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

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 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.  I truly believe that.

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, 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?

We have already had a discussion around this topic with photographers Paula Broom and Klaire Cole and you can check out those discussions here and here. Today we return to this blog series with a conversation with Alessia Francischiello.  I first learned of Alessia’s work after seeing a Fujifilm video featuring her work and participation in a traditional male genre of motorsport photography. You can check out that video here. On with the blog. 

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

Hi everyone, I am Alessia and I am a portrait and fashion photographer based in Sydney. I love any kind of arts and because of this I like to have a creative approach to my photography. I come from Italy but I have been living in Australia for 5 years now. Here it’s where I grew my photography network and I started to be a so called professional photographer. I cannot say it’s an easy industry but it’s rewarding. Australia gave me so many opportunities and I cannot thank this community enough for the inspiration I received.

When did you first pick up a camera and show an interest in photography?

It was about 7 years ago when I moved to Rome. I decided to buy my first DSLR with my first wage and to start learning how to shoot in manual. Yes, I didn’t buy it because I thought it would have taken better photos than my phone.

So I attended a course and then a second one and then lighting courses, then I moved to Australia and I attended more. When I was able to fully use my camera and lighting I started to experiment with models, studio set ups and portraiture. What I love of my path is that I didn’t have anybody to tell me where to go, what to do. But I got so far because I had a genuine passion for this type of art. My interest in photography gets fed by the greatest photographers images, like Annie Leibovitz and Peter Lindbergh. I think this is a big part of becoming artists, having someone to look at and get inspiration from. I don’t get inspired by instagram feeds. I buy books, I look at pictures, I study lighting on them and try my own ideas.

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At what point did you choose to become a professional photographer? Can you tell us about that part of your journey?

Of course, it’s the best part of my life so far. Career wise and more. I have been in retails for about 10 years. I started when I was 17 and I have always been in fashion related environments. Italian made clothes and boutiques in Rome where I grew up knowing and learning about the beauty of fashion, doing photography not the side as a hobby. I worked in a camera store for the last three years in Sydney and realised it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I woke up every day thinking I would rather be somewhere taking photographs instead of dedicating my time for something that wouldn’t have taken me anywhere I wanted. “If I want to do something about it, I must start now” I told myself. So I quit my day job and started to grow my own career in photography. It’s been tough at the beginning as I didn’t know where to start but I made it and I am quite happy with where I am now. One thing that changed since then is that I can finally call myself a photographer because I am. I didn’t like to say I was a photographer before, because that wasn’t my job, I wasn’t professional. Now it is, now I am. No matter my age, no matter my gender I decided to go my way and I have been lucky to have found lots of supportive people around me when I made that decision. The Fujifilm community is a place of integration for real, we all cheer each other up and support diversity, and Fujifilm Australia is really made by people that want to include talents no matter who they are, where they come from or what the shoot.

Tell us a little about your photography now? What sort of professional work do you shoot and what gear to you use to achieve this?

As I said before I shoot portraits and I love it! I like being around people and trying to be creative with them, even if they never tried anything like that before. This means I like setting up scenes or shoot in the streets, even with normal people that never modelled before. This is I think what makes me different at this stage. My clients feel like they’re having an experience, it’s not only about the pictures. My professional jobs are mainly corporate headshots and events, artistic portraits and fashion look-books. I still do my personal works on the side, like beauty photography. I am a Fujifilm user and I always use my loyal X-T2 that never let me down on a shoot. I also have an X-T1 that I keep as a backup body. The main lenses I use for portraits are XF23mm f/1.4, XF35mm f/1.4 and XF56mm f/1.2. I also have two zoom lenses XF16-55mm f/2.8 and XF50-140mm f/2.8 that I use during corporate events to have more flexibility while I move around. But considering the high quality standard required for the artistic portraits and fashion campaigns I use prime lenses for most of my jobs. The Fujifilm primes are the best I have ever tried so far, for quality and performances.

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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 photography market?

First of all thank you for opening a conversation on this very delicate topic, because it’s hard for a woman to open a discussion like this without being considered a feminist or sexist. That being said I have been pretty lucky because in my professional path as photographer I didn’t experience sexism or have been discarded because of my gender. I have to say though I felt the issue when I was selling cameras in my retail journey. The worst part was when the issue came from other women. I had a lady coming in and say, after I welcomed her: “I would like to speak to someone experienced please” – pointing at men colleagues in the shop, without even checking I could help her. Like I didn’t know because I was a woman. That felt wrong!

