Photojournalism's Startling Gender Disparity
for Capture Magazine
Last year, World Press Photo and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published a startling statistic: that only 15% of news photographers are women. At a time when diversity is being advocated in all elds, photojournalism remains mysteriously homogenous in comparison to other photographic genres. Sam Edmonds gained an insight from some of the industry’s leading gures.
Due in part to the recent rise of the social justice left, discourse surrounding gender equality in industries across the board has recently peaked with erce debate examining those professions traditionally dominated by men. Since an infamous Sky News article pitted alt-right broadcaster Milo Yiannopoulos against journalist Reni Eddo Lodge to hash out the (un)success of women in chess and STEM subjects, columnists around the globe have given their two cents regarding gender-imbalanced métiers. But (as do many creative industries), photojournalism seems to have own under the radar of this debate until a recent statistic was revealed in the newly implemented annual World Press “State of News Photography” report. Relying on an online survey of 1,556 news photographers who entered the 2015 World Press Photo contest - the report outlined that 85% of respondents were male. Compared with several other industries, this makes news photography almost uniquely unbalanced when it comes to the inclusion of both men and women. So, why such a disproportion? How has this gone relatively unreported (or unaddressed) until now? And should we be aiming for a more even-sided ratio of male and female professionals?
History, Stereotype and War
For photojournalist Andrea Bruce, part of the answer to several of these questions lies with the history of the news photography industry as male-dominated and the stereotype it has built. Photographers like Robert Capa and Eddie Adams gave way to James Nachtwey and perhaps most prominently in Hollywood, the image of the Bang Bang Club: four rugged male photographers with scarves, stubble and Leicas at the ready, anked by their attentive (and attractive) female photo editor. All of which has accumulated in the subconscious image of a male photojournalist in the minds of photo editors. “I don’t think any editor is purposefully not trying to hire women of course but I think that there is this stereotype that people have in their mind,” says Bruce. “When they think ‘Oh, I need to send someone to Mosul’, they are going to think of a scrappy, young man and they are going to call that person.”
Celebrated as one of the world’s best photojournalists and a co-owner and member of the NOOR photo agency, Bruce spent eight years at the Washington Post focusing on the United State’s presence in Iraq before making the plunge to freelance - a process that she says starkly highlighted the gender imbalance when unregulated by workplace mandates. “ ere are two different worlds in photography when it comes to documentary and photojournalism: there’s the newspaper world and then there's the freelance world. In
the newspaper world, you have organizations where people keep an eye on diversity to some degree,” she says. “But then I left the Washington Post and dove into the freelance world where it is a completely different ball game - it is de nitely not equal.” But Bruce’s time both as a staff photographer and a freelancer in Iraq served to illustrate many of the outside forces on the perception of women’s ability in war zones in general, noting a particular experience with the US Marines. “I had one situation where I showed up at a really remote outpost in Ramadi in Iraq and they wouldn’t let me stay where all the rest of the guys were staying. I had to stay in a shack pretty far from where the rest of them but it was little unsafe so the commanding officer made them stay up all night lling sand bags to cover my little shack to protect me,” she recalls. “It was one of the most humiliating situations.”
In addition to this, Andrea recalls a number of situations on the front-line where her gender became the focus of questions as to her ability in con ict zones. Recounting that “I have had soldiers tell me that I’m not supposed to be there just because I’m a woman” - Bruce points to the long standing association between this male stereotype of photojournalists and the idea that women may be less suited to the role because of a de ciency in stoicism or natural aggression. e former of which she highlights as unnecessary but the latter as perhaps just an unfortunate bi-product of an extremely competitive industry. “It’s funny because I think people assume that assuming the stereotype of a tough guy will help you in a war zone but I don’t think that is really true,” says Bruce. “But, unfortunately, a lot of women nd it difficult to be as aggressive as male photojournalists in the eld. is is a very very tough eld and you have to be pushy. For a woman it is hard to be pushy and be accepted so, women can often seen as being too aggressive. It’s like that thin line that women have to stand on between being too passive or being too aggressive. I think that is still an issue.”
