"First of all you'll want to adjust your expectations because you're a woman"
This was advice I was given by a fashion photographer I interned with when I first became a photographer. Generally speaking this guy was a bit of a dinosaur… I figured that his views were outdated. But, unwittingly, hidden under layers of jerkery perhaps this was pretty sound advice. Because, ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2015… the photography industry has a problem.
When I have a male second shooter, venue coordinators will refer to them first and even look a bit surprised that I'm not his assistant. One of my photographer friends said that when she assists a male photographer it's often assumed that she's his girlfriend rather than a "proper" photographer. I've had registrars that I'm standing right in front of, with my cameras out say to people "when the photographer arrives, tell him to come and speak to us". Once I really got into having a chat with a guy at a wedding about photography, he seemed really interested and then he leant and whispered in my ear "it's such a turn on hearing a girl talk about cameras"… ok so that may be a bad example and that's probably less to do with the industry having a problem and more with that guy being THE CREEPIEST GUY… but there does tend to be the novelty factor for a lot of people when I tell them that I'm a photographer.
I could go on and list more examples. Anyone who wants to share their own experiences in the comments please do!
But no single day has thrown light on this problem more than Tuesday did.
My lovely friend Elly and I were heading to The Photography Show in Birmingham. Waiting for the train I ran into the first little sign of the general theme of the day. Browsing the magazines in WH Smiths I realised that photography magazines were displayed under the title "Men's Lifestyle" ("Women's Lifestyle" consisted of baking, gossip and homewares, naturally). There, in the same category as lad's mags were the photography magazines… if there was one snapshot of the day that sums the whole problem up, that was it. The Photography Show just drove it all home.
You only have to look at the sausage-fest of a line-up to start to see the problem. For fun, try counting the number of female speakers. I won't spoil it for you by telling you punchline… but it sure turns out that the joke is on the ladies.
Then, you have the extremely jarring use of scantily clad ladies in some areas of the show. I'm no prude, but having dudes in polo shirts and khakis and then ladies in what could best be described as club-wear working on the same stand seems rather imbalanced, no? One stand literally had a woman used as part of the decoration of a candy cart… like, eye candy or something. There were huge prints of butts and cleavages hung up on some stands. Presumably a greased up cleavage is the best way to truly convey the quality of printing.
At one point I was with Elly and our friend Cat and bumped into a guy I know who was buying some lighting equipment. The stand-holder was waiting to be paid and said "I hate to tear you away from three lovely pretty girls". I hate this kind of thing… like men and women can't just be having a conversation. How about asking us if we're interested in the lighting, you wally?
Now, I'm sure some people will argue that this is harmless… but this kind of sexism is insidious and damaging. It left a bad taste in my mouth and frankly, feeling the need to have gratuitous eye candy does the men it's aimed at as much a disservice as it does the women that it alienates.
I am undecided if I will return to the Photography Show in 2016… if I do, I'll be sure to take that photographer's advice and "adjust my expectations".