i love the recent trend of supporting women in photography and like, women of color in photography, but it’s interesting to be that the discussion is being
most promoted*mostly attributed to and most impactfully lip-serviced by white guys, who all seem to then get a certain amount of street cred for “not being like those other white guys”
don’t get me wrong
some of my best friends are white guy photographers,
but.. is anyone else noticing this?
*duh there’s like a ton of us talking about this who have been talking about this forever, but the audience for whatever reason isn’t here for us talking about ourselves/our kin as much as it is for white dude photographers doling out some cred-crumbs.
To add to this, it’s important to mention the female photographer collectives that ended or began roughly three-to-five years ago that have been left out from this conversation. Women in Photography and NYMPhoto—there are probably more that I am also guilty of forgetting—both tried to garner the same influence that this conversation is now seeking to do, and yet, I don’t believe they’ve been mentioned. Women [and minorities] trying to gain strength and notice for their work is nothing new. Women supporting women is also nothing new. Suddenly when a few popular male photographers start to beat their war drums and draw up a battle cry, we are rallied to re-organize. However, a year down the line, perhaps a few months down the line, this project and this conversation will have the same fate as the aforementioned projects: lost in the sea of internet ADD until another popular, probably male photographer comes down the line to start the conversation all over again.
What advice would you give to a male photographer who is conscious of their own position and is perhaps questioning with it, who wants to help out a female? Where and how can they show their support effectively? I see this thread ending on a skeptical and distrustful note, and I’m wondering if the discourse surrounding this issue can be pushed forward. What does any minority group do if they feel misrepresented (I.E. white men repping women). Just some thoughts from a “black male” outsider.
Yeah. I think like, if this post seems frustrated and distrustful it’s because it is, and it’s something I wrote mostly expecting it to get about 13 notes from mostly the other female (mostly woc) photographers that I would categorize as in kinship with me (shoutout to vivian, nicole, groana, janna, noorann, roxana, genevieve, and everyone else i know and adore) in a moment of frustration seeing yet another post about this topic on Facebook from, you guessed it, a white dude. and tbh the reason this post got so much traction is because daniel and winslow re-posted it. (for the record, winslow isn’t a white dude but they both have wider readership than I do)
I think the most important thing to do honestly isn’t as prescriptive as telling when or when not to give props, but rather is a radical reconstruction of thought where one must consider how they treat and consider the female photographers that they know (or don’t know, which is something that I realized a while ago - most people can’t really rattle off female photographers, and when you ask them to rattle off woc photographers that list gets slimmer.)
Who do you email your opportunities to? Who do you send insider info about jobs? When people ask you for recommendations on artists, who do you send them? If you have teaching power, who do you show in your classes? Who do you ask for/bring in as visiting artists? Who are your references when you critique the work of someone else? Do you only give one set of references when you are talking to a q/w/oc photog or do you use them for your cis/het/white students too? Do you default to a Evans/Winograd/Atget/Bresson/Frank model of photographic history? Did you notice I only have to use last names for those guys for you to know who they are? If I said, Weems/Cahun/Lawson/Strauss, would you be able to pin point all the references without having to really think about it?
Honestly a few years ago, and even more recently as I’m being reminded every freaking day in grad school, the discourse doesn’t really care about us. It can continue on, happily, without us. I can tell you what I do. I’ve made a conscious effort to cultivate a peer group of other women of color and women photographers and make sure that those doors are as open as I can get to them. I’ve offered a couch to people I only know from the internet, and said things like “Hey, you should consider yale” because the honest to god reason I’m here at this adorable ivy tower institution is because melis bursin said offhandedly “hey, you know, you might like Yale” and without that, I definitely would not have applied here. So. I recommend women/of color for pretty much anything and everything under the sun. Whenever someone asks me anything photography related.
I don’t know. My answers aren’t great. I wish I knew what to do, I wish I had a more like ~simple~ solution other than “radically re-consider the way you interact with the women photographers in your life, put your actions where your mouth is, and stop to think about diversity when making big decisions”. But I don’t have anything better or more specific than that.
