I was recently asked by an emerging photographer if there was any hope of her ever getting work as a commercial photographer. She had discovered that it was a male dominated world made up of mostly male photographers working with mostly male creatives. She wondered why; did I know?And was the effort even worth it?
I worked with another fabulous photographer recently who produces beautiful art photography and stunning editorials, all to worldwide acclaim, but who also seems to be struggling to figure out where she fits into the ad world. Not being the beer drinking, rugby watching type, she was wondering how she could connect with the majority of her potential clients- mostly men in the ad & design industry.
Admittedly if I were to generalise about advertising photographers I’ve worked with most are men, many are dxyslexic and they are more likely to be technically minded. (One day I will conduct a formal study on this as it’s positively fascinating). And the creative departments of ad agencies worldwide are most definitely populated by a large proportion of men.
My experience of working with mostly male photographers must have affected my perception of the unnamed entries I judged for the Lucies this year. Whilst looking at shots of war torn environments and devastation, of military compounds and soldiers staring menacingly into the camera., I had in most cases presumed that these were shot by men.
How wrong I was. Shame on me!
When I turned up at the Lucie Foundation Best of Show exhibition one of the first people I was introduced to was Alinka Echeverria– a delightful young woman from the UK. I was surprised to discover that she had shot the ‘Becoming South Sudan’ series, which a few days later won her International Photographer of the Year at the Lucie Awards. At the exhibition I also saw one of my favourite images from the awards, shot, I discovered, by New York based Japanese photographer Ayano Hisa, who I’d erroneously labelled in a previous post ‘The Make or Break Edit’ as a ‘he’.
A day later, I attended a lecture on Photography as an Instrument for Social Change featuring three amazing women; Sharon Cavanagh, Sara Terry and Nancy McGirr, and was in awe of their photographic and humanitarian achievements. Terry & McGirr were both war photographers prior to establishing highly successful, non profit humanitarian organisations, Fotokids and The Aftermath Project. When asked if they felt that being women affected how they were perceived/treated in war situations, they unanimously agreed that being a woman had enabled them access to places which would have been off limits to their male counterparts, and to people who perhaps would have felt more threatened or intimidated by a man. They felt it gave them advantages and they were happy to have that point of difference.
So with this in mind, in response to the photographer who asked me if it is worth it, and to any woman who wants to succeed as a photographer, I say, embrace your female side. Take shots of women in a way that that men can rarely achieve. Shoot men from a female perspective. Shoot everything with a female eye and stand out from the crowd. Be empowered by your ability to gain access to different people and places, to be perceived as less threatening, to share things with the world that many men can’t reach. Be proud of who you are and follow the lead of other women out there who didn’t give up.