Camera Hannah - Alternative Wedding Photography Derby UK: The Photography Industry Has a Problem

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Photography Industry Has a Problem

"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 Generally speaking this guy was a bit of a dinosaur… I figured that his views were outdated.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".


  1. How disappointing.

    A few years ago, my team of adults for taking my class out of school included me (a young female teacher), a couple of older female TAs, and a male TA about my age. The male TA started hiding whenever someone approached us to find out who was in charge, because they would automatically gravitate to him, then try the older women, even if I'd put myself forward and explained that I was the adult in charge, I'd be ignored. Even when he'd pointed them in my direction, they'd go back to him to confirm things, and he'd point out that they should be asking the fizzing hissing ball of rage that was about to spontaneously combust.

    I follow a lot of Volkswagen photography pages on FB too, and if there's ever a model in the picture with the cars, it's a scantily clad girl. Occasionally a more 'alternative' model with tattoos and bright dyed hair, but never a bloke. If blokes are in the photos, they're driving, or wearing animal head masks as a counterpoint to the female.
    I commented on one of these photos the other day and asked, tongue in cheek, where the photos of cute guys working on VWs were to appeal to us female VW lovers. Someone posted a picture of an overweight grubby mechanic crouching under a car, with his knackers hanging out of a split seam in his pants, and said that's what I could have. There's lovely.

  2. that's really interesting to read. i am a female photographer myself and i know myself about that. hopefully it will change soon :) female photographers are nowadays as much as male, and i think we are pretty good on our ways ^.^


  3. Casual sexism is still a problem in all industries, particularly those which have traditionally been male-dominated. I'm a gardener in my early thirties and when I had a young lad (21) on work experience with me people would automatically look to him first, despite him barely looking old enough to shave. Bizarrely even when we had to make a pit stop for tyre repairs when out on a job with another gardener (female, in her forties) the staff there --- who know me very well --- didn't speak to me first, or even my more mature colleague, but immediately asked the young lad what the problem was ("er, I can't even drive *points* they're in charge"). It happens a lot, and usually if I'm at a nursery, builders yard, or tool hire place then if I'm there with a man (either a student or my boyfriend) they are usually the one who's addressed first. I generally find this kind of casual sexism more irritating than the deliberate/obvious kind because of the thoughtlessness it suggests.

  4. I too visited the said mentioned show and I completely agree with the comments made about some of the stands there and the subject of some of the images being displayed. It was my third year visiting and I too am undecided whether to return....Now I won't get started on clothes/toys that are aimed soley at girls or boys, but when we are in 2015 and all this is starting when they are children, we will face an uphill battle for a while!

  5. As the person first on the Sausage Fest list. I have to say that it creeps me out as well. I don't like seeing women paraded and used for the sole purpouse of being 'a pretty face'. I've always said that i'd much rather photograph real people and I hate shooting models.

    It is by far to male focused and it upsets me. I do find it disturbing that as soon as a stereo typically attractive woman is around at the show men start photographing her. I know one mutual friend who was woking on our stand at SWPP and everytime she went for a walk to the loo or around she was asked to stop and have her photo taken.

    i would just like to say that not all men are like this and I have the utmost respect for women in our industry. I think you know i'd much rather hang out with them than the guys.

  6. I was one of the lone female speakers at the show and can identify with the message here. BUT there are not enough women in the industry who are prepared to stand on a stage and speak about the craft or demonstrate it live. It is the women who will make the necessary change in attitude so we (ladies) all need to work together for this to happen in our industry.

  7. Hi Hannah, thank you for writing about the show and I'm sorry you didn't have a positive experience. This
    ​​is a​​ ​challenge we face as​ ​an industry ​and​ ​something we​, The Photography Show team,​​ ​feel very passionate about. Currently our attendees are approximately 80% male and 20%​ ​female​ and​ it's something we want to change. Our challenge is reaching those talented females and encouraging them to attend and take part in the show. Kate makes a very valid point in her comment and we have found this when approaching people to speak at the show.

    This year we featured sessions that would appeal to women including a discussion specifically addressing the topic 'Women in Photography' which was the result of a round table discussion with women in the industry about tackling this issue at the show. We will continue to explore this for 2016.

    ​This is an issue that requires an industry response and we'd love to hear what thoughts you (or anyone else who wants to make a difference) have to make the show more appealing and inclusive to women, please get in touch at