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Lucy Lumen shooting Nikon SLR (Pic: Lux Lumen)
(Pic: Lux Lumen)

By Lucy Lumen

In light of the passing of International Women’s Day, Women’s History Month and plenty of content surrounding this topic (including my own), I thought I would carry on the conversation into April and hopefully throughout 2022 and beyond.

As a female who is also a photographer, I thought I could offer a new perspective on how we can make a difference and maybe highlight where we might have been going wrong in this fight for representation.

Does that headline feel jarring? It’s supposed to. It’s time we look beyond the Instagram hashtags celebrating female photographers, as useful as they are.

So you’ve probably seen hashtags like #womenwithfilmwednesday #sheshootsfilm #herfilmwave etc gaining lots of traction on every film shooter’s love-to-hate-it social media platform, Instagram. These pages are totally devoted to sharing female-only work and being run by some really proactive women in the community. This is providing a space for women to get seen in amongst the “film bro” posts that a lot of pages seem to promote.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is great and it’s certainly something we needed. Here’s a good example. We have seen the Kodak letter written by British photographer Izzie Farr shared enough that Kodak themselves eventually took notice. They appointed Danielle Wrobleski, better known as “girlwithtoomanycameras” to the role of posting and sharing on Kodak’s IG page with work shot on Kodak film by an array of female photographers.

At the time I felt torn as to whether or not this was a triumph for women in photography. I hope Kodak’s sudden about-face in attitude to inclusive representation was born of a real change in culture and not an appeasement for the sake of PR.

Herein lies my issue with our constant talk and labelling of “female photographers”. My worry is that there is a divide happening just like there is in many other parts of our society. It’s as if we are only left with a binary choice; you are right or left, in or out, with us or against us. I think polarising the genders only creates problems. What we want is to be given the same opportunities and recognised based upon our ability, style, skill, knowledge or hard work.

Seeing the statistics of how many male photographers are being shared on these repost pages as opposed to women, people of colour and non-binary individuals is infuriating.

Two Canon AE-1s (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
(Pic: Stephen Dowling)

But I’ll tell you what is more infuriating – being chosen BECAUSE we’re not male (hear me out).

Finding out I had been given a platform or an opportunity based purely on the fact that I was female, so a company or website could tick a box and absolve them of their underrepresentation issue is like being used for your minority status and no different than it hindering you in the first place. It’s literally the same thing we complain about when we talk about men being chosen, given work or opportunities BECAUSE they are men. Getting chosen over them simply because we are women isn’t making any real change for the future. Decisions based on fear of being cancelled or called out is not progress in my eyes and I think when it comes to these sorts of decisions about representation the most integral part of it is the why. Why did you choose this person?

Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth wrote these lyrics for the 2009 song ‘Sacred Trickster’:

What’s it like to be a girl in a band? I don’t quite understand?

In my opinion, the answer to this isn’t men stepping aside or being cut out of the equation. It’s creating a united front where men can support us.

This brings to mind the link between another male-dominated space, guitar-driven music and various musical scenes/movements such as punk, grunge and hardcore. Although there were many women present, it was still seen as a novelty for females to be yielding guitars or fronting bands. Sound familiar? When Kim sings this line “what’s it like to be a girl in a band?” I feel the same rising heat through my body when I get asked “what’s it like to be a female photographer?” And yes, it’s a valid question and can be useful but overall I find attention gets drawn to my gender when it could be the opinions, ideas and interests I could be offering to the conversation instead. My photography comes first, my gender should come second. Isn’t this a true depiction of equality?

It’s important to have spaces where women can interact without the fear of something being mansplained to them or be subjected to ridicule for not holding an SLR correctly. But I also think we need to move together, and break down barriers so we can all enjoy photography for the most part. In my opinion, the answer to this isn’t men stepping aside or being cut out of the equation. It’s creating a united front where men can support us. There are already a significant number of men who are doing exactly what we need, even if they aren’t grandstanding about it.

The battle isn’t Instagram or YouTube or even photography per se, it’s deep within our culture. I’m not saying these small changes and moves at a grass roots level aren’t making a difference, they are, but the real change comes from awkward, hard, real conversations with other men about why this happens. Looking a little further into why these issues occur and having an open mind about the situation.

Man and woman taking photos (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
(Pic: Stephen Dowling)

Often these types of conversations occur in a vacuum, an echo chamber where we are all in agreement and continue then thinking we have made a difference, when maybe we are just preaching to the converted because that is easier and feels good. I urge you to think bigger, broaden your interactions with people and as hard as it is, don’t let your anger get the better of you. Easier said than done on the internet.

Simply saying you want more representation in photography doesn’t solve the problem. I think there are plenty of people who could put their money where their mouth is and actually SHOW us these things as opposed to just talking about them.

So don’t be tempted to ask “What’s it like being a female photographer?” Ask them about their photography instead.

For more of my thoughts on analogue photography, check out my YouTube channel.

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1 year ago

Bravo, LL!