While Bruce speci cally ags outdated stereotype and a con dence/aggression gap as key elements to the issue, UK/USA - based documentary photographer Daniella Zalcman extends the list of in uences on women to include “routine societal sexism that pervades most industries, a lack of institutional support for young independent female photojournalists and frequent sexual harassment at the hands of editors, fellow photographers, and subjects” but importantly; notes female photo editors as succumbing to stereotype as much as men. “Change doesn't happen overnight,” she says. “Just because some of the people in a position to hire women right now are women themselves doesn't mean we can undo decades of institutionalized sexism.” In fact, it would seem that “some” might be an understatement as women presently represent the overwhelming majority of top-tier photo editors at Time Magazine, e Washington Post, National Geographic, e British Journal of Photography, e New York Times, e Sydney Morning Herald and many other of the world’s most prevalent publications. So why this discrepancy between two very closely related roles in the industry?
According to Zalcman, the answer lay in hiring practices and photo editor’s predicament of simply not being able to nd a large number of female photojournalists to choose from. In response, Zalcman founded “Women Photograph” - a repository of female photographers’ portfolios from around the world that, in her words would attempt to “eliminate that excuse”. As she further explains: the impetus for founding Women Photograph was simple. “ ere's a huge diversity problem in the photojournalism industry, and that's dangerous. is is less an issue of affirmative action and more about making sure that we're being responsible journalists,” she says. “We can't continue to represent the world to the general public through the eyes of only white men.” In addition to the reservoir of portfolios on the Women Photograph website, the organization has recently launched a series of grants, will soon be launching a mentorship program, and also aims to begin a travel fund available to non-western photographers. But from the organization’s initial M.O, it would seem that Women Photograph primarily seeks to put the ball in the court of photo editors.
But is it naive to assume (or even to insinuate) that gender imbalance could be solved simply by placing the onus on photo editors to halve assignments between men and women? Now that Women Photograph exists, can we expect to see 50/50 rather than 15/85? Or what else is at play here? As Sydney Morning Herald photo editor Mags King details, there is much more to consider than just splitting it down the middle. At the helm of the photo department for one of Australia’s largest print and online news outlets, King is tasked with the processes of both editing visual content for the Herald and with tasking the Fairfax photography team with assignments both locally and internationally - a process that she says considers the individual personalities of her team members but most importantly, the sensitivities of the subjects involved. “Day in, day out you have news and people stories that might be for example a mother that has lost a child or a breast cancer victim; something that is sort of sensitive,” says King. “In those cases it does cross your mind. You think; OK, I don’t think a female subject that has been through something horrendous will feel comfortable if I send a male photographer.” e result of this, says King, is an immense bene t not only for the subject but also for the photographer and the resulting images. “What I get [in these scenarios] if I send someone like Louise Kennerley or Kate Geraghty is a subject who is far more relaxed and it will be a far more easier procedure. If you only have an hour with the subject, they can feel at ease much quicker.”
King explains that for an experienced photo editor of more than twenty years, this process of pairing subject and photographer is “almost natural - it’s an instinctual thing” but as she openly admits, her reliance on the behaviours patterns and sensitivities of men and women to do her job well can at times feel anomalous in a society where political correctness remains word of the day. “ is is the interesting thing because at the moment we’re in the whole world of ‘we shouldn’t have these traditional thoughts in our head’ but it is actually being human beings,” says King - alluding to an assignment on which she sent Fairfax staff photographer Kate Geraghty to document the daily life of Hamas leader, Khalid Mishal. “In those photos you can see that that guy was completely open with Kate and at ease with sharing his very very private life and his family. And the pictures that she got were just incredible,” says King. “But if you had sent a man on that job, it could have worked the opposite way. With testosterones and cultural differences etc. I can almost bet that that would have played a part in un-peeling and revealing who this person is.” Boasting a number of Australia’s most celebrated photographic names including Geraghty, James Brickwood, Nick Moir and Peter Rae, King’s quiver of talents to draw upon at the Herald is substantial however, while photographic competence is high across the board, King points to the variability in con dence between her male and female staff. “When it comes to down to it, women are really concerned about getting the work done properly, they tend to be more concentred about ownership and they will ask questions. But what I put it down to is that they just don’t want to fuck up,” she says. “ ese are people that have been photographing for twenty or thirty years yet the con dence level is not there. But If I give a compliment to a male photographer, if I tell them something they did was really good, the response is really ‘oh, cheers but I knew that anyway - I know it’s good’”.
