Art has been around for 30,000 years. Over time it's become a big wealthy boys club, with artists like Pablo Picasso and Paul Gaugin still heralded as gods. These men are immortalised as "born before their time" rockstars while very much being precisely of their time, i.e. misogynistic and abusive; both men had relationships with underage girls.
Photography, on the other hand, was accepted as an art form in the 1940s. It is still in its infancy, along with film and women's suffrage. Although photography is now growing up in a world where women are gaining more and more rights, freedoms, and legal parity in some parts of the world, it has not welcomed a more diverse club into the highest standards of the art world.
The patriarchal frameworks on which the art world was built are not easily dismantled or updated, it would seem.
In order to understand the current state of the art industry, statistics and insights included in the 2022 report 'Give Us Features, Not Flowers' are helpful to examine the issue of gender bias as a barrier within the photography industry. The report shows that women make up 50% of the art industry but are less likely to be recognised, featured, or celebrated as much as men are.
The report also looked at women representation in top museums. The best museum for representation was KIASMA in Helsinki, in which out of 163 artists shown, 36% were women, and 64% were men. The worst was the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, which had 63 artists featured, only one of whom was a woman.
There are the same amount of female and male photographers working in the photography industry, but the highest standards are male-dominated. This gender gap is addressed in the report, and these are the issues which women and photographers that are marginalised cited; 69% of women photographers cited discrimination in the workplace, including; sexism (54%), industry stereotypes or practices (53%), and lack of opportunities for women (49%). Finally, the opportunities women have are instantly harder to get if the photographer is black, Asian, or an ethnic minority.
The report detailed the specifics of gender disparities within top camera brand ambassador programmes; highly sorted after positions offering a lot of publicity to the photographer. Nikon Europe has 22 men and seven women ambassadors. Canon USA has 36 men and 14 women.
These findings indicate that there are a lot of barriers that prevent women and marginalised people from accessing and reaching the same level as their male counterparts. There are a lot of organisations and individuals who are working hard to change this fact.
Everyone can be a part of this effort to make sure representation is representative of society. We can support galleries and museums are closing the gender gap. We can take notice of the galleries and museums which don't have as many women as men featured. We can ask, in our everyday lives, "Who's photos are being featured?"
Those of us who do hire photographers can change how they search for talent and their "ideal candidate" without the project suffering. We can monitor our unconscious bias, our core beliefs which unconsciously affect the behaviour which has been instilled in us as children. Especially when it comes to selecting candidates, reviewing portfolios, and interviewing people. These are stressful situations where unconscious bias can drive behaviour and decisions.
In the wake of the #MeToo and BlackLivesMatter movements, people are talking more and more openly about unconscious bias. However, for those who have not spent a lifetime being adversely affected by it, it can take a moment or two to realise there is an issue at all.
We all could do with taking a few more minutes to consider our choices and reactions; unconscious bias is something we can all have and help to become aware of and unlearn where necessary.
Finally, we can all promote and share female and non-binary photographers' work online and in real life, particularly women of colour photographers. We can also choose to buy from businesses and brands which hire female and non-binary photographers.
One brand which does just that is Burnt Soul (@burntsoulclothing), a fashion brand owned and run by Robyn Lythe. This sustainable, body-positive business creates 'dress to express' in curve-loving, confidence-boosting catsuits and clothing that speaks to their inner wild child. Robyn works with multiple female photographers and agrees that there are a lot of deep-rooted issues within the industry.
"It's the age-old issue of women being underrepresented in their fields of expertise," says Robyn, "Did you know that if a piece of artwork has a woman's name on it, it will depreciate in value tenfold? I can't help but feel this is also true in photography."
"My experiences with photographers from all walks of life have shown that female photographers tend to do more work for less money and be less confident in their abilities. It's a crying shame that this is the accepted process, and I feel that I have the opportunity to empower women, often under-represented in this field, to explore and develop their craft in a safe and supportive space."
Women and marginalised people's lack of confidence in their own abilities have devastating effects on their respective career paths within the art industry. However, even if you are confident in your ability and you are not a man, you are likely to get exhausted from working in the boys club culture and experiencing discrimination and sexism. It is enough without not believing in your own abilities to make you not feel safe competing for the top positions.
The importance of women or non-binary led brands, like Burnt Soul, creating for women, and hiring women, especially women of colour and non-binary photographers, are so important. These brands provide safe spaces where women can work towards their own goals and grow in confidence without having to face discrimination and sexism.
If you are interested in finding and hiring women, women of colour, and non-binary photographers, the following directories and organisations can help you.
Burnt Soul: Website: https://burntsoul.com/
Nicky from Under the Palm Tree