Print Edition - 2019-03-09 | On Saturday
Women battling sexism in photography—a picture essay
Mar 9, 2019-
Push-ups and photography aren’t normal bed partners. But when Cybele Malinowski was starting out as a young photography assistant in 2005, she was told to do 100 push-ups a day. The reason? To “match the strength of a man”.“It’s extremely physically demanding work,” recalls Sydney-based Malinowski, now 37. “Camera and lighting equipment has historically been designed by men for men.”
As her career gathered pace, Malinowski battled discrimination beyond heavy gear. Often when she arrived on set, the client would assume that her male assistant was the photographer, or that she was the makeup artist or stylist. More recently, when she became pregnant, Malinowski suddenly found herself losing jobs: clients told her they feared she just wasn’t “up to it”.
Today the majority of students in undergraduate and graduate photojournalism programs are women. Yet between 2012 and 2017, women made up just 15% of entries to the World Press Photo awards, according to the New York Times.
This affects what we see on our front pages and billboards. In the US, as revealed in a TEDx talk by the celebrated photographer Jill Greenberg, 92% of adverts are shot by men, as are 85% of magazine covers. (This despite the fact that 85% of consumer purchases are made by women). As Nadiya Nacorda once said: “Sexism does not stop at the photo industry’s doorstep. It comes inside, and goes in your fridge, cracks open a beer and sits on the couch.”
Trying to get sexism off the couch has become Malinowski’s mission. Last year she co-founded Agender, a platform for female photographers designed to exchange ideas and advance careers, with the former investment banker turned entrepreneur Angela Liang.
“We want to show future female photographers: yes, of course, you can do it. If you’re hungry, you’re talented, you’re driven, you can definitely get there.”
Being a female photographer can be an advantage in certain situations. For example, gaining access to, and the trust of, children or women in conservative countries in the Middle East. But this also has a flipside. The documentary photographer and artist Anna Maria Antoinette D’Addario, who shoots for publications ranging from the New York Times to the Guardian, was recently at a holy festival in Vrindavan, northern India, where she found herself stuck in traffic. “I had my head yanked back aggressively by men wanting to paint my face … I witnessed foreign women on the streets being openly groped,” she says.
D’Addario experienced a physical threat to her safety. Her fears were not unwarranted: women killed on the job in recent years include the German photographer Anja Niedringhaus, who was shot dead in Afghanistan in 2014, and the French photographer, Camille Lepage, murdered in the Central African Republic at the age of 26 the same year.
However, Agender’s Liang believes that a far more insidious, and unreported, problem is unconscious bias. “Many creative directors and producers will simply go back to the same photographers they’ve already worked with time and time again, who are more often than not male,” she explains. Stereotypes often dictate that “women should stick to what they know: weddings, beauty, children, families”.
Not helping are learned gender differences instilled at infancy. While men are taught from childhood to be bold and assertive, women are taught to be apologetic. Liang notes: “Women are more susceptible to imposter syndrome … [they are] less confident about approaching or pitching if they don’t feel they are 100% qualified.”
Malinowski, for one, believes that female photography is critical to leading a shift away from the male gaze, creating “a whole new visual language and in turn visual identity for women (and men)”. It is desperately needed: as Jill Greenberg put it bluntly in her TEDx talk, “nearly every image we are surrounded by has been filtered through a man’s eye”.
— © 2019 The Guardian
Spirit by Bec Lorrimer.
Daniel Web by Michele Aboud.
Big Sur, Little Her by Cybele Malinowski.
Briana and Kabrina by Yasmin Suteja.
Daniela Federici by Amanda Beard.
Wompoo Pigeon by Leila Jeffreys.
Wild Free by Elise Hassey.
Published: 09-03-2019 09:44