In response to this, it has been King’s personal mandate to facilitate the assertiveness of her female staff saying that “I think it is really important for me to boost females’ con dence, to herald them and to push for their names for equality. Only by having those affirmations can you build con dence and make younger female photographers feel con dent as well.” Attesting to this and in stark contrast to Bruce and Zalcman’s idea of sexism among photo editors, Herald staff photographer Kate Geraghty says that her career both at Fairfax and physically on the front lines in the Middle East has seen her constantly supported by Mags King and other photo editors at the Sydney Morning Herald. “I was the rst female photographer that Fairfax sent to con ict and during that, my editors had my back,” says Geraghty. “I’ve actually been chosen to go to con icts and cover for the Herald because of experience and because I’m the
right person for the job. In my experience, I’ve never ever been knocked back from an assignment because I’m a female. Especially con ict.”
Having risen quickly to the top of Fairfax’s ranks, Geraghty is now one of Australia’s most prominent photographic voices and since joining the Sydney Morning Herald in 2001 has ostensibly become King’s go-to person for con ict coverage. Having covered stories Bali, Jakarta, Sumatra, Iraq, Lebanon, Cambodia and Singapore, Geraghty has made a name for herself as a seasoned and adept con ict storyteller which has been recognized by several Walkley Press Photographer of the year awards and a United Nations Peace Award for Photojournalism. But as Geraghty says, while this illustrious career was made possible by the efforts of female photojournalists before her, she believes the focus now should move to advocating simply for ethical storytelling. “I was blessed to be starting my career at a time when female photographers have already championed their position and I am deeply respectful of that,” she says. “But I think now, in today’s society we just need good photographers telling great stories and doing it ethically. It shouldn’t be about male or female but then again, I live in a country where in society, women are equal to men so, I am coming from a very privileged position. Of course, you want stories to be told by both genders but at the end of the day, if people are telling stories ethically and respecting the subject matter, I don’t care who does it.”
e Future In Equality
Since the publication of World Press Photos’s inaugural report in late 2015, the “State of News Photography” has since seen it’s second edition with absolutely no change to the original statistic. Women are still outnumbered almost 9:1 by men in news photography. So, what does this array of some of the industry’s most prominent female practitioners see for the future of women in photojournalism? As Zalcman says, the issue of gender disparity in news photos will remain stagnant as long as “societal sexism” still prevails and that “we can't hope to truly tackle it in our industry until it's being addressed more effectively societally.” One point Zalcman emphasizes is that better equality among assignment distribution boils down to “a matter of knowing what each photographer's strong suit is - and [knowing that] that has nothing to do with gender.” But also posits that “on average, women sometimes tend to be more drawn to longer, slower, more intimate stories.” So, in news photography where the work ow is inherently shorter, faster and less intimate, does this perhaps shed some light as to a partial cause for the lopsided gender ratio? As Mags King says: “ ere is de nitely an underlying, more sort of cautious approach in all the female photographers at the Sydney Morning Herald. I don’t know where it stems from but perhaps - if I’m going to align myself with them - it’s probably about not wanting to fail and really doing your best because its your name at the end of the day.” From this, it would seem that Zalcman’s and King’s sentiments, while seemingly at odds, both tacitly and explicitly (respectfully) admit to a subtle difference in the modus operandi of men and women in news photography. e only difference is in the trajectory from this point. While King and Geraghty seem to have thrived in a photo editor/ photographer relationship that sees both making decisions partly in uenced by Geraghty’s strong points and abilities as a woman in the eld; Zalcman seems less inclined to embrace this more “traditional” thought process but advocates simply for a more even split between who is telling the "most important stories”. Both of which seem to be striving for the same heights: making sure that we're being responsible journalists.