A look at the history of photography will reveal that the profession has largely remained the domain of men. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that women started making a foray into the art form, when a number of renowned female photographers who had become prominent on the scene, including Sarah Louise Judd (USA), Genevieve Elisabeth Disderi (France), Bertha Wehnert-Beckmann (Germany) and Emilie Bieber (Hamburg), amongst others.
The 20th century brought about a host of women who owned their own studios and, as such, had taken to being professional photographers in earnest. Vienna became the centre of photography for women as the city had more female-owned photography studios than male-owned or operated. Between 1850 and 1950, American women were drawn to photography and became a part of the revolution that has converted photography into the inclusive profession that it is today!
A small glance at the numbers
From the outside, things look quite nice – according to a report (based on artists in the workplace between 1990 and 2005) released by the National Endowment for the Arts, in 2008, about 42.8% of all photographers are female. The other thing it mentioned is that amongst all the photographers under the age of 35, almost 60% of the field is dominated by women. In other words, there are more women who take up the profession but, after a certain age, the veteran or successful or popular photographers (however you may look at it) are usually men!
The natural tendency, however, is to assume photography as a man’s profession and a client’s perception might also be the same. As a result, irrespective of the skill-level with a camera in hand, a male photographer is more likely to be hired as compared to a female – especially in areas like sport, journalism, or war zones. That may have contributed to lowering the average earnings for female photographers, as compared to male photographers, by almost 50%.
You might argue that this report is outdated and as such, does not apply to us today, but let’s look at more recent statistics:
Research papers on the condition of women artists in the USA reveal a discrepancy in salaries based on gender. Between 2005 and 2009, a male photographer earned about $8000 more per annum than a female photographer.
A 2015 study on the state of photojournalism confirmed that the profession is still male-dominated with men earning, on average, more than women. The updated study of 2016 confirms this trend, stating that:
“The profession continues to be very skewed in terms of the proportions of men and women who make a living from photojournalism and income levels are also heavily distorted from north to south.”
There is no denying female talent, which is why women photographers are making waves, but gender disparity remains across the photographic industry even today.
Not all is doom and gloom
You might be relieved to know that, as per The State of News Photography 2016 report, at least with younger photographers, there is greater equality between male and female photographers, indicating a step in the right direction.
Women are also more likely to use their cellphones in the field and are more interested in film cameras than men, which means that women are dominating certain areas in the industry, making them a powerful force to reckon with in terms of technology and development.
Some amazing examples to follow
For women who are interested in taking up photography as a profession, there is little reason to despair as many women have forged their path to becoming dominant professionals in the industry. Barbara Davidson won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize along with the POYi Newspaper Photographer of the Year award and has been a major influence in putting eyes on the ground when it comes to the Los Angeles gang violence scene. Gillian Laub is another big name to join the fray, with her amazing works on the Israel-Palestine conflict as well as the wonderful pieces she’s shot during her examination of southern culture in the USA.
Closer to home, South African photographer, Zanele Muholi challenges perceptions of black female sexualities and genders with contemporary photography that graces the walls many renowned art galleries around the world.
There are numerous female photographers and photojournalists who have made a name in the industry, demanding the same respect as their male counterparts, if not more. In today’s world, there is much scope for those interested in photography for women.