Rare Species: The Female Photographer NOT SO RARE AFTER ALL?
I must start with a big thank you for the marvelous response I had to my blog ‘Rare Species: The Female Landscape Photographer in the Wild’. I am pleased to say that we don’t seem to be as rare as I speculated!
You can read the original post here.
So I thought I would first take a look at your thoughts on the topic of gender imbalance in photography and tell you a bit about my early experiences getting started and my trip to the Hebrides on a workshop with 6 MEN!
Your responses were interesting. No one disagreed that there was an imbalance (thank goodness I am not the only one…!), although several said they had not noticed it until they read my blog. At least we can say for sure that this is not just a perception of people with an axe to grind. We don’t have a big enough set of responses to make this any kind of scientific study but I think the graphics below reflect the general feeling of those that got in touch.
So, the question was, what do you think are the main reasons for there being a gender imbalance in landscape photography. In the responses it was hard to separate landscape from other forms of photography there seems to be a pretty even spread across several areas with many of you citing several reasons. For me the predominant feature is the fact that the word ‘less’ is used so often. Apparently we think we are less techy, less competitive, less pushy, less adventurous, less wealthy, less able to market our work as well as men. Do we need to get out more!
What is very clear from the responses is that women tend to prefer social activities and perhaps one of the reasons for a surge in women doing portrait/baby/wedding photography is that it satisfies that need for social interaction better than landscape photography which can be a bit solitary at times.
Many women seem to be running hectic family lives AND a photography business at the same time! As a working mother myself I can safely vouch for the fact that when bringing up the kids it was difficult to go off travelling, spend time on image management or developing a business (second business that is) and my brain was usually far to tired to be bothered trying to learn the technical aspects of setting up a website etc. Tech stuff has never been my strong point.
Let me tell you a story…….
I have always painted and was drawing since before I could do much else. I took photos of everyone in my family. I didn’t at that point take pictures of anything other than people and even at that my focus was my two kids. As someone said in their reply to me, if there is a landscape in front then they are trying to figure out where to position someone – that was me. My kids were my world of photography.....
But you know what, the girls grew up and one day I was sitting with my brand new digital Canon 40D not knowing how to work all those buttons but knowing I wanted to get out there and make art. Switching from film to digital, from standard SLR to digital SLR and getting into Photoshop was a bit of a nightmare for me. So, one night sitting in bed browsing the Internet I came across someone nearby who gave ‘photography lessons’. A wonderful, inspirational photographer called Bruce Percy. Great, he was going to show me how to use the camera, right? Wrong!
Bruce took me out on a beach late at night (my two teenage daughters were having a canary about me and the safety issue…) and he showed me long exposure photography. We were lucky enough to see one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever witnessed. I was hooked! All of a sudden I was reading up on RAW, AV and BULB mode, manual focusing, hyperfocal distances, layers and all that stuff. I think I kept the magazine industry in a job for about four years and spent as much time teaching myself as I would have spent in going for a degree in Photography. All of a sudden I wanted to become a Techy!!!
Here is a photo from that first night down at a beach on the outskirts of Edinburgh. This is the Bass Rock, a wildlife haven, you can just about see the lighthouse out there on the rock.
Then, I found out that Bruce had a workshop in the Outer Hebrides, one of my all time favourite places in the entire world (I include all the places I have never been as I cannot imagine anywhere more romantic than Harris).
See the Hebrides here on Google Maps.
So, I booked up – Me and 6 MEN! Bruce warned me on the phone, no more than three lenses Lynne. What, I said? I only have one. Tripod? Nope, have to buy it. Filters? Nope, have to get some….(Lee Filters... of course) So, off I went. Kitted up with enough gear to go to the North Pole – it was November after all……long johns and woolly vests….
The first night there was a kind of kit inspection – you know like in the Girl Guides - where you find out you have only half what everyone else has….…. I came downstairs in the hotel sitting room with my one camera with my one lens, the tripod that I had never put up before (a bit like the tent I had never put up when I went to Greece, but that’s another story) and my brand new filter set with the plastic wrapper still on.
The guys…all 6 of them…. turned up with backpacks twice the size of mine. They opened up these enormous tripods to full height and there were enough lenses to do Fashion Week in Paris. The kit was amazing. There were lenses longer than my arm. I was thoroughly daunted. After suffering an hour of tech talk that I didn’t understand I sloped off to bed wondering what I had done and why I had ever thought I was good enough to go there.
Next morning, we were out on Luskentyre Beach on Harris. (If you have never been there look it up on Google Images and put it on your bucket list, you can see some of my images here. It is the most amazing long white beach with turquoise water that looks like a scene from a movie set in Hawaii. The sun was coming up and the whole place went pink. I was fumbling with my kit, the legs of the tripod wouldn’t stay up and I had no idea about the filters so was feeling completely out of my depth. Then one of the guys sidled over to me and remarked that he couldn’t see why we were there….low voice so as not to hurt Bruce’s feelings….. ‘After all’, he said, ‘there is nothing here to take a photo of’!
See below my image of Luskentyre......
That’s when I realized, it’s not about the kit, it’s not about big lenses and tech talk, it’s about seeing the picture. It’s about the colours, the emotion, and the composition. And it’s not about men versus women either, it’s men and women. Understanding the techy stuff is just something that we have to do in order to use the camera as our medium. I am pretty sure Michelangelo, Raphael, Turner and all my heroes had to learn the techy stuff of their day but did anyone ever care what brush the painter used when they had finished the masterpiece? Perhaps as women we tend to enjoy technical things less and we are more easily put off trying to learn it unless we have a pretty strong motivation. I do know that all of us reading this blog have conquered this aspect so we can enjoy our passion for Photography so it is not a lack of ability.
Here is an interview with Bela West, an amazing portrait and wedding photographer. Mike Browne starts the interview on the point that there are fewer women in photography and he chats to Bela about her experiences in getting started. One point she mentions that I totally agree with is that it is possible often to distinguish photos taken by a man versus a women, sometimes more sensitivity for the subject in female work. Bela's work is inspiring, maybe I should switch to portrait photography, it looks such fun!
So, what I say is this, if women need some assistance to get over the technical bit then we need to lend a hand. If we feel that being on their own out there is a bit daunting then we just need to get out with a group – mixed or otherwise. If we are not pushy enough in marketing then we need to stick together to make our voice heard. Men and women are different but equal so why not look to all the open avenues women can exploit those differences – look at the world from a different perspective. One friend remarked that she has found it an advantage to being a women in the portrait and baby business kids so there is an avenue we may well push into more easily than into landscape photography. And I should say I have noticed men in magazines and in business are beginning to notice us.
Before I finish, I would like to say that in doing this blog I found a photography group Landscapes by Women started by two wonderful photographers, Beata and Vanda (Hi Ladies!). They encourage women in photography and have members from all over the world contacting their website. Do check out their site and join in on Facebook and Flickr too.
Help with technical stuff, company on trips and support in marketing is all there because that is something women do better, we socialise better than men and what is the biggest marketing tool out there? SOCIAL NETWORKING – So, let’s take advantage of our greatest skill and get out and market ourselves……this is just what we have been waiting for!
Well thanks for reading, come back soon! Likes on Facebook and +Google much appreciated :-)
Future topics will be - Do Women and Men See the World Differently?, Top Tips for Artistic Photography, Selling Prints - How do I do that? and many other techy things for all the non techy people like me!