Jana Cruder, professional photographer from Santa Monica, California, was kind enough to share with us her personal experiences as a woman in the world of advertising, commercial, fashion and fine art photography.
We are inspired by the way she portrays the women in her photographs as smart, strong, confident, funny, compassionate, gentle and captivating human beings; capable of anything they set their minds to.
One night, I was reflecting about one of the harder things I’ve encountered in my industry, which is that at a higher level; this industry is exceptionally male dominated. I mean, we’re only 2 generations of women removed from our career options of being nurse, teacher, or secretary.
Woman in the industry
I remember in photography school, there were so many women as students and now at the professional level I find it fascinating when asking models, who shoot with tons of photographers, how many female photographers they’ve worked with. Their response is so frequently, “You’re the first”.
There are a lot of women working in the industry but in support roles like production, agents or studio managers. Or they work as wedding, family or baby photographers. But unfortunately, when it comes to full on high level fashion and commercial shooters and directors it’s still mostly men.
This has been on my mind a lot lately and I have been trying to figure out why this is the case. So, in search of answers, I started asking my friends in agencies and heard a whole array of responses. A creative director said, “We need a woman as a bid, just so we can show we considered it but we all know we’re going to give the job to a man, it’s too high pressure for women.”
I’ve spent endless hours proving myself in my industry; working over-time and going over and beyond to ensure people are happy. Finally, I reached the point where I’m done trying to be what others want me to be and truly happy taking on projects I can get behind.
Going off in a different direction
About 5 years after photo school I noticed many of my determined female photography friends were starting to transition out of the assisting roles they were in and dropping out of shooting like flies. Whether it was due to marriages, moving home, wanting more security, or starting their own families. Those far-fetched dreams of becoming a full-time photographer got further and further away. Many got married and some launched into different sections of the industry becoming stock reps or fine art photographers but most of them stopped pursuing that dream of being the next big fashion photographer.
This career has no ‘perks’
You may wonder why so many woman don’t go into the more ‘top-tier’ types of photography such as fashion and advertising? Well, I feel that it goes beyond the physical demands of working over time or the demands for extensive solo travelling and being away. It is expected that ‘it can be a bit more challenging for us women’ than for our male counterparts. Although culturally it is changing, I thought it strange when it was ok for my boyfriend to travel months on end for assignments but when I was gone the whole relationship and household fell apart.
This industry also has no regulations, no sense of schedule normalcy, no benefits package and furthermore, no maternity leave. I’ve even heard female photographers say it would ruin their career if their clients found out they were pregnant, that phone would stop ringing.
Early in my career, I was meeting up with a well-known photography and artist agency here in L.A to consider representing me and my work. Reviewing my portfolio, the guy looked up and said. “You see you’re shooting women all wrong! If you want to be successful or shoot for the big brands the women in your book have to look like they just got (bleeped) or are about to get (bleeped).”
Completely taken aback by his comment I looked at the women in my portfolio, and asked him, “Okay, so how are these women being portrayed, how do they look to you?” His reply “Well, they look confident and strong.”
That was a reality check. From that moment on, studying the big advertisements I saw what he was talking about. As a creator, I feel an immense responsibility for my images to tell the truth. I still photograph women and men as sensual beings without explicitly over-sexualizing them; but rather as confident strong and individualistic souls, regardless if we’re selling denim or a hotel. I continue to make imagery that I’ll feel proud of showing to my daughter and her friends.
Power shift in the industry
I do however feel as if though big advertising companies are quickly trying to catch up to the shift in culture from overly sexualized women, to showcasing the unique individual’s they truly are.
Although it wasn’t popular and only now growing in popularity, I stayed true to what I felt to be right and haven’t swayed. The biggest compliment came recently when I booked a new celebrity shoot. The publicist said that they really love how I make all the women in my book look so beautifully confident.
With the women’s movement that is happening right now, it is beautiful to see this particular industry shifting a bit. I hope to lead or at the least inspire some of that transition.
As women we have a responsibility in media, we play an important role in the shaping of ideas and ideals in culture. I feel it’s crucial for advertisers and brands to align with the talents, voices, experiences, not to mention compassion and empathy a woman can bring to a project. After all, the majority of the advertisers’ target is women. Why not let women talk to women?
I find it very empowering to be called at this point to tell a complicated story that involves a very sensitive and complex topic. It is, however, one I can definitely relate to and it comes very naturally for me as a woman to stand up for.