For example, we have 2 women who are visiting artists in the photography department this semester. Neither are women of color. One’s queer. We have a visiting artist every week, to give some perspective.
In critique you may want to consider how you react to people of different (and no) genders. Do you unconsciously give more weight to male identified people’s decisions? Are you quicker to shoot down female identified people? Queer people?
Granted. As I’m someone with an eye on academic institutions my perspective is mostly there. I think about this a lot as I am someone who very much loves teaching and very much wants to teach. I give a lot of energy to teaching as I hope anyone who has had me as a teacher would tell you, and I give that energy pretty equally in the classroom, but definitely open my self up to being a mentor more to the students who wouldn’t feel empowered to seek mentorship. I admit I will give a lot of energy to those students. Not in an unfair way, just in a way that brings them into the classroom more. I can’t really explain it well in a way that doesn’t sound like identity based favoritism.
I’m also particularly lucky because at MICA I had a lot of strong women as teachers who dedicated their energy to me, namely Regina, Colette, and Suzanne. Also the impact of being on a very successful commercial photographer’s all queer female id’d assisting team. So. I have learned a lot about strength within female id-ed community.
I guess the whole point of this is like, do your research, and if you don’t know, do your research some more, and consider how you actually help (and don’t just provide shallow lip service to) the female artists and photographers in your life.
(Love you max)
I respect and agree with everything Elle says here. If you haven’t read her responses, about her experiences as a female photographer, please do.
There are two things I’d like to respond to immediately. First, unless I am missing something, it’s totally unfair to all the women who have been responding and taking charge of the conversation to suggest that it’s mostly white dudes getting some sort of “credit” for the conversation. Again, please, please correct me if I’m wrong, but as fas as I can tell, Jennilee, Liz Weinberg, Emily Shur, and other women have been getting the most traction and attention for their posts and discussions on this. What other white dudes are you talking about? I don’t think I’ve seen those responses.
The second thing I want to respond to is Alana’s frustration about the lack of mention of earlier organizing efforts by women for women in the photo world (even though I personally have seen those websites linked to and talked about in this current convo). When I wrote my initial post it was very specifically about women in editorial and commissioned photography. I was personally interested in exploring how magazines have a gender hiring-bias and exploring that avenue of commerce and exchange between those with resources/money and photographers. Of course, it applies to broader contexts, but the initial conversation was specifically about the editorial world, not the art world. The website that Kimmy Fung built (with the help of Joyce Kim and Stephanie Gonot and others) again specifically addresses an editorial-hiring audience. It’s not separate from WIP or earlier sites, it’s just tackling a different beast. I totally get how things are connected/related/etc, but it’s also totally useful to isolate things on a smaller scale/level sometimes with the hopes of changing your immediate microcosm. All in my opinion of course, but I wanted to respond directly to that.
And I echo Max’s question, “What advice would you give to a male photographer who is conscious of their own position and is perhaps questioning with it, who wants to help out a female? Where and how can they show their support effectively?”
I am most interested in being a supportive ally to my female friends, and any suggestions to do this more effectively or to better frame the issues when I’m posting about them would be very welcome. I’m actually feeling desperate for these kinds of suggestions.
I don’t know if this was directed at me, but the “white dude photographers doling out some cred-crumbs,” stung a little bit, because A. I absolutely agree with the skepticism/distrust as it applies to how this conversation is perceived to have been shaped (and so it stings because it’s fucking true) and B. because I feel really helpless about controlling that. Before the initial post went live I asked many of my closest female artist friends if I should do it. I felt immense anxiety about this exact thing happening. If there was a way to post it anonymously and get the same response, I absolutely would have. Ultimately I decided to post it on my blog, encouraged by those friends, ONLY because of the built in audience (a platform with close to 200k followers). I didn’t know how else to talk about it without posting it on my blog or Facebook or whatever. I also tried to qualify and disclaim to death the fact that I understand it’s not my place to start the conversation (and I didn’t, by any fucking means. it’s been a conversation that’s been happening for a long time, and I personally never meant to suggest otherwise) and that I could only speak about it in personal terms as it related to my own navigating of the editorial world (so as to really try and not “speak” for women. This has also meant that I have made a conscious effort to not do as much “responding” to the way the conversation evolved, but rather organizing the content (with the other organizers of this content, like Kimmy). That’s why when i see someone say “the conversation that Daniel Shea started” I feel insanely uncomfortable about it (to the point of legitimately feeling panic), but suppressing all efforts to not respond and take a ringleader position. Even though I’m self-consciously doing that now by responding honestly in a public way.
