” or “hey, girlpower” or whatever. But I’ve spent most of my career on all female teams, and that seems usual to me. So the fact it seems unusual to others shows that women photographers are still in the minority.
Do you think much has changed for women in the industry since you started?
– When I first started there were very few women working as commercial photographers. Apparently female photographers now make up about 25% of commercial photographers, which is great! However recent research shows that female photographers aren’t being commissioned as often as male photographers. There is a worrying statistic that female photographers only receive 2% of advertising commissions! If this is true, then most advertising is seen through the #malegaze which is a massive problem.
Do you feel you’ve had the opportunity to use your full potential?
Hmm, that’s an interesting question.
– If women photographers aren’t being offered as many commissions as male photographers, then maybe this question should be posed to the commissioners : Do commissioners feel they have given women photographers opportunity to use their full potential? Do commissioners feel they have had opportunity to respond to the consumer using the full potential of the #femalegaze?
Have you had a Mentor? Do you think there is value in mentorship?
– As a photographer’s assistant I had a full-time job for three years with a highly regarded photographer, so I guess everyday I was being mentored. Not just on the technical side of photography, but also the business of photography, the actual practice of being on set, problem solving, managing teams, and understanding light; and once I began producing my own test shots I would look to my ‘mentor’ to critique my photography.
– Recently I have become a mentor to student photographers. It’s something I really enjoy and find hugely rewarding.
How do you feel about the future for female photographers?
– Women generally have to work harder to get noticed in most industries and photography is no exception. If you have learnt your trade, if you are technically competent, have creative ideas, and can problem solve under pressure, then the future is yours.
What’s your dream gig? Have you landed it yet?
– I have had some great and crazy experiences throughout my career. I’ve been sent on assignments from India to Iceland, Bali to Brazil. On my first trip to LA I arrived in the middle of the infamous Rodney King Riots and escaped curfew to photograph Angelina Jolie dancing against the infinite horizons of the Mojave Desert. After a rocky start to a job in Rio, where I’d been let down by local assistants, I went on to photograph the statue of Christ the Redeemer from a helicopter – the pilot gave me an extra harness then removed the cabin door so I could get a better shot! An inspiring career highlight in so many ways.
– So you can’t plan for your dream gig, it just happens. It’s when all the elements come together in a perfect storm and you know in that split second you have something special and you know how to use your camera to capture the story, the emotion. That’s when the magic of photography happens.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself if you were just starting out?
– Take time to pause and check on the direction your career is taking you.
– Listen to advice, but know what is worthy of action.
– Critique your work regularly and aim to produce a new folio each year.
– Create an efficient filing system from the word go – know how to easily access any of your images.
– Take care of your archive, your past can also become your future.
Do you have any confidence tips to share with students questioning whether or not they are cut out to pursue a career in the industry?
– I’ve mentioned this before, but you can’t go wrong with this check list – perseverance, preparation, process, productivity, passion. You could also include projects and professionalism.
– Ask yourself, do you want to be a photographer, or do you want to create work using photography? Photography and picture making come first, you can’t call yourself a photographer without doing the work.
– Working for yourself requires dedication, self-discipline, and when starting out you need to be able to support yourself financially. How are you going to make money? Do the maths.
– Do you have strong ideas, do you have stories you want to tell, messages you want to get across? Do you have the passion to create new photography?
– Then take photographs everyday, discover what you like, what you are good at.
– Make it happen!
In light of Covid, what insights or advice could you give for those starting out and looking to establish themselves under these circumstances?
– Get to know as much about the industry as possible.
– Know who you are – photographer or assistant – and pitch yourself correctly and accurately.
– Join a professional organisation like the Association of Photographers(AOP). They have been incredibly supportive to their members throughout the pandemic, and have recently formed f22– women photographers at the AOP.
– Establish your work and name by entering photography awards, attending online workshops and seminars.
– Establish your online presence. Keep your Instagram account up to date and invest in a decent practical website. LinkedIn is also very good for business networking.
– Connectivity is really important. Don’t be alone.
– Keep taking pictures. Keep thinking, planning and creating.