An other good example of this inequality is our representation and number of recognised women in the photography industry, like during official events. I had the pleasure to attend some great events with the Fujifilm Australia team in the last couple of years, I attended big photographic conference in Sydney as well where I did experienced on my skin how it feels like to be the only one or one of the few women in the room. I think the problem is that in the world we live we hardly believe a woman could be good with technology, especially now that photographic equipment is available for everyone and photography is not an art anymore but a hobby or a tool to get visibility online. People think a woman with a camera will use it for vlogging and makeup tutorials, but not for professional photography. For many women this could be discouraging and not all of us have the same spirit. Not everybody accepts to feel different. Although I believe that there are lots of women out there doing great thing, confidence plays a big role in the success game. What I realised is that for a man is easier to jump on a job they have never done before, instead women are more likely to feel unsuitable for the job and give up the challenge. I am not saying every woman is like this but I personally felt like this many times, and I know a lot of women feel the same out there, especially because judgements have always been part of our growth as women.

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I recently viewed a Fuji Guys video where you were interviewed at the Adelaide 500 car race weekend. You mentioned you were one of the few female photographers officially at the event. What was your experience in Adelaide like from that stand point? 

Yes, I attended that event which was entertaining and full of amazing people. This was though one of the events I mentioned before where I felt the different one. In fact, I was the only female photographer of the group, out of maybe 20 people. Fortunately I always felt comfortable among both men and women and I didn’t see it as a problem because the environment was great and people very nice. But I felt it was wrong, I felt like I was a minority when I know for sure there are amazing women photographers out there having big success. Quite unfair considering it’s not a real representation of the photography industry at the moment. And I think Fujifilm took a great step forward addressing the issue through that video, asking me what I though and discussing the issue for the first time. Overall the experience from that stand point was very positive because an acknowledgement of this issue was made and the need for a change was felt by us all.

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

I don’t think this has ever effected my photographic path. I always made equality gaps push me further instead of pulling me down. So if I was to be shaped by this it would be to make me stronger and more confident in what I do. If we are talking about it, it means we are already solving it and we should be proud of what we are doing. I noticed my clients and female models enjoy having a girls team and they more and more ask for female photographers now, so I feel like the issue has been addressed and we are all more conscious about the opportunities we have out there. 

I also read and search a lot about the best photographer, living and non, and I am inspired by strong female figures that shaped the photography world with their art, like for example Annie Leibovitz or Vivian Maier. The stories those women can tell through their work is a lot stronger than many other male photographers in their kind.

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?

I strongly believe men play a huge role in helping women overwriting that gap. The need for a different vision is needed to let art be what it should be: an open vision of the world, as the world is made by men and women, photography should be told by both. We don’t need women to tell better stories, we need diversity to help photography grow big again and acquire the value it lost.

I think the real issue is that the media, photographic brands and reviewers are mostly man and when choosing their representation they choose men. It’s a closed circle and getting out of it means that men  in the industry should start take a step towards the solution. Official launches, photographic conferences, events in general should include an even number of male and female photographers to show the world the equality we need to see and encourage more women to share their vision. I also recall women to trust and guide each others to the acceptance of their role. We will always have something to fight for but at least we won’t be alone.

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What advice would you have to women trying to enter the professional photography market today? 

I would tell them to do it without even thinking about gender problems. Do photography despite the inequality and prejudice. Be the change you want to see around and use your photography to show the difference. Being different means being yourself, so be and never let anybody decide how good you are in something just from your gender. The inequality is not the only thing you will be fighting for, but we really need more women in this industry to show the old minded that the world is changing and that the only gap is in our minds. Being a successful photographer nowadays means vocation, it has to be a call and you have to find the way to be different from the others, in a world where imitation is everyday meal. If there is a gap let’s fill it with newness!

Where can people take a closer look at your work?

www.alessia.gallery

3 thoughts on “WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? BRIDGING THE GENDER GAP IN PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY – ALESSIA FRANCISCHIELLO

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