As I’m typing this I realize I’m being a little defensive. That’s me being frustrated, because I don’t know a more effective alternative. And everyone who emailed me who was mad at me or really critical, never responded to my initial response, and I still feel left in the dark without better ideas on how to be a better ally. And there has been a lot of negative feedback, some of my friends have been distant, some were hurt. Which is why the “cred-crumb” thing is perceived on some level, because there are a lot of things happening behind the scenes that have been the exact opposite.
Elle’s suggestions below are awesome, and I can personally say I work really hard on all of these and am constantly thinking about them and could always, always do better. This semester in my class, for example, half of the visiting artists were originally supposed to be women (the only reason they weren’t is because 3 female artist coincidentally had to cancel), and I show lots of work from women, queer artistes, people of color, mostly WITHOUT framing their practice unproductively in explicit identity terms (not that this is bad, exclusively, of course, but sometimes the work itself or the artist don’t foreground this framing, and institutions and pedagogical practice does). But as a challenge to my male friends, colleagues and peers, and as a continuing challenge to myself, here are Elle’s questions again:
"Who do you email your opportunities to? Who do you send insider info about jobs? When people ask you for recommendations on artists, who do you send them? If you have teaching power, who do you show in your classes? Who do you ask for/bring in as visiting artists? Who are your references when you critique the work of someone else? Do you only give one set of references when you are talking to a q/w/oc photog or do you use them for your cis/het/white students too? Do you default to a Evans/Winograd/Atget/Bresson/Frank model of photographic history? Did you notice I only have to use last names for those guys for you to know who they are? If I said, Weems/Cahun/Lawson/Strauss, would you be able to pin point all the references without having to really think about it?"
So for everyone/anyone following along, Daniel and I know each other like, in the real world and talked a little bit this morning but I want to clear up some things for anyone wondering:
The first thing I’d like to mention is that actually, no the original post wasn’t about the recent editorial women in photography developments. And my frustration with the stated topic stems back to before that post even went up. Honestly I’ve even avoided posting my regularly scheduled /white dude frustrations/ because I didn’t want it to be seen as attacking you, since we’re in such close community, but I thought the statute of limitations on that was up so I went back to my normal self. (That was a joke, read it like a joke.)
Second thing is that i think a few things happened here, and I’d like to re-emphasize that my original post, on my blog platform, which doesn’t have anywhere near the readership that Daniel’s, Winslow’s, or Romke’s blogs have, was originally intended for and posed as a question, ultimately, to the majority of people who follow my blog - who are other artists of various identites including mostly female ID’d people, queer people, people of color, and plenty of folks who intersect in some and all of those categories. The reason it was posed on tumblr is because that’s where my community is - and like, having that convo over email doesn’t open it up to other perspectives. Unfortunately, it kind of got hijacked by, forgive me for being so blunt, by your current insecurities about your place in this conversation.
Regardless of the fact that it wasn’t actually about your post, I wanted to take some time to think about this today before I responded to you, which was maybe a mistake because it might have looked like my post was actually about you. Oops. I follow a number of photography networks on facebook, and as someone who runs a blog dedicated to WOC photographers I have my ear to the ground on a regular basis in the way that others probably do not. Which is why I am referring to content that you maybe haven’t seen - the posts in question were a number of casual facebook posts, things posted within those photography networks, and certain sound-bytes that I have heard repeated within educational communities such as the one I’m in right now at Yale.
So now that we’ve cleared that up, I’d like to actually engage your question of how you can to be a supportive ally.
