The scandal that ruined the photographic industry

Have you noticed the bigotry towards women in the photography industry? It is there and I feel partly responsible. But some camera makers and big photography companies are the worst offenders.

A while ago I was approached by a moderately well-known photography company here in the UK. They wanted me to become a brand representative. I responded and said I would be happy to do so as long as there was equality among their team of ambassadors; I knew there wasn’t. Adding another middle-aged white man to their ambassadors wouldn’t do anything to fix that, and I didn’t want to be associated with a company that promotes inequality, even if it was passive and unwitting. I haven’t heard from them.

It got me looking at other brand ambassador lists. The inequality at all levels was shocking.

Comparing roughly the split between men and women who are photographers around the world, around 40% are women and 60% are men. I made a similar comparison about ten years ago, and the percentage of women is increasing. I hasten to add that this was not a scientific survey, just counting members of each gender in photography social media groups, but it is a reasonable guideline. Even so, we should aim for a 50/50 split between men and women in senior positions, because that’s where the proportions of male and female photographers are heading.

In America, there are thirty-nine women out of 141 photographers on Sony’s list of female ambassadors, or just 27%. However, out of their ninety-eight European ambassadors here in Europe, there are only ten women. In Asia, only two of the fourteen ambassadors are women. Sony, you should be ashamed

Sony is not alone. Canon, for example, announced a list of ambassadors to the Philippines, and they were all men. A despicable act for which, to my knowledge, they do not apologize. This is despite Alex Cooke’s article posted here on Fstoppers highlighting the issue of white male overrepresentation in the industry. This article was published over five years ago.

This really shouldn’t be a problem in the modern world. Women’s snobbery should have been eradicated with regimes that encouraged misogyny, along with their other perverse practices, in the 1940s.

There really is no difference between the photographic abilities of women and men. In fact, when I count the most talented photographers I know personally, more than half of them are women. In addition, there are many internationally renowned female photographers. This is reflected in the Fstoppers Photographer of the Month which has an unintended fifty percent gender split. There are of course also non-binary photographers.

So what is going on in the industry that gives us shameful statistics? Is it due to misogyny, or is there more to it?

There is an undeniable problem of men hating women in the industry. One only has to look at the despicable and sickening comments left on articles by our women writers to know that this is the case. There’s a long history of internet trolls belittling, insulting and bullying women. Read this excellent article by Kate G which highlighted the problem of discrimination against women, then read the atrocious comments below. Fortunately, those who make such crude claims are now removed from this site and their accounts closed.

There is no doubt in my mind that misogyny is to blame. Especially when you hear the stories that women have had to face from men. Including this world-class sports photographer who was cut from the promotion due to bigotry both exposed and perpetuated by her manager.

There’s no doubt you have the skills or the work ethic, but guys would never take you on as their boss – you know how they are.

Or while she was photographing a sporting event, she was told,

Put down your camera and go stand at the finish line. You are just here to be the runners reward.

Or

You don’t look like a sports photographer.

Why am I keeping it anonymous? To avoid the hatred she is likely to receive as a result.

Most brands have had or still have problems. On the Nikon site, only five of their twenty-five European ambassadors are women. In the Middle East, there are none. In the United States, they do much better. Of their thirty-four ambassadors, fourteen are women, which represents 40% of photographers, roughly in line with the number of female photographers there are currently. About a quarter of Lumix ambassadors are women.

Surprisingly, I could count less than twenty women out of the hundred Magnum photographers.

I would even start to respect these companies if they raised their hands and admitted they were wrong and said what they were doing to fix it.

They are not all bad. Leica features ten photographers on its UK website, six of whom are women. Fujifilm emphasizes that they are making their X-Photographer program more diverse and inclusive. I approached OM Systems, they are also undertaking a complete revamp, and I can’t wait to see the results as it is the brand I use the most.

I spoke to Tianna Williams, the Nikon Z Creator here in the UK, another amazing talent whose work I admire. She is quite optimistic that things will change.

There is some change in the industry, but in terms of recognition, I think there is work to be done. There can still be a feeling that photography is an “old boys club” and certain genres such as sports and wildlife continue to convey this. However I think if you look hard enough and in the right places, there are some amazing female photographers out there doing their thing! It’s always a pleasure to see.

Is this still a deliberate and active bias on the part of organizations? Not wanting to sound hypocritical, I checked the numbers here at Fstoppers. Indeed, there were far fewer women writers than expected. I found this odd because I know it contradicts the nature of our community of writers and editors. They are surprisingly supportive of everyone, and misogyny and prejudice of all kinds are universally abhorred here. So, I asked Alex Cooke, our editor, and he told me that it’s hard to retain female writers because of the nature of commentary that occurs in articles.

It’s a constant struggle for me. I try to hire as many women as possible, and we even had several a year or two ago, but unfortunately they have left. I’ve been told at least once that the atmosphere in the comments and such discouraged someone from continuing. I just don’t get many applications from women, which makes it extremely difficult.

I then looked at several other major photography websites, and women vastly outnumbered them on all but DXOMark. Interestingly, they do not give the name of the author of their articles. Therefore, women cannot be targeted by sexist bullies as they have been elsewhere.

Are you and I to blame for this sectarian culture? Yes! Why? Even though we all despise this form of hate – most people do – how many of us read bigoted comments and bother to challenge them?

I did on Kate’s, but I’m sure there must have been comments I’ve seen in the past that I didn’t dispute.

So this is a request to all the good people, ordinary readers who find these comments as heinous as I do. Let’s start calling out the fanatics and bullies and showing them that their attitude is unacceptable. Not just on this site, but everywhere. Report their comments and respond to them showing their ignorance. If their comments are illegal, and many are, report them to the police. Unless we all tackle this head-on, it won’t go away.

If you are attacked online because of any status, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are many people who are ready to take a stand. Also, remember that those who post these kinds of comments usually do so to make up for their insecurities and shortcomings.

We need to make sure we do everything we can to offer support to all photographers, especially women. Let’s work on this until the imbalance is corrected.

Maybe we should also start voting with our feet. Until they have actively addressed their anti-female fascism, I intend to discourage my customers from purchasing products made by these companies who continue to discriminate. Manufacturers should start feeling the pain in their pockets. This may be the only way to change their behavior.

I also urge my fellow writers, not only here at Fstoppers, but at Petapixel, DPreview, DXOMark, and others, to highlight this and other ethical issues in their gear reviews. Talk about it on your YouTube channels, write about it on your blogs. When looking at the latest version of a particular camera or lens, among the pros and cons, we must also evaluate them on their equality and ethical standards.

It shouldn’t stop at mixing sex and gender. Racial and ethnic biases also exist in the industry. Most ambassador programs are divided into continental blocks. Thus, the race and ethnicity of Ambassadors in each region should roughly reflect that of the part of the world it serves. This could be a whole new article in itself.

Demand that manufacturers adhere to the same ethical standards as most reasonable photographers. Let us also shame those in the industry who perpetuate any kind of bigotry, especially those of us who sit back and let it go. Finally, let’s look at zero tolerance of bigotry in our own online communities.

Michael E. Marquez