When Will Demands for Gender Equity Turn into Assignments for Women Photographers?

Posted by on Tuesday March 7, 2017 | Business

The gender disparity in photography has received another round of scrutiny in recent days, once again bringing to the surface what many know to be true but only occasionally talk about publicly: There are plenty of women photographers, yet male photographers dominate the industry.

On March 4, The New York Times published a story by their public editor, Liz Spayd, that discussed the gender imbalance among executives, editors and reporters at the paper. In the article, “The Declining Fortunes of Women at The Times,” Spayd wrote that a reader pointed out that in the 2016 Year in Pictures feature, “only six of more than 40 photographs were credited to women in the print feature.” According to a count by PDN, of the 145 photographs included in the online version, 90 were made by men on assignment for The New York Times; only 15 were made on assignment by women. (The rest were wire photographs.)

World Press Photo also released their “Technical Report” over the weekend, which provides demographic information about the photographers who enter photojournalism’s most prestigious contest. Only 15.5 percent of 2017 contest entrants were women, which is roughly consistent with the previous three years, World Press Photo said. The high water mark for women entrants was 17.5 percent in 2012. In their report, World Press Photo explained that while they would like more diversity in their contest, they can’t be sure if the 15 percent is simply a mirror of the industry overall. “We do not know what proportion of the professional photojournalism industry is female, so we cannot confirm whether or not the proportion of female entrants is reflective of the industry.”

According to a count by PDN, of the 158 awards given to photographers and directors in this year’s Pictures of the Year International competition, only 29 went to women. (These numbers do not include the Visual Editing Division awards, or the Newspaper Visual Editor of the Year or Magazine/Media Visual Editor of the Year awards.)

In reaction to the World Press Photo report, TIME Magazine published a story by photography director Kira Pollack listing 34 “Female Photographers to Follow.” The women photographers on the list were recommended by women photographers, curators, photo editors and others in the photography industry. “As one of this year’s jurors for World Press Photo, I was stunned to learn that over the last ten years, the number of female entrants to the World Press Photo Contest has hovered around 15 percent (it remained at 15.5 percent in 2017),” Pollack writes.

While the exposure for the 34 women photographers Pollack featured is certainly welcome, one wonders if this recognition will actually translate into assignments from major media outlets. Of TIME’s “Top 100 Photos of the Year 2016,” only 14 were credited to women, three were by Lynsey Addario, and one was a cell phone photo taken by U.S. Rep Katherine Clark. Only 17 of these 100 images were made on assignment for TIME; of those 17, only three were made on assignment for TIME by women photographers.

Highlighting women photographers is one thing, hiring them is another. It seems reasonable to suggest that the contest demographics say more about who is getting assignments than they do about the actual gender balance in the industry. In early February, Daniella Zalcman launched Women Photograph, an online resource for editors looking to hire women photographers. Zalcman told James Estrin of The New York Times’s Lens Blog that there’s “not a shortage of women photographers, just a lack of equitable hiring.”

Estrin notes in his story about Women Photograph that “women make up the majority of students in undergraduate and graduate photojournalism programs,” and that many of the top photo editors are women.

So the question seems to be: When will all of the positive talk about the need for gender balance translate to assignments for women from major media organizations?

Related: Why All The Articles in PDN’s New Issue Are About Women Photographers
Maggie Steber on Women, Minorities and How to Nurture Talent
Are Women Photographers Being Discriminated Against in the Editorial Market?


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