WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? BRIDGING THE GENDER GAP IN PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY – PAULA BROOM

For me, one of the greatest features of the Fuji X Aus Facebook group is the diversity it invites and creates amongst its members.  People from all walks of life are embraced and welcomed, not out of charity, but out of equality. It is a genuine desire to see the diverse range of styles that have been influenced through cultural heritage, years of experience and worldliness – regardless of gender, ethnicity or belief system. In writing ongoing blogs for the Fuji X Aus website I have found this to be a cornerstone of what makes our community so great. It is this unmistakable mix of individual uniqueness, that gives us such a broad and open awareness of the photography world around us. And it is a safe environment to express yourself and your photographic work.  

But in the broader photographic industry there is still an equality gap that exists despite the movements that publicly call out old school stereotypical gender ‘norms’ – especially in the professional photographer arena. Hell, it still exists in most arenas. Professional or otherwise! So what is wrong with this picture? Is it just that more men are interested in photography than women and so more men become professionals? Well, if that were the case then what happened to all those young women I attended art school with? Exceptionally talented photographers.  Or is it that perhaps the clients are the old fashioned ones and they prefer a man to do the shoot? That would be pure ignorance on a scale that is unthinkable in our society. It is like someone saying men make better pilots! Or is it that it is tough to break into the ‘boys club’ of professional photography. Sadly, this is a very real theme that we are seeing more and more lately in society in general. Movements across the world have been calling out gender inequality and abuse of power against women in many fields of work. The days of the ‘boys club’ are finally coming to an end. But it is a slow movement.  And it takes powerful and proud individuals to make a difference.  

In this article today, and in future blogs in the coming weeks, I want to address the issue of gender inequality in the professional photography market.  I want to speak to the professional photographers in our community and see what challenges they faced because of their gender.  But equally what they have achieved despite this? What inspired and drove them?  Some may ask why a 45 year old white guy is writing this blog. Why shouldn’t I? Why should the issues of equality only ever be addressed by those most impacted – those with a minority voice? Why should I not role model to my sons that the responsibility for equality and a fair society sits upon everyones shoulders? Why should I not demonstrate to my daughter that I will fight for a fairer world than her mother and grandmother lived in?  I love this community, so why should I not be a part of the solution to make it greater and stronger?

Today we hear from Paula Broom. Paula is based in Sydney and is a visual artist, photographer and an environmentalist. She has a rich background of experiences and worldwide travel so let’s see what she has to say on this topic.

Leaf Mask with Green Eye, The Secret Language of Trees

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where are you from? Where do you live now?

I grew up on a farm in Devon in the UK. I left to work in the then-lucrative temping industry in London, from where I would work then set off on various travels.  These stints lasted anything from six months to 2 years, and took me around Europe, parts of the Middle East, South East Asia, Central and South America, Australia and Japan to name a few.  I also worked in France, Belgium, Australia and Japan.  Before I left Tokyo, I put my portfolio together, ready for art school in London where I studied Fine Art at Middlesex University, finishing in 1997, the year I met my husband. I relocated to Australia the following year to be with him.  We have two teenagers and a labrador and live in Sydney.

When did you first pick up a camera and show an interest in photography? Can you tell us about that part of your journey?

Apart from the odd snap with my parents old Kodak Instamatic, I had barely used a camera, much less an SLR, until art classes during my last couple of years at school. My interest was sparked when my art buddy Mike and I did a short photo documentary series shooting in black and white and interviewing workers down on the Docks in Teignmouth. I still have one of those shots! 

I later travelled for a few years with an old Minolta and loved shooting with it at first but became increasingly dissatisfied with a point and shoot.  I finally bit the bullet in Japan and bought myself a second hand Pentax ME Super – not quite the Spotmatic – but I loved it!  I got a 35mm lens and a 200mm telephoto. I loved street and environmental portrait photography and took some cracking shots around Sri Lanka and during my overland trip home when I left Japan via China and Mongolia. Once back in London, when I got accepted into art school, photography was already a integral part of my practice. 

