A Response On Sexism in Editorial Photography

News September 17, 2013 10:19 am

If you keep up with Daniel Shea’s blog, you will have read his post On Sexism in Editorial Photography. Its a fantastic piece on one of the very obvious issues in the editorial photography world – why are there so few women photographers being hired in the editorial world? Especially when a majority of photo editors and are female. So I was thinking it through and trying to answer some of Daniel’s questions and thoughts that he put out there into the world and then an amazing (female) photographer friend of mine asked me for my thoughts on the subject and I responded in long rambling nonsense bits and pieces. Anyway, she wrote a much better response to the post, here, which you should absolutely read.

I was raised by a strong woman. If you look up the meaning of Feminism, well, my sister and I were raised by one through and through. Not only a feminist but a single mom and a painter (not in that order). She exposed us to female photographers, painters, sculptures, dancers, installation artists. She brought us to protests against rape in Bosnia, in New York, against job inequality, against galleries who showed only men’s work. All this is to say that I was raised to look for them – the women – and seek them out. Like highlighted words in a borrowed book that you can’t ignore when reading the page, when I started photo editing their names beamed up at me – Deborah, Erin, Melissa, Nadia, Mackenzie, Gabriela, Annie, Brigitte, Robyn, Elinor, Nicole, Julia, Lynsey, Emily and the list goes on. So much so that when my first boss asked me to compile a list of every worthy photographer in every state, I made a secret list copying all of the females so that I could make sure that I threw their names into the mix. As a newbie in the magazine business, I would often get asked why I should hire (insert female name here) over (insert male name here) and I would try to make some elaborate story about why they would be better, wouldn’t a man feel more comfortable with a woman? Wasn’t she so fun in our meeting? Why not just because she is a woman, I would ask. Looking back, I am embarrassed of myself for some of the things that I said. But that was my secret mission – aside from learning everything that I could, it was to hire women, to be the photo editor that supported women. To learn from them and to be nurturing and foster their art. Because my mom taught me that we need to look out for each other. And we do.

Fast forward a few years later and I am publishing my own magazine. And I can hire anyone I want. I look at the list of photographers who I want to include, because I love their work and the magazine is about personal projects and they have been sending me some amazing shit and I want to show it and print it and nurture it. And I notice the lack of women. Only a few. Out of the twelve photographers in both issues of This Is That, only three are women. My superpower of female names sticking out to me had vanished. I looked at a lot of work, but really, I looked at what was seeking me out. I had gotten more emails, more promos, made more connections with male photographers. I didn’t do this on purpose. But it happened. So I am guilty of the very thing Mr. Shea so wisely notes. In a magazine where I had all of the ‘hiring power,’ I didn’t listen to my mom.

There is no answer here. Only my experience. Only that even when I do try to make a conscious effort to seek out females – in hiring, on this blog – sometimes I fail. Often I fail. Because it takes a bit more effort. Not because there aren’t women photographers – some of the best photographers are absolutely women – but because their names need to be highlighted in the borrowed book. They aren’t, so we must. That being said, I support male photographers, they are some of the best, too. I wish I was sex-blind and color-blind and all things held equal and perfectly zen. But most of us are not, most of us need to make an effort to see equally. I so needed the reminder.


  • Brendan

    “I had gotten more emails, more promos, made more connections with male photographers.”

    Clearly, more men are marketing to you and other potential clients successfully. It could be that there are just more men in the industry, or for some inexplicable reason, only men know how to market (which I doubt very highly). In any case, why should a photographer who fails to market effectively be rewarded with work? Why, when the name of the game is getting noticed, should everything be turned on it’s head because the people mentioned in your inbox happen to be male. If your work is solid, success in the photography industry is very much what you make of it.

    On a very basic level, what you’re doing is actively discriminating against men for being good at their chosen profession or simply being the majority in that particular industry.

    What seems to have been lost in this fray of alleged gender discrimination against women, is that the vast majority of those in the photography industry with the power to hire, are women. Nobody has written an article about the need to seek out male art directors, and nobody should, not all industries need to have gender parity. Unless there is some strong evidence that gender discrimination is actually occurring, which there doesn’t seem to be, seeking out female talent, while ignoring male talent intentionally, is blatant gender discrimination.

    • Hi Brendan – thanks for your comment and I appreciate your point of view. You have a good point – a majority of those that hire in the photo industry are female, and perhaps that hasn’t been addressed fairly. Looking at my post, what I should have made more clear is that no matter what gender the photographer would be, above all, I would look to hire the right photographer for the assignment. I would never hire someone who was not right for a story because she was a she, over a male who I thought would do a better job. However, personally, I think its worth taking a step back and questioning why hiring decisions are made (and not only in regard to gender). I only wanted to add my experience to the conversation. I really appreciate your feedback! -Kate

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