Photography is traditionally a male-dominated profession. Explore why businesses should work with more women photographers in this interview Danielle Da Silva, CEO of Photographers Without Borders.
This article has been reviewed by Women @, a Shutterstock ERG (Employee Resource Group) and professional network that brings women’s issues in the workplace to the forefront of the Shutterstock community to positively impact company culture.
Photography is undoubtedly a powerful medium for storytelling. But the industry, like many others, is flawed. If you trace back and dig deeper into history, you might notice one thing — men. For the longest time, men dominated this field, and they still do. From photographers hired by major camera companies, photojournalists hired by print and digital publications, and photographers hired by companies, men make up the bigger percentage of pros.
Female and Non-Binary Representation Behind the Lens
This is where our ability to take action as a society is vital. The act of supporting a female photographer on social media can go a long way. If we keep sharing their work and listen to the discussion of representation, we become active participants of change. Here is award-winning photographer Danielle Da Silva on the importance of hiring women photographers.
Danielle Da Silva, Founder of Photographers Without Borders
As the founder of Photographers Without Borders, Da Silva is no stranger to the struggles women face. “I have been in the industry for more than ten years. I started an organization called Photographers Without Borders. I filmed music videos, was a celebrity hip-hop photographer, and have shot many portraits,” Da Silva shares. “I have been what many people would call ‘successful’ in the industry. But along the way, I have been sexually harassed by so-called mentors, by clients, and by fellow photographers. I’ve been asked to work for free constantly and was told I wasn’t good enough; told that I have no business being the CEO of Photographers Without Borders.”
In this deep conversation, we unpack the gender gap in the photography industry, where it’s rooted, and how we can change the story.
The Gender Gap in Photography: An Interview with Danielle Da Silva
It’s 2020 and many would agree that inequality and sexism still exist in the photography industry. Do you believe the same?
I don’t just believe it, I know it. All statistics point to this. Just look at the female/non-binary paid ambassadors who represent major camera companies. Look at the percentage of paid female/non-binary photojournalists. Look at the percentages of women in various agencies. Everywhere you look, there’s a disparity.
That’s not to say that we aren’t closing the gender gap, or that there is a dearth of talented female and non-binary photographers ready to be hired. There are hundreds if not thousands of talented female photographers that exist in the world, and they’re easier to find now more than ever (so the commonly-heard excuse of “not being able to find them” or “they don’t exist” is out the window).
Where do you think this lack of representation and diversity rooted from?
This is a systemic problem. We have to address the fact that systemic patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, ableism, racism, and sexism were foundational to the photography industry, first and foremost. And as a result of that, we have to acknowledge that the white, cis-gender male gaze has dominated the industry since inception, before we can understand why representation and diversity is still a problem in 2020.
When white, cis-gender, able-bodied men dominate an industry from inception, they create the rules and institutions around it. They create the knowledge, the language, and a system where everyone who is not white, cis-gender, and male do not generally feel welcomed into. They created power dynamics that privilege and prioritize those who fit into their boys’ club.
Many male photographers behave like rock stars. This can often mean toxic environments for women who are apprenticing, learning, or just trying to thrive. I know of too many cases of sexual assault and harassment in the industry that we have to talk about in whispers out of well-informed fears of having our careers destroyed by speaking up.
So on one hand, I believe the lack of diversity is rooted in the very problematic foundations of the photography industry. Then, on the other hand it is perpetuated by negative experiences that women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) have as a result of trying to engage.
Could you give more details on exactly how sexism looks like in the photo industry? And what issues women commonly face?
In terms of sexism specifically (and I think it’s really important to squarely acknowledge the racism that exists as well), historically and currently, there has been a great deal of gatekeeping and nepotism in order to maintain the status quo. That means, for a long time, women and People of Color have been ignored. And when you’re ignored it becomes one more hurdle to have to jump in order to get to the same place as white, cis-gender men. People shouldn’t have to jump those hurdles, or to have to do what it takes to thrive in an industry dominated by white, cis-gender white men. Those spaces are often unsafe.
The manifestations of systemic racism and sexism in an industry are endless. I can completely understand why many women and People of Color find it intimidating and don’t even want to participate in a game that wasn’t designed to be inclusive, and where every day feels like a fight.
Why do you think it’s important for brands, digital publications, and print magazines to hire more female photographers?
It’s important to hire more female photographers and People of Color. But, if we’re going to dismantle systemic issues and rebuild a healthy and inclusive photography industry, then it’s also important that women and BIPOC artists have a seat at all levels of a brand, digital publication, print magazine, etc. If we had diversity and inclusion at all levels, then it would be self-evident as to why we all need to hire more female/non-binary and BIPOC photographers.
The world is not white, cis-gender and male, and so the world needs to be reflected in the spaces we occupy and in the stories that are told. Stories about women told by women would make more sense. Stories about Black communities told by Black photographers would make more sense. Stories about the 2SLGBTQ+ communities [told by members of those communities] would make more sense. If we have the money to hire people, we should hire the right people for the job.
Pro Tip: 2SLGBTQ+ is an acronym used to refer to people, as a group, who identify as Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Trans, Gender Independent, Queer, and Questioning.
How can we — as an industry and society — do better?
Listen. Take the experiences of women and BIPOC seriously. And then strive to be an ally, or even more—an accomplice or co-conspirator. Take action from a systemic point of view, not a reactive point of view. Take a look around at the spaces you occupy—your workplace, the neighborhood you live in, the school you go to, the media you consume or books you read, your close relationships.
If they are predominantly white, we need to ask honestly if our spaces are even safe for women and BIPOC, for 2SLGBTQ+ communities, and for disabled people. Most of the time if we’re honest, we will start to notice where we need to do work. And there’s always work to be done.
In an industry that’s been tainted with inequality for as long as we can remember, it takes continuous effort to shift things. It requires brave actions, asking uncomfortable questions, and the openness to the answers. “I’m a fighter, but I shouldn’t have to be. Especially not if I’m equally or more talented than the next white guy,” says Da Silva. On one hand, it’s great that there are now more opportunities for female photographers – from jobs to grants to everything in between. But on the other, the fact that these opportunities exist, it means the problem of inequality also does. And that’s something we need to work on. Hiring more female photographers is only one of the many ways.
At Shutterstock, we are striving to create an inclusive space to support the underrepresented artists on our network. You can read our commitments to diversity and inclusivity here. If you are a female or non-binary photographer interested in contributing to the conversation, storytelling on our platform, or seeking more information about opportunities for our female/ non-binary community, get in touch.
You can also read about our partnership with CircleAround Powered By Girl Scouts™, with a goal of sharing more representative imagery of women around the world on a global digital platform. Let’s do the work to create a more inclusive creative space for today’s women and non-binary photographers.
Cover Image by Luna Vandoorne.
Looking for more interviews to read? Check these out:
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- How to Create a Home Photography Studio with Joanie Simon
- Illustrator Alona Savchuk on Freelancing and Body Positivity
- Hayley Benoit on Improvisation and the Business of Photography
- #EachForEqual: What International Women’s Day Means to These Photographers