Historically, photography has been a pursuit of men. There are many reasons for this which I won’t go into, but suffice to say the situation has changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years and amateur Camera Clubs often now have as many female members as male. In fact, in some cases they have more. Despite this, very little has changed to accommodate women. Kit is still made for men and the boards of all the organisations which run Camera Clubs are dominated, without exception, by men which means women’s concerns and ideas aren’t adequately represented (or in the case of the all male FIAP board of directors represented at all). It’s par for the course and mirrors life in general for girls.
I was chatting to a colleague this week about female photographer’s safety. Safety isn’t something men often have to think about, but it’s on every woman’s mind in almost all situations. It has to be, because for us it’s an inherently unsafe world.
I had broached the subject of the categories used in International Salons, which I wrote about in this post. Travel is almost always a category on its own, but it favours male photographers because it is not safe for women to travel alone particularly during the famous “golden hour”, which is at dusk or dawn when it’s almost dark. I can’t think of anything more scary than being solo in Brazil with an expensive camera as night approaches, or wandering about New York on my tod after dark. But I have also been in scary situations here at home.
We had a competition a couple of years ago with the theme of town/city-scape. I live in a very rural area, so wanted to depict that but with a town connection. So I put on a headlight and made my way up a mountain to capture this scene:
I was petrified the entire time. Not because it was dark and I was in the middle of nowhere, which didn’t bother me at all, but because I was alone and after half an hour was joined by a strange man. Initially he didn’t speak to me, which was very unnerving, then he came closer and started chatting and it crossed my mind that I was within grabbing distance and if I shouted for help there was nobody around to hear me. I had my mobile phone but reception up the fells is patchy to say the least and in any event by the time help arrived I could have been raped and left for dead. My male photography friends don’t ever have to think about stuff like this, but trust me when I say this experience has meant I will never do night-time photography again which excludes me from all sorts of themed competitions and clearly limits my potential.
For the same competition, I had the idea of visiting my nearest (and only) city but it had to be at night for the shot to work. However, there is no way I would wander around a city on my own so my female friend came with me. We stood on an over-pass, me with my tripod and camera…………and we both felt unsafe. At one stage, a group of drunk young men came along the narrow gantry and my friend and I looked at each other with thoughts flashing through our heads about what we would do if the situation turned sour. So even in numbers women feel unsafe and crime statistics show they are right to do so.
It isn’t just photography after dark, however, which has left me feeling frightened. Being alone in a tunnel in London in broad daylight photographing graffiti wasn’t the most safe I’ve ever felt in my life and there have definitely been times when I’ve been photographing wildlife in remote rural areas and have realized a man was coming up silently behind me on a footpath which has been very unnerving, particularly on dark winter days.
It would be really interesting to see how many women enter Travel sections of photography competitions or are accepted into Travel exhibitions, and even more interesting to see data on how many women have felt unsafe while pursuing a photograph. No information is kept on this as far as I’m aware and without information we have no idea if women are disadvantaged or not. I’m sure the issue doesn’t cross the minds of the men on the boards of photography organisations because it’s not something they themselves often have to consider. There’s a lot about women’s life experiences that men don’t consider and when we’re vastly under-represented in positions of power in organisations, and there is no mechanism whereby we can voice our concerns, that’s not likely to change any time soon.
I feel really uneasy broaching the subject of my experiences of being a female photographer. Men take it as ‘bashing’ the opposite gender and there is barely concealed eye rolling from some men when the subject of female disadvantage is discussed. The world works for men and they often can’t see there’s a problem, or understand why we girls don’t just shut up and put up and simply be more ‘male’.
While we sadly can’t make the whole world a safer place for women, there are steps which could be taken to level the playing field in the photography world. All it needs is a willingness to address the problem and take action.