And building on our belief in women supporting women, are there any female photographers whose work you think we/people should see?
It would be unfair of me to create a list – there are so many excellent female photographers, do check them out at Equal Lens, f22, HundredHeroines and WOMEN PHOTOGRAPH. But I would like to mention Kirsty Mackay and Suki Dhanda. Both these women assisted me back in the nineties, and have since gone on to forge successful careers in their own unique photographic styles. My heartfelt thanks to them, and all the women I have worked with over the years. Mentoring is a two way exchange.
In 2019, the British Journal of Photography’s Portrait of Humanity Award out of the almost 200 shortlisted artists, only 63 of them were women. In spite of their talent, women in photography are still struggling with gender disparity. The British Journal of Photography is only on their second annual award for women entitled Female in Focus. It has taken a magazine on the “cutting edge of editorial and commercial practices” over 20 years to have an award for female photographers.
Despite the recent progress to highlight more women, there is still a long road for gender parity. In a report published by The United Nations Women, a UN entity dedicated to gender equality and empowerment of women, women globally earn an average 24% less than men, work more hours, and have less chance of receiving a pension in later life. Apply that same statistic to the arts industry where the starting salary is less than ten thousand pounds, and female photographers starting out are in dire straits. In the UK, the gender income gap for artists reaches up to 77%, which is surprising for one of the most powerful countries in the world with a huge cultural output.
Not only are they being paid less and starting out with a smaller salary, women proportionally secure fewer commissions, leaving them working minimum wage jobs in order to get by. Although almost half of commercial gallery directors are women, only a third of their artists share their gender. The artist behind 209 women, Hilary Wood, while giving a talk at a Photographer’s Gallery event titled, Women Photographers Now!, said, “two of photography’s earliest trailblazers Anna Atkins and Julia Margaret Cameron were female, I just find it absolutely extraordinary that, you know, I’m standing here in front of you all now and we’re having conversations about gender parity within photography. I mean, what is that about?”
This sentiment is exactly right, in spite of Anna Atkin’s influence in the development of the photo industry, her name is not a household name like Ansel Adams, for instance. Atkins was the first creator of the photobook, something that is now used regularly to share photography projects to everyone. Emily, a graduate of Coventry University’s Photography degree, told me, “I wasn’t introduced to any historical female photographers such as Anna Atkins at university. For historical research we primarily focused on male photographers such as Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Robert Capa, Robert Frank etc.” Atkins wasn’t worth including in discussion of historical photographers, in spite of her being considered the first female photographer. The Victoria & Albert Museum wrote in an archive, “Anna Atkins produced the first photographically illustrated book and is recognised as the first female photographer.” Yet in a photography program at what was, at the time, the best university for photography in the country, Emily had never learned about the first female photographer.
Despite Atkins’ extensive influence and her place in the history of photography, her modern counterparts are not given the same level of courtesy. In fact, in spite of the gender pay gap coming to the forefront of political and cultural issues in 2016, outside of London, commercial galleries still only have forty percent of female artists exhibiting solo shows. At Frieze London in 2018, there was only a four percent increase in female artists from 2017. Professional Photographer Wendy Carrig told me, “Only 5% of pictures bought by leading publishers are taken by women and that women accounted for only 2% of photographers hired by the major agencies. Shocking stuff, I know.”
This kind of disparity from the “deep-rooted inequality that has existed in the world of photography for so long,” said Carrig, caused her to restart an old organization within the Association of Photographers (AOP), called f22. Carrig told me that when these statistics came out, “the AOP’s Rachel Rogers began contacting some of the women photographer members to gauge opinion. Before long a few of us got together to address the issue of gender inequality within the industry, and concluded that we needed a space within the AOP for a separate women’s group, and so on 8th of March 2019, International Women’s Day, a year ago this week, f22 was reborn.”
