Ignoring gender won’t achieve equality in photography

Large photography brands share a conspicuous lack of women among the photographers they feature on their Instagram pages. Unfortunately, “we share work based on photographic quality” is the stock answer when questioning this disparity; a response that not only demonstrates failure to understand the importance of fair representation, but (intentionally or not) is also a veiled suggestion that men are better photographers than women.

While those selecting the photos are unlikely to be consciously dismissing work by female photographers, curators and the brands they represent are complicit by neglecting to examine this imbalance. To quote Natasha Hirst, chair of the NUJ’s Photographers’ Council, ‘the view of what constitutes ‘good photography’ has largely been defined by the work of men’. Furthermore, what these pages don’t seem to grasp is that the inequalities making it difficult for some to succeed or even participate in the arts, translate into the world of social media, and by featuring primarily white men these pages may have discouraged some from submitting their work. Therefore in order to help level the playing field (equity), the selection of photographers needs to be intentional; in order to promote equality, brands and ‘zines’ must actively seek talented artists who are female, from diverse ethnic heritage, different races and other underrepresented groups.

Despite what some argue, these pages already vet who they feature because they often have a particular niche. For example, if Canon want to feature a photo on their Instagram that has been submitted by a follower, they will probably verify that the image was taken with one of their cameras. Whether for the selection of amateur photographers for one-off features or promotions of professional work, there is clearly a way for these pages to be more conscientious, and no good reason for photography brands to prop up an outdated status quo. If they want to encourage the next generation of photographers, why not proactively showcase the work of the many talented people belonging to underrepresented groups?

Below are figures gathered from the Instagram pages of photography brands to indicate a general picture of the gender of photographers across 30 feature posts*. This is by no means exhaustive but sheds some light on the situation, along with the following observations. Although there seem to be a couple of examples of ‘better’ representation, across the majority of pages for every woman featured there are around 2-3 male photographers. Representation of race is also important to note here, because on the occasions when women are featured, the majority appear to be white (and the same can be said for posts by male photographers). The ratio of women to men ‘tagging’ pages varies, and while in some cases there are more men, for each page talented female photographers can be found within minutes of searching the related hashtags. In any case, brands should be questioning why certain groups may not ‘tag’ them or make it onto their page. Complacency towards inequality of all kinds is inexcusable and there is simply no good reason for not actively making photography more inclusive.

*Notes on figures:
Figures noted on 27/09/21
from Instagram pages. The figures are included to indicate the representation of gender of featured photographers. Gender cannot always be determined on social media platforms, so it was recorded when it was clear from an individual’s profile. When it was not apparent, it was included in the ‘unclear’ column.
Where a general global page didn’t exist and brands had pages for regions, either European based pages or USA were reviewed. Other regions were more difficult to collect data.
Where the same photographer was featured multiple times, it was recorded, except for consecutive feature series
Where competitions included multiple photographers in one post, it was not recorded
Other brands were considered but some did not appear to use their social media pages (such as Pentax)
The photography brands featured mainly the photos by their ambassadors, but their features were still recorded.

** Non-Binary and Gender Minorities are together as this way made the most sense at the time, obviously you cannot always know this via social media, but I have included it where it was stated in the individual’s bio.

Other related articles:

In September 2017 Nicole Young noted the inequalities of brand ambassador programs of Nikon (7 women, 17 men), Canon (8 women, 32 men), Sony (8 women, 43 men), and Fujifilm (8 women, 47 men in North America alone)  https://nicolesyblog.com/2015/08/26/are-female-photographers-underrepresented/

Lomo In-Depth: Women Photographers on Gender Inequality https://link.medium.com/7Ny4Xb3sBjb

  1. While your intentions are good, your methods of determining whether a brand is practicing gender equality or not seems lacking. It’s hard to determine at first glance the gender behind the accounts unless it’s clearly stated on their accounts. Some people may be male/female-presenting but not identify as men or women. What constitutes “male” or “female” on your data?

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    1. Hello, I’m vary aware of this. I noted that someone was male or female when they described themselves as such. Where it was not apparent I added it the the unclear column.

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  2. Counting posts is hardly what you call statistics.

    You should take into account the ratio of people abiding by each of the page’s standards (ie the tags required to be used, is it their product) to be posted, look at their gender, then compare it to what make it to these pages within a given time period. Then you can see if the brands are being fair or selective with the pool of “submissions” they can pull content out from.

    Another social justice warrior who presents only what is convenient. Lol.

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    1. Not at all ( I don’t think I even refer to it as statistics) – I noted gender where possible in order to provide a general snapshot of the situation & indicate how photography is skewed

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  3. Amazingly derogatory comments, presented to degrade what you’re saying without even the evidence to contradict it.

    Thank you for taking the time you have to go through these pages and then write up your findings to share ❤️

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  4. I just found your IG page and left my comments. But then I read this post and laughed when it was observed your data were not statistics! Unbelievable. Anyway, I plugged these numbers into the Mann-Whitney formula and determined that the probability that these numbers display NO intentionality and are purely random produced a P=0.0001. For reference the P for a coin toss coming up as heads (or tails) is 0.5. (I excluded “unclear” and “non-binary.”)
    You worked very hard on this and I hope that maybe I have strengthened your argument as it is sound.
    I do find it odd as when, decades ago, I was photo editor for my collegiate yearbook, I recruited women as I knew they would be able to get photos in a way I never could. I was not wrong.

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  5. The comments on this post are embarrassing. Rather than trying to answer questions and queries posed, people (and by people I’m guessing white men) are more bothered about slagging you off with no basis.

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  6. Adding in a positive comment here as some laughable idiots left really silly ones (in my opinion of course). Nice article and thanks for taking the time to tally up those numbers. I did a similar study and know how long it takes to research this. Some people who don’t feel your pain (a lot of white males) are not going to listen at all and just immediately respond with defensive junk, but that can’t be helped. I think a lot more of the male photographers who say that they care need to step up and shout and take action to support their principles. Similar to what the Canon Philippines male photographer did by stepping down. Imagine if they all did that? But perhaps they all don’t really care and the world is too convenient for them? Or they don’t want to rock the solid boat that they are in. Anyways, continue on the fight!

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