Women in Photography

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Are we any closer to leveling the playing field? You don’t have to look at statistics to know that photography has always been a predominantly male-centric transaction, but with new media opportunities arising are women participating more in the industry? We spoke to photographers Mary McCartney and Katy Grannan to get their thoughts on the subject.

Photo London recently aired their 2016 panel talks, including Cheryl Newman’s Loose Women discussion. The board of female photographers highlight very real differences they face because they are women.

Think war photography and you most likely imagine the likes of Don McCullin on the frontline. We rarely associate this branch of photography with women or women behind the lens. Alixandra Fazzina, a British photojournalist, who has spent a good part of her life in war-torn countries like Afghanistan, highlights a fundamental difference between the male and female approach to war photography.

“I was in a very male-dominated world because essentially I was working with the military. I felt very conscious that what I needed to do to prove myself as a woman was to work a lot harder,” says Fazzina.

“I’ve always been really interested in stories that haven’t been reported and that weren’t being shown by the media, and essentially I was an investigative journalist just as much as I was a photographer. I was trying to do things that weren’t being shown, but does that come from a gender point of view? Is it from a woman?”

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Another interesting subject that arose from the discussion is the difference between women vs. men photographing female nudity. According to Hannah Watson, director of TJ Boulting Gallery and Trolley Books, there is a monumental difference – whether it becomes sexualised if it’s a man behind the lens or liberating if it’s a woman taking the photograph is almost beside the point.

A large percentage of women are studying photography and other media-based subjects, so why isn’t that percentage translating into women working as photographers? Some may argue that the difficulty of ‘fighting the crowd’ becomes too much for them. Emma Blau, a British photographic artist, says she encountered times where the subject mistook her male assistant for the photographer.

The above points highlight everyday struggles female photographers encounter; however geographically the proportion of women photographers in the East and West indicates the bleak and stunted prospects of females in Middle Eastern countries and other parts of the world. Cultural attitudes dictate the role of women in so many ways, but it’s a sad happening when it goes so far as some male photographers saying the work of their female counterparts shouldn’t be exhibited on the same walls as them.

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What is the future for female photographers in the digital age?

Maybe women are less overt about it, but it seems the digital is defining what opportunities are available to women in the artistic industries.

Portrait and reportage photographer Mary McCartney says: “I think women all around the world are connecting. I’m watching what women are doing in other cities and other countries, so it’s opened that up.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily changed the style, because women have always thought in a certain way and take pictures in a very emotional way. What I love about the women I come across is we don’t feel like we’re in competition with each other. It’s like we’re one big movement.

“In my day to day life I find that people are looking for women [to exhibit], which is really interesting. Before I would just be sought out for my photography, whereas now they say ‘we’re interested in you because we love your photography, but also you’re a woman’. I love it when people say that.”

American photographer, Katy Grannan, best known for her series of portraits depicting strangers she met through newspaper advertisements tells us: “There are a lot of women obviously making great work and a lot them are friends of mine. I don’t know if it’s a new movement, except historically it’s been a man’s club, aside from Dorothea Lang and Diane Arbus and Helen Levitt etc. But men largely dominate the history of photography. Strong work is strong work.

“I see with my daughter this new generation of feminists, not necessarily in photography. My daughter wears a shirt that says: ‘the future is female’. I’m like ‘yes!’ I was a closeted feminist. The fact that there’s this unabashed ownership and self-respect is really exciting to see, whether it’s photography or not. It’s like we’re here.”

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