For a cover story this week by Maureen Dowd about how challenging it is for women to build a career in the male-dominated world of Hollywood, The New York Times Magazine needed portraits of 60 female directors, actors and executives. They hired a male photographer to shoot the portraits.
To be sure, that photographer—Art Streiber—is a renowned editorial portrait photographer. But women photographers have been expressing their disappointment on social media over the irony of the Times Magazine’s decision. “There are actual women photographers based in L.A. who shoot great portraits,” wrote Jill Greenberg on Instagram. Greenberg is a New York-based editorial and commercial photographer who has spoken out against sexism in photography. “It just makes no sense for this story. Sadly though, the photo industry is exactly the same as the film industry and women just aren’t the go-to shooters.”
The New York Times Magazine Director of Photography Kathy Ryan told PDN that she understands that women photographers might look at the situation and be discouraged. “But I don’t think that they should feel that because this particular story didn’t have a woman photographer assigned to it, that there aren’t opportunities for women photographers in this magazine.” She points out that the other major story in this week’s issue was photographed by Stephanie Sinclair, and that two weeks ago the cover story on displaced people–which Ryan calls “one of the biggest ever” assignments for the magazine—was photographed by Lynsey Addario.
Ryan says the idea of having a woman photographer shoot this week’s cover was discussed briefly, but they quickly moved on to thinking Streiber was the right person for the assignment, which required as many as ten to 20 shots a day, and had a challenging deadline. “It was clearly going to call for somebody very nimble and fast and versatile, and we thought of Art. We weren’t thinking about gender, we were just thinking about, ‘How do we pull this off?’ And he came to mind and I think he did a terrific job.”
The decision making is “always about trying to figure out for a given project who would be the right person based on the look of the pictures, the artistry, the eye, the visual sensibility as well as experience,” Ryan adds.
In the article, “The Women of Hollywood Speak Out,” Dowd writes that one executive told her: “A lot of [women] haven’t tried hard enough. We’re tough about it. It’s a hundred-year-old business, founded by a bunch of old Jewish European men who did not hire anybody of color, no women agents or executives. We’re still slow at anything but white guys.”
Do women photographers face similar challenges? “I would say yes, they do,” Ryan acknowledges. “One of the things that’s always surprising is when you see how many women photographers graduate from the various photo schools and photo programs and then ten years on, not as many stay in the field. So there are certainly some disparities still.”
That The New York Times Magazine, a client everyone wants to work with, didn’t hire a woman to shoot a cover story about women fighting for a voice in a male-dominated industry may be a missed opportunity for a symbolic gesture of solidarity.
But Ryan says she doesn’t want women photographers to “think that somehow there aren’t opportunities [at the magazine], because I feel very passionately that there are, and that’s important to us: To have women’s points of view, that diversity, that range in our pages is important.”
Related: Photographer Maggie Steber on Women, Minorities, and How to Nurture Talent
Why All The Articles in PDN’s New Issue Are About Women Photographers
How One Magazine Strives for Gender Balance in Assignments
Are Women Photographers Being Discriminated Against in the Editorial Market?