Sydney's Centennial Park, Sharing Nature Project, Wellcome Collection

Can you tell us about your visual art and photo artistry? How do you incorporate photography into your work and what gear to you use to achieve this?

As an artist I work in a variety of media, photography is just one of them. My work mostly revolves around concepts concerned with ecological, social & personal issues relating to loss, death, extinction & our collective future.  I also co-manage Instagramers Sydney on Instagram, running photo features and organising instameets, which is a lot of fun and underpins my belief that art can help to create a strong sense of place, connects people and builds community. (BTW our community always loves Fujifilm’s People with Cameras events!)  Before I bought my Fujifilm XT1 a couple of year’s ago, my art was predominantly mobile-based. I used a variety of tools, including iPhone, iPad and many, many apps for editing; sometimes I drew over the top of the photos. The XT1 has given me the freedom to return to my roots and training with a film camera, which I find creatively much more engaging. 

Although I now occasionally shoot for or in collaboration with clients and other artists, I have actually been exhibiting mainly sculpture and installation of late.  I am extremely excited by my most recent series “The Secret Language of Trees” that merges my sculpture and my photography. Once I have made the sculptures – the masks – and found a model for this particular photographic work, I need only a tripod, my XT1 and lens. I use a variety of Fujinon lenses, some prime – I love my 56mm F1.2 – some not, depending on the location, light and other conditions. I’ve been most impressed by the 18-135mm lens that I bought for my recent travels and used on this project in the UK. I increasingly use my phone with the Fujifilm app for “remote control” which gives me a better view of exactly what I’m shooting on the larger phone screen.  My preference for film simulation for these – and many of my other landscape-based shots – has been Fujifilm’s Velvia as I love the colour richness and depth it gives to natural settings. I post process using Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite.   This work, and the research for it, is very much ongoing, so it’s as yet unpublished.

Love & Loss

As the introduction to this blog suggests, I wanted to address people’s experiences in facing gender equality issues throughout their photographic journey. Can you share any experiences you have had in this?  Especially those in breaking into or remaining in the professional market?

In some respects, coming slowly back to my art practice via the mobile photography community through Instagram in its really early days, whilst I was also studying for my Masters in Environmental Management, was a soft landing.  I can sense eyes rolling as I write this but what that movement did then was democratise creativity – anyone with half an eye and a mobile phone camera was welcome to join.  Whilst that element irked me immensely at the time, with four years of art school training under my belt, I became involved anyway. It gave me an outlet to share my work and ideas: it didn’t diminish me or my work, and in no way did it feel as though the arena was dominated by men, unlike in the “real” photography industry.

That said, I have found my male counterparts in the broad photographic industry, many of whom have become friends over the years, to be respectful, engaging and supportive even if we don’t shoot in the same genre and even though I am a late arrival to the field.  It isn’t particularly that I have personally – or rather knowingly – experienced gender inequality in my work, as I don’t work as a professional photographer per se, but it’s more a matter of perception around the field. So I have noticed these things:

Occasionally men patronise me and start mansplaining when I go to camera stores for a simple purchase – if I want advice I’ll ask for it;  some conversations I don’t want to join in because men (and some women) are dominating the discourse, talking about technicalities or kit – I’d rather discuss the ideas, experience and emotion involved in art making; the galleries or photographic awards where male photographers massively outnumber their female counterparts; and all those male photographic ambassadors!!

Black Crows Invaded Our Country, for Living Room Theatre

How do you think your experiences in pushing into a male dominated industry has shaped you as a photoartist and as a professional?  What has inspired you?

Funny… this made me laugh out loud!  It’s difficult to answer this question because I guess I don’t feel that I have actually pushed into a male dominated industry…!  I notice many women involved in curating, art making and exhibiting in the art world that I inhabit.  I see female artists, like myself, accessing and exhibiting in the smaller galleries, but I am aware that research shows that men are more likely to be exhibited in the more prominent or regional galleries.  Success in the art world is all about visibility so this gender bias is limiting our options.