Some female photographers think that the discrimination mostly comes down to the nature of women in comparison to men. Carole Evans told me, “It’s got to do with the nature of women compared to men, and I realise it’s quite unfeminist of me to say this, but research shows that men are more competitive, and more likely to be risk takers. I think the freelance lifestyle is risky, and one has to be competitive in order to have the motivation to work freelance. Women are more likely to go for more stable roles with stable incomes; hence their prominence in the “back end” of the industry; as agents, gallerists, curators and picture editors.” It boils down to confidence. Wendy Carrig told me that in their f22 meetings, there was a significant amount of discussion about the issues of confidence in women. She did some research on it after their meetings and told me, “unfortunately this appears to be in part governed by our genetic makeup, as research shows that a woman’s confidence doesn’t generally equal that of a man’s until perhaps their seventies. We need to empower ourselves basically.”
However, it can be hard to empower yourself when dealing with institutional and personal sexism. The Freelands Foundation’s Representation of female artists in Britain during 2018 Report says that the Culture and Creative Industries “and within that, the visual arts, are a microcosm of wider social values whereby women’s labour is less valued.” This institutional discrimination is nothing compared to what happens on a personal level. Wendy Carrig told me that “as a student one of our lecturers insisted on calling the shutter release the tit, or the nipple and when we were printing, if a print went wrong and was destined for the bin, it would be referred to as a gash print. As a younger photographer I often felt disrespected, perhaps wasn’t taken seriously.” Calling a print that needs to be thrown away a slang term for vagina implies that any vagina is, in fact, trash. This kind of sexism, while getting better, is still at the forefront of photography’s issues with gender parity.
If men are the only ones getting the commercial contracts, it stands to reason that the way women are portrayed and the way they view themselves will only come from the male viewpoint. When discussing this, Carrig said, “how is society affected when the majority of commercial images are taken by men [and] have the male gaze? These are all such big issues.”
Because this is such a big issue in the photography industry, there have been multiple women led organizations popping up in the last few years. Firecracker, for example, is an online platform that was started in 2011 to “promote women working in photography, through a variety of online features, networking opportunities and public events,” according to their website. While Women Photograph is a worldwide network that was created in 2017 and in the three years of them operating, they are now in over 100 countries and have over 950 women documentary photographers in their network. Firecracker has done a lot over the last nine years to build women up, but it still isn’t enough.
For example, each week, Women Photograph publishes a “The Week in Pictures Gender Breakdown” where they look at the amount of photos published in major news outlets to see what percentage of the photos were taken by women. By looking at these figures in numbers, it paints a very stark picture of the state of women photography. Since the beginning of 2020, the week with the highest percentage of images taken by women was the week of January 27th, with a grand total of 26%. Fast Forward, a research project out of the University for the Creative Arts Farnham dealing with women in photography, has recently put forward a manifesto to increase the amount of women involved in photography. It’s calling for a 50/50 balance across exhibitions, commissions, publishing, collecting, and for all art events and activities to be 50% related to women’s interests and stories as a start.
However, not all photographers agree with a manifesto that forces equality to happen. Which explains why The British Journal of Photography’s Female in Focus award has ended up being quite controversial. The women that I’ve spoken to have all said that they want to be judged on the merit of their work and not on their gender. As one female photographer said in the discussion at the Women Photograph event, “I think it’s handcuffing the creatives, and I think that’s the wrong way to go.” She felt that forcing it to happen would limit the creativity of the industry and force perspective in a different way. Carole Evans agreed saying, “If the women aren’t making work of the same quality as men, these people have no choice but to hire the men.”
Although, it could be argued that this implies a perspective that women don’t make the same caliber work as men and that because of this, people hiring must hire men, since their work is implicitly better. While everyone wants to be judged on the merits of their work, this cannot happen if there is an inherent bias that men are better photographers than women. Wendy Carrig agreed, telling me, “I think we all need a helping hand with self-promotion and an awards scheme specifically for women photographers does seem an attractive proposition.” And Hilary Wood followed up by saying, “it’s not until we have people in positions of power… infiltrated right across the sector that we will see that filter down.” If we don’t put women in these positions of power in the photographic industry, we won’t see it filter down to the people starting out.
