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

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 everyone’s 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 brings us to the fourth and final blog in this series.  Today we chat with Chelsey Elliott, a self-made professional photographer, and learn more about her photographic journey.  I want to thank Chelsey but also Alessia, Paula and Klaire for all taking part in this important conversation. You have each contributed so much of your personal journey but more importantly raised the conversation about our industry and how equality can be achieved. You guys have inspired me just through the scope of your creative talents alone and I am sure you have inspired others in many ways. Keep doing what you do best. Thanks guys. You can check each of the other blogs by clicking here, here or here.

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

Hi there,  my name is Chelsey Elliott and I live on the Northern Beaches in Sydney.  I’ve been pretty lucky to have spent a majority of my life living in and experiencing different cities and countries with many years spent overseas and across Australia.  But I do love living on the Northern Beaches where the ocean vistas are amazing and the lifestyle is summer time all year round.  

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

I was given a small simple film camera when I left Aus on my first backpacking trip in my early 20’s.  After that, it was a Canon Film SLR which I took to Africa and shot 35 rolls of film. Most of which were terrible! When Canon released the EOS 350 DSLR it was exciting to be able to experiment without breaking the bank on film processing.  I was hooked from then.  

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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?

A few years ago my friend asked me to help out with a ‘365’ project in our area, taking a shot every day for a year.  It really refreshed my passion for the art and also refreshed my skills with the camera, forcing me to be creative, take time out every day to find a different angle or scene. I found the Fuji X Series as the perfect system for my lifestyle and the quality of images good enough to use commercially.  After a while strangers started contacting me to get a copy of a shot or to photograph their events… just from what they saw on social media.  It was a huge confidence boost.  

I decided to leave my corporate full-time job a year ago to have a career break, and take my photography seriously.  And I haven’t looked back.  I still work in corporate part-time but have the flexibility to take photography jobs during the other days of the week.   

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

My first passion was landscape and seascape producing images that I have sold as prints and for a commercial digital licence.  Mostly of the northern beaches area where business wants a local look for their marketing material and local residents love an image of their favourite beach.  I have also been doing a fair bit of events, commercial and private such as fundraisers, birthdays and family gatherings.  My Fuji kit is perfectly compact and can go into silent mode when needed.

Recently I decided to move more into studio portrait work as I love working with individuals to achieve a beautiful natural look.  This has led to many corporate headshot jobs where I will work with one company over 1-2 weeks to have their staff photographed for different marketing needs.  For studio work, I use my Canon 5D Mark III with a Sigma 85mm or the Canon 70-200.  I find the full frame on the Canon gives a different depth and feel to the shot.   I have my eyes on the Fuji GFX system to eventually replace the Canon… just need it a little cheaper! 

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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?

The first thing I noticed when I was exploring the options for a professional photography career… was how little women were represented, in camera clubs, in conferences and in judging panels on major competitions.  It surprised me as I really didn’t think at the time photography was considered a male activity.   

Last year, a statement made by a very successful older male photographer really hit me in the head at the attitude some men still have.  At a photography workshop, this esteemed gentleman was talking about what camera gear to take on a trip,  he said (not exact words)…. if your wife is interested in photography, and wants to come on the trip, give her a simple point and shoot camera that she will understand, she’ll probably take a great shot and she won’t be confused with a complex system..

That really had all the women in the room rolling their eyes. It’s that moment I realised this amazing modern industry was still one foot in the dark ages.

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? 

My corporate career was very much in the male-dominated IT / Networks industry, and I spent many years being the only female in the team.  This has conditioned me be ‘accepting’ about lack of balance or equality in the workplace…   When trying to break into professional photography I did come up against a few roadblocks being a female, some of these were physical, some the superiority attitude of male photographers. But really it wasn’t too much different from the IT industry I had come from.

I have been inspired by many female and male photographers – such talent out there.  I am really inspired by brave women who travel solo, taking incredible landscape shots from the deep wilds of nature… I think they are so incredibly brave, as it really is, unfortunately, a mans world out there in the wilderness.

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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 believe it does help if the shift starts to come from the camera clubs and creative organisations to be a supportive environment.  Increase the number of women in influential roles including judging and critiquing panels.  And for our top male photographers to be aware of the imbalance and be thoughtful in their supporting the female community.  We don’t just want to use a point and shoot camera.  

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

My advice would be to be confident and not to feel intimidated.  Many women think they need to be the best photographer to make any money,  but the profession also needs communicators, relationship builders, multitaskers and a friendly face.  All the things women do with natural ease.  Also, my advice is to take the business side of the job seriously as the creative side eg: pricing, contracts, bookkeeping etc.  This will keep your business running for longer!

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Where can people see more of your work?

https://chelseyelliott.com

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