There’s not much money flowing our way either. Like the majority of practitioners I know, both male and female, I also have to try to earn money through a variety of income streams: I don’t think this is peculiar to female practitioners. I just think it’s a sad reflection of society’s opinion of the arts and the skills involved in art making, and also points to a paucity of funding for the arts in general in Australia, which, whilst not new, is lamentable.

As far as what inspires me, nowadays it’s really the sense of community I have found in the arts community.  I aspire to the many artists and photographers, female and male, I meet, either in person or online, some who are academics, many who are not, but all whose work is thoughtful and engages with critical themes, whether or not they are photographers or their work photography based!  

Chinese Lantern, RBG Instameet

Where do you see a shift needs to be made to support more women to become professional photographers? And what can all photographers do to support this?

There is a groundswell of support for gender equality in the larger community and I believe female photographers are already addressing this issue themselves. The collective Agender ran an exhibition in Sydney showcasing top female photographers in order to instigate change, especially regarding pay, in the commercial photography world; Loud and Luminous, a symposium with exhibition (sponsored by Fujifilm!!) in Melbourne explored the cultural contribution of women to photography; both coincided with International Women’s Day earlier this year and plans are underway for more events next year.

I myself belong to a couple of collectives: one is explicitly for female street photographers and the other happens to consist of female environmental artists.  I also co-manage Instagramers Sydney in an all female team on Instagram and certainly I for one try to keep an eye on the gender ratios of the features that I run, and will search harder to equalise the ratio for female photographers if need be!  Mentoring and coaching  young photographers and students could help that push for parity too.  My personal experience is that women in the field tend to support other women and are more inclusive of their work whether it’s by alerting them to potential opportunities to exhibit or submit work or through the offer of paid work.  

Various organisations are working in support of females in the art and photography fields, such as NAVA, or the Head On Photo Festival.  I was particularly inspired by one of this year’s main attractions at Head On, feisty photojournalist  Paula Bronstein, as well as by the photographer Samantha Everton, and indeed last year by documentary photographer Maggie Steber with her very personal project “The Secret Garden of Lily LaPalma”.  There always seems to be a good mix of genders represented at Head On.

So change is afoot.  But the shift needs to occur with camera manufacturers and marketers, magazine and photo editors, curators and others who exhibit, feature and pay for photography. They need to get on board!  

Be The Tree, The Secret Language of Trees

What advice would you have to women trying to enter the professional market today – be it as a professional photographer or a photoartist? 

I think women tend to question their abilities and the validity of their ideas and work much more than men.  My advice to women trying to enter the professional market today is to just go for it and don’t stop to question whether you are good enough as a photographer or your work is of a high enough standard.  I hear many talented, female photographers, indeed artists, say that their work isn’t good enough to sell, submit for awards or for exhibition… I’m not sure that men suffer this “affliction” to quite the same degree that women do.  Men certainly seem to display much more self confidence: I think it’s time women followed suit. Don’t listen to your own inner critic and be wary of taking on board too many negative comments from other people.  Art never speaks to everyone.

Gather and organise your work and just submit it for competitions, exhibition call outs, publications. Be methodical and thoughtful about it but be fearless and just don’t question your validity to be there.

Where can people take a closer look at your work?

https://environmeanttobe.wordpress.com

Leaf Mask with stitching

6 thoughts on “WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? BRIDGING THE GENDER GAP IN PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY – PAULA BROOM

  1. Reblogged this on environmeanttobe and commented:
    Big thanks to Greg Cromie of the Fuji X Aus community for inviting me to be interviewed on this topic. Although I do think deeply on many subjects, I admit I have been a bit flippant about gender (in)equality, so it was insightful fo r me to reflect and think more critically on the issue.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s