Earlier this week, I attended a panel discussion on Diversity in Photojournalism at theprintspace. The speakers on the panel were Anna Gordon, Suzanne Plunkett and Chin We, all women photographers who were invited to speak about the challenges of working in a male-dominated field of photography and also, why there is lack of diversity within the industry. This event was organised by Photo Forum and it was lead by Helen Healy, the Head of Pictures at the Financial Times.
Here are a few stats that were discussed in the forum:
- Research conducted by the University of Stirling in the UK and the World Press Photo Foundation found that at least 70% of women photographers face discrimination in the workplace.
- And only 1% of participating photographers in the research classify themselves as Black (makes you wonder how many of those were women).
- Furthermore, women will certainly face some form of harassment during their career as a photographer.
- Also, women drop out of the photography industry after university even though they tend to be more female students than male.
- You will also find that major professional bodies like AOP, NUJ, RPS, etc. have less than 30% female members.
Here is a snippet of what the panellists had to say with regards to their experiences working as photographers.
Suzanne Plunkett – “The Associated Press (AP) sent me to Afganistan. My mission was to photograph the female angle. My editor said that because all of the photographers that had been sent there during the war were men, they had no photographs of women. Here I am in Kabul in 2002 and it was just after the fall of the Taliban, many Afgan men did not know how to deal with an influx of self-assured female journalists. Their confusion resulted in sexual assaults in crowded places. Myself and many of my female counterparts were frequently groped while working. And not just in Afganistan. I try not to think about it. I just remove their hands (from my private places) and continue working.” – Follow her on Instagram @suzanne_plunkett
Anna Gordon – “While Suzanne was in Afganistan, I was pounding the mean streets of Enfield as a trainee at a local newspaper. A random man stopping me on the roadside to explain, “You shouldn’t change lenses in the street. You’ll get dust on them.” A helpful PR stating, “I’ve set everything up for you. All you have to do is press the button.” A subject I was photographing saying, “I feel like you are about to kiss me.” Numerous people asking me, “Do you actually make a living our of photography?” Explaining what a breast pump was to Bill Clinton’s security detail. Negotiating a fee for a shoot to commemorate the Holocaust while locked in a toilet in my child’s nursery. Few of my experiences as a female photographer.” – Follow her on Instagram @annaggordon
Chin We – “From my colleagues, it is very difficult to get into photography through the art world. There is a lack of diversity for people who look like me. If more people of colour are seen to be doing these kinds of stories, things will change. For example, the New York Times commissioned a white photographer to go to Africa to feature a story. They need to commission local photographers , because the story would look different from how a white photographer would capture it. African Journalist database has over 400 photographers living in the continent, but the New York Times prefer to fly a white photographer to Africa. The problem also is that the gate keepers are white and male and if they are not willing to hire black photographers, it’s not going to work.” – Follow her on Instagram @chinw_e
Women Photograph has collected data on photographs published and how many of those are by women photographs. Here is a glimpse of data collected from this year alone from US-based publications only.
I know there is still a lot to be done to make the industry more accepting of women and photographers from minority groups. At least conversations are being had and changes are happening, albeit slowly.
In the meantime, I will leave you with this observation by a female photographer who took part in the research by the University of Stirling in the UK and the World Press Photo Foundation.
“I think that how photojournalists are employed in today’s era of rapidly rising living costs — almost exclusively as private contractors — without any parental leave, health or pension benefits, dramatically influences the people who are able to choose to work in the field over the long term. I look around our industry and it’s true, I see a lot of men, but mostly what I see is people with no kids. I feel like the gender makeup is more equal among photographers in their 20’s but it becomes much less balanced among photojournalists in their 30’s and beyond, with men making up the majority. These men though, who make up the majority of older photojournalists, at least the ones I know, are for the most part, childless, or they have a partner who is the primary parent, or stays at home full time. If I look at my female colleagues, many of them are in the same position.”
If you are interested, you can read the whole report here.