Break the Bias: The Challenges For Female Photographers

Something very wonderful has happened, Hasselblad has selected me to be one of their Hasselblad Heroines for this year. I am incredibly honoured, it is a brilliant program that launches around International Women’s Day with the aim of encouraging female talent in the industry.

Why in 2022 is an initiative like this necessary? 70% of the photographers that have been to me for training via Photography Farm are female but if I look beyond my own little corner of the industry, the figures shift dramatically. Under 15% of people who call themselves ‘professional photographers’ are female. This is despite the takeup on photography degrees being predominantly female. Where do all these graduates go?

This career can be challenging in many ways but I would have to say that there are sadly many additional challenges that female photographers face.

For instance, when I very first sent my portfolio to a music magazine in the hope of getting a foot in the door, it came back with a note saying no thanks. I called the picture editor to get some feedback, maybe there was something I could improve for next time. She told me that they simply did not use female photographers as they’d booked one once and she hadn’t done a good enough job. This came from a woman! The next time I sent my portfolio in, I simply took the Lisa part of my name away and I booked a job. I like to think that my ‘gender blurring’ would not be necessary today but according to those statistics, the glass ceiling obviously does still exist.

You might think that shooting weddings is all champagne and cake but there is a darker side. Recently female photographers have been speaking out on social media about the abuse that they’ve endured. From constantly being patronised to aggressive sexual approaches. We often work alone in situations with large groups of drunk people who are strangers to us. We have to work hard to protect both ourselves and our expensive equipment.

In my Facebook group at the moment, women in one area of the country are discussing a male sex pest who is phoning them asking about a nude photoshoot. I won’t go into details but he’s obviously a disturbed individual and they are having to log the calls and deal with a police case. This is all horrible and exhausting whilst all of us are just trying to run our businesses.

I wondered what it must feel like for those young female graduates entering the industry so I opened up the websites of the two leading camera brands to see how women are presented in their marketing. It was disappointing to see that they are there as models in alluring poses whilst it’s the men holding the professional kit. When women are presented holding cameras it’s the hobbyist ones. It’s no wonder that we don’t feel welcomed in.

Head to most photography trade shows and conferences and the gender bias will slap you in the face. Stages are filled with mostly male speakers and you will still see young female models offered up as subjects in demos. For this reason, I apply to speak at shows. I want to redress this balance and I want to encourage others to do the same. At the end of all my talks at The Photography Show last year, I mentioned that they have an open application process and more females should apply. I would love to believe that at least one woman in attendance would think ‘I could do this too’.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is Break The Bias. Sounds simple enough right? By being a part of this celebration from Hasselblad of female talent I hope that non-male photographers and this includes non-binary people, will see that they are considered even at the very highest levels.