Photo London is back, and opens at Somerset House this week. As well as all the exciting photography on show there are many accompanying talks and discussion panels. I will be taking part in a talk at The Arts Club with my colleagues from f22 – AOP Women Photographers – where we will be discussing what it’s really like to be a woman working in the photographic industry.
If you would like to attend this event please direct message me via Instagram, or the contact page on my website.
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.
The Space Between is a new photography exhibition showcasing work from
f22 - women photographers at the AOP, and featuring five new pieces by me.
Exploring the physical and emotional space between objects, people and nature,
The Space Between opens today and runs until September 23rd.
A letter from the Executive Director of the Association of Photographers
The AOP is a trade association for everyone working in creative image-making. It has worked hard over the years to ensure that legislation and guidance in the areas of workplace best practice and copyright have always put the rights of the individual creator firmly at the centre.
We do not tolerate discrimination in any form and have been working to ensure that our members and team represent the world in which we work, in all its diversity.
We want to ensure that people from the BAME community feel part of us and our industry. We can, and always will, strive to do better, and we welcome any input from individuals and groups within these communities on how to address their needs and ensure representation within our sector and organisation at all levels.
To help further this process we will be launching a platform for those within our BAME membership to help us inform the organisation’s future and to ensure no one is exposed to racism, discrimination or barriers in any way. Similar to the f22Women in Photography group, it is hoped that this will be one of the many positive ways we can help address the imbalances to access and achievement within our sector.
If you would like to be involved in this group and help progress this work please contact me email@example.com
Many thanks for your continued support
Seamus McGibbon Executive Director
Membership of the AOP is open to all photographers. There are varying categories of membership, and the Access Membership scheme for emerging and established photographers is currently being offered FREE for three months during the Coronavirus crisis.
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.”
I am very pleased and extremely honoured to be invited to speak at the WOMEN PHOTOGRAPHERS NOW talk at The Photographers’ Gallery on behalf of f22 – Women Photographers at the AOP. Also speaking will be Hilary Wood founder of #209women and Del Barrett founder of HundredHeroines, both women who I admire, and whose initiatives I have been fortunate to have taken part in.
“Women behind the lens continue to be seriously unrepresented in the industry, and the gallery. However things are changing, as women’s photography groups are becoming highly proactive, attempting to readdress the balance.
For this event f22(Women Photographers at the AOP), HundredHeroines and #209women, three important women’s photography organisations, are brought together to talk about the work they do in support and promotion of women photographers, the problems they have had to overcome, and what they see next for women in photography.”
With many thanks to our host Prof.of Photography Paul Wenham Clarke, Course Leader of MA Commercial Photography at Arts University Bournemouth.
The talk will take place on Thursday 12th March, in the same week as International Women’s Day.
Admission is free you just need to register for tickets.
A new photography workshop created especially by f22, the women photographers
group at the Association of Photographers, and also open to non-members
Wednesday 29th January 2020 18.00 - 20.30
NUJ Offices, Headland House, 72 Acton Street, London WC1X 9NB
Topics to be covered :
- Why enter Awards?
- Why women aren't entering Awards
- A history of women photographers at the AOP Awards
- What wins? What judges are looking for?
- How to decide what to submit?
We will also be running a mock judging and exhibition for feedback!
Please bring a maximum of 10 10"x8" prints along to be included.
Tickets + more information here
f22 launches today to coincide with International Women's Day!
Over the last year there has been a surge in photography groups,
organisations, awards and initiatives set up in an attempt to equal
out the discrepancy between the numbers of women and men working as
commercial photographers - currently only 18% of photographers at the
AOP are women!
f22 will exist to provide a dedicated network for open discussion,
share knowledge and most importantly lobby towards changing the
gender inequality within our industry. #thefstartshere!
If you would like to join the AOP there is a new Accesss membership
@ £25 for the first year.
Or simply follow our progress on Instagram @f22aop
HAPPY WOMEN'S DAY!