The young women who are just starting out in this industry have clearly found it tough, according to the Female in Focus’ data, “on an international scale, 70% to 80% of photography students are women, but only 13% to 15% of them go on to achieve the status of a professional photographer.” This industry is full of powerful and successful men. Even “when women are getting up into the, you know, the higher tiers of the photography world and… unconsciously take on this, kind of, masculine sort of mode,” said one member of the discussion at the Women Photograph Now! event.
It doesn’t matter the gender, so long as you take on this very confident, masculine bravado, you will succeed in the photography industry. The patriarchal natures of this industry are deeply embedded and there is even a degree of chivalry that can inhibit a woman’s progression in her career. Paul Wenham-Clarke told me that he once had a female student assisting on a photography shoot, “trying to learn from a photographer, that they would go to do something and the photographer would think, Oh, I can’t get her to lift that really heavy thing, because that makes me look bad as a bloke. So then he would lift it, but then he wouldn’t book her again. Because she wasn’t much use. But it wasn’t her fault she wasn’t much use, he didn’t give it a chance.”
A chance is all these young women need to succeed in this cutthroat industry. Once they have the confidence to jump into the industry and put themselves out there, they just need the opportunity to show that they are as good, as talented, and as hardworking as their male counterparts. Hillary Wood put it best when she said, “there has to be the opportunity on the other side of that for, for us to enter into it… I think what I want and we need, [is] the leap, we need to leap into that side of the industry and them being as proactive as we are trying to get into it.”
NEWS FEATURE FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF PHOTOGRAPHERSWe talk to Wendy Carrig who won a Gold in the 2019 Awards. Wendy, a
long term member, has been instrumental in reinstating the f22 group -
Women Photographers at the AOP. Read more to find out about her winning
image and the overall impact her continued involvement with the Awards
has had on her career.
Tell us more about your Selected image and the story behind it?This image forms part of a series of fashion portraits of photographer,dog hotelier and ex-model Liddie Holt, taken at her home in Somerset.This was a personal collaborative project that was later accepted forpublication.Can you tell us something surprising about the image?There were a number of dogs on set that day including dachshunds Ernieand Vincent; and a gentlemen of a Giant Irish Wolfhound called big Ron.It was also my assistant’s birthday, but she didn’t tell us! So a bigshout out to superwoman Julie Stewart!What impact has being a gold winner in last year’s awards had on your career? Winning GOLD was euphoric and surreal, and I even received two new workcommissions the day after the Awards ceremony. I’ve since been invitedto speak at a number of photography colleges; and I am currently enjoyingjudging SUN#31 the Shot Up North Photography Awards. Winning increasesprofile and confidence, and gives conformation that the work we createis enjoyed and appreciated. It has spurred me on to explore differentareas of photography and always challenge the perceived limits of myown creativity.What does the AOP do for you? The first year I set up on my own as a photographer I joined AFAEP andwas very pleased to have an image accepted into the Awards. That yearthe Awards ceremony was held at London’s Cafe Royal and my work andname was put in front of an amazing audience of high profile clientsand art directors. This type of exposure was a massive springboard intothe industry for me (possibly even more so in the days before socialmedia) and helped to immediately establish my career.This year Iwas pleased to be involved in the relaunch of f22, the AOP women’sphotography group. We aim to support AOP women photographers at allstages of their career and challenge the continuing gender inequalitywithin our industry.Have you got any advice for photographers considering entering the next awards? Be original. Be brave. If you are not sure whether to enter your workshow it to your colleagues or share it on social media to help gaugeresponse, but make your own decisions. Take responsibility for and beproud of the work you have created.And women photographers, if we all enter at least one more image thanwe did last year we could help make a difference to the gender imbalanceat the Awards, the AOP and the wider photographic industry.Good luck to all!
Many thanks to Feng Gu at The China Photography Association for
featuring my work in their magazine.