Daniel, I think that this is giving you good practice in your long road ahead of being a self identified male feminist. Because you have chosen to place yourself in the feminist photography trenches, you have to realize that you are going to be hearing a lot more of what is being said about white/male/cis/het photographers and that since yeah, you’re like, gonna wonder if it’s about you. But you have to kind of just accept that you’re gonna be hearing it. There’s no like, invisibility cloak, and in many ways you are going to be under more scrutiny for your actions and your perceived actions because you’ve placed yourself within this framework. You have to understand that we are so used to being
proven wrong[wronged]* by so many people [who are trying to do good]* that it takes a significant amount of time to gain trust. You also have to realize that not every frustration that a female photographer vents is about you, even though you might identify those things within yourself.
Again - I’m talking about this because you brought it up not because I was originally talking about you - but to be totally honest, and this is just my opinion and I’m sure someone (Romke, perhaps :p ) will like, pin me to a wall for it, but maybe Erin’s piece should have been the first piece. I think that yeah - you do have that platform! and you could have said “Hey, i’m giving over my mic for a minute to Erin” I mean, or maybe, hers should have been first piece before yours, or Elizabeth Weinberg’s voice should have been the first voice on the track. Does that make sense? There are a lot of ways to be a gate-opener without having to even say a word. Which is not to say these aren’t conversations you shouldn’t be having, but these types of discussion starting moves have to have some sort of strategy or they just kind of fall apart, in ways I think you are experiencing now from what you wrote a bit earlier.
So now to move onto Romke’s assertions, which again, maybe actually would have been effective in their goal of being super dismissive, freaking me out, and making me shut up (about something that was totally projected onto my post) a few years ago but at this point I really couldn’t care less about getting called a “callous sexist” and “dazzlingly narrow-minded” on an extremely popular blog amongst my peers where I have little to no recourse in terms of a response. Do you think I could put those on my business card? I might even change my blog description. And even if I did have a fair recourse for a response (let’s be REAL here), this conversation, since it’s now been stated I’m actually not attacking Daniel or his project, will probably very soon run out of steam (possibly even with this post.) Sorry guys! Show’s over.
In thinking earlier today, I’d like to take this totally random opportunity and end this with an exercise for anyone who’d like to participate. I want you to think about who the gate-keepers have been in your artistic career, and who the people were who helped you cross those gates (Gate openers, if you will). Then, I want you to think about what you are a gate-keeper for, and who you have acted as a gate-opener for recently, the demographic of those people, and how, if need be, you can do more for marginalized artists.
For anyone curious, here are my gate-openers from my 10 of so years of being a photographer. For the sake of brevity I’ve chosen not to elaborate but would be glad to do so off this thread.
For the sake of this exercise, here’s the tally:
10 Women (6 White), 3 Men (1 White)
If I were to extend this to people who have said things that incredibly impacted me versus people who have actually helped me through gates, the numbers would be a little larger but the proportion would be roughly the same.
Hopefully my sharing this clarifies the origins of my distrust that white dudes have my best artistic interests in mind. In my ten years of being a photographer, i’ve only known one who really meant it enough to open a door.
If anything, hopefully that little mental exercise helps you work out the matrix within which your career has been developed and the demographics of that matrix.
anyone who would rather not get involved in the mudslinging but would like to talk, please feel free to email me. I’m actually really nice. I promise.
*edited for clarity 2:30am on nov 12 13
This conversation continues as it will forever as long as this imbalance exists (read: forever). But it’s rad that it’s still happening in a really public way and hasn’t totally devolved into mudslinging like a lot of other tumblr conversations do.
Daniel and I talked a lot about this before he opened up a dialogue on his tumblr and we both knew there was a large chance that people would feel like it wasn’t done in the best way possible. At the time, we didn’t have further ideas for what the best way possible was - but there was the option to not say anything at all or go out on a limb, knowing that it might crash and burn , but also that the worst that would happen is we could learn from it for how to continue this conversation in a more productive manner next time. I think that’s happened and I’m glad it has.
Elle made a lot of suggestions for how it could have been done better, and they seem really obvious now. It’s cool that people are taking the time to help construct better modes of communication, despite the fact that they’re likely frustrated to have to explain the ins and outs of it.