Here is a translation of the interview :
1Could you tell me your experiences in photography?I studied photography at Salisbury College of Art before moving to
London to work for four years as an apprentice, mainly to the music
and portrait photographer Mike Owen; he introduced me to the legendary
surrealist photographer Angus McBean whom I also had the pleasure of
working with.I set up on my own in 1990.2 Introduce your job of commercial photography? Do you take documentary
photography now? How do you deal with the relationship of commercial
photography and documentary photography?Most of my commercial work comes via A&R Creative Agency – a wonderful
team who have represented me for 25 years. I am regularly commissioned
for fashion, beauty, lifestyle and portraiture assignments - recent clients
include NBC/The Bi-Life, Triumph, Elle Germany and Stella Telegraph magazine.I am also known for my portrait photography. My work has been selected for
both catalogue cover and poster campaign for the Taylor Wessing Photographic
Portrait Prize at The National Portrait Gallery London; and I have won the
AOP best in category award for portraiture at the Association of Photographer’s
Awards. Recent sittings include the Olympian athlete Tessa Sanderson CBE,
the MP Dr.Rosena Allin-Khan, Buddhist nun Emma Slade, the girl band
Bananarama, and Ayda Field Williams.I am considering working on a new documentary project, but nothing has
been decided upon yet.3 What is the Greenham Common Peace Camp? Could you introduce it to
our Chinese readers? Greenham Common is aformer British RAF (Royal Air Force) base. During
the Cold War period in the 1980s the British government allowed American
nuclear missiles to be installed there. Many people were outraged at
this act and a group of women demonstrators made a peaceful protest by
walking 100 miles from Wales to Greenham Common. The number of protestorseventually grew into thousands and Peace Camps were set upencircling
the base and became women-only. Their mission, to peacefully disrupt
the movement and deployment of nuclear missiles.4Did you join it? Tell some stories about it and you?I was a photography student during the mid-1980s and visited the
Peace Camp for my final year project. I stayed at Greenham for a
couple of weeks during a very cold winter - sleeping under tarpaulin,
eating donated food and wearing donated clothes. Every morning police
and bailiffs would evict us from the site, and as soon as they had
left we would return to relight the campfire for warmth, tea, talk
and songs; and some women would plot and plan and eventually by
nightfall would cut through the wire fence that surrounded the base,
and often be arrested found sitting alongside a nuclear missile.5When you shot these photos of COMMON PEOPLEdid you you think there
will be an exhibition of your work 30 years later?No, not at all, the pictures have been stored in my negative files
until only last year. 6 What do you want to convey through these photos?My pictures mainly show quiet, domestic life at the Peace Camp.I realise
now that this vision is possibly unique, as by excludingall men from
the camps would have also meant excluding most photographers, as photography
at that time was very much male dominated.
7 How do you think the photography experiences affected your later
photography career?As a student I was interested in both documentary and fashion photography.
As a professional photographer Ifell into working in the fashion industry
as I was inspired by the photographers, mainly fashion photographers, whomI had assisted. In recent years I have been working towards more portrait
commissions as I like to show a reality and truth in my work. Re-visiting
my Greenham pictures has made me reconsider my early thoughts on documentary
photography and I am now looking for new ways I can take this forward in my
career.8 What do you think about as a woman photographer in shooting beauty,
fashion,lifestyle photography?I believe that whatever genre of photography I choose to work in – beauty,
fashion, lifestyle, portraiture, documentary etc - my creative style
as a photographer is as individual and unique as the personality of
any photographer, regardless of gender.9 How many years do you take photography as a career? And How do you
keep your passion alive in photography?Next year I will be celebrating thirty years as a professional photographer. The advent of digital cameras was definitely a moment thatboosted my
passion for photography –I often prefer to work with daylight, so the
extra film and shutter speeds combined with auto-focusing allowed me
to push the boundaries of my vision.10Could you give some advice to our readers about how to take a nice
photo?A ‘nice’ photograph doesn’t have to be technically perfect, but I think
it does have to convey something of a message to it’s audience. There is
usually a reason for taking a photograph so it is important that your
audience understands the message or story you are trying to convey.Photography like art is only ‘nice’ if the viewer believes it to be so. I always question my own work by asking myself “Is it real..?”
“do I believe..?”.
COMMON PEOPLE can be seen at the Greenham Common Control Tower
until this Saturday 9th March.