On photography and women

Comments to Tim Gander’s Blog post F/8 and be chic*

“So simple a child can operate it” Women have always been patronized…

I thought that, though I’m not a photographer, I’d give my comments on this as I buy many photography magazines, mainly French ones but my feeling is that Anglo (US/UK) ones are fairly the same.

“PRIX is a photography lifestyle magazine for men. If you love to snap photos, chances are you’re into cars, naked women and guns.”

If the photos of the photo magazines I buy are any indication, male photographers are into cars, naked women and sports. To be fair, sports do require a certain set of skills and gear knowledge worth the emphasis on techinques on how to shoot them, though I’m a little tired and annoyed to see that every couple of issues, there’s a dossier on how to shoot nudes or glamour shots. And that most of the times the models are female, and naked, or in lingerie, but well, let’s not get lost in details.

Ok, that’s not a real magazine, but here’s an introduction to a magazine which does exist. Or should that be ‘does sexist’? you decide. At the very least it strikes me as deeply patronizing, but here goes the intro from editor Jeanine Moutenot:

PIX is a photography lifestyle magazine for women. If you love to snap photos, chances are you’re pretty creative and artsy about the rest of your world too. It’s important to you that your business is modern and cool, you’ve always got an eye out for hip clothing and accessories, and looking professional and shooting well are top priorities.  If this sounds like you, PIX is here to help! In each issue you’ll find tips, ideas, products and trend reports for women in photography.” Shooting well? Whatever that means.

….

The general tone of the magazine seems to be aimed at women more interested in cameras as accessories than tools of a trade.

Indeed, the general tone of the magazine seems aimed toward women having photography as a hobby, one of those young mothers that bought a camera to take photos of their first born and realized that they’re pretty good at it and that maybe they could make some extra money shooting photos of their friends’ children and making nice little albums. There’s a lot of money to be made of crafty, hobbyist women. I know because I myself have spent lots of money in scrapbooking material, and other hobbies. This magazine looks like a coffee table book or shopping catalogue. In that sense I find it even amusing to look at. A nice 10 min. browsing.

There are maybe 12 pages of articles featuring working photographers buried within the 63 pages of puff, but references to their motivations, challenges, styles or paths to success are fleeting. Before you know it, you’re back to editorial featuring pretty things to buy.

Then again, I don’t think this magazine is really for women willing to become war photograph journalists or such. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think I need to see a female photographer as role model. It really doesn’t matter if a man or a woman have pressed a shutter button.

Maybe my being a man precludes me from passing judgement on a photography magazine aimed at women. Perhaps I’m missing the point and female photographers will relish the chance to read about flowery camera straps or an eyeliner that doesn’t smudge onto the viewfinder.

In practical terms, a female photographer has more chances to be confronted with the issue of makeup, clothing and accessories when taking photos than men. For example, pockets. Such a simple issue, not every female garment has pockets. And for many of us chest pockets are out of the question. For example, I was  very interested by the ad on p. 18 of  Manfrotto female apparel. I’ve seen ads for it in other photo magazines but the female versions were not as prominently displayed. From a strict marketing point of view, I’d  be more willing to buy a Manfrotto female vest after seeing an ad of a female model wearing one than seeing an ad of the same brand with no photo of a female model in a regular photo magazine. Flat shoes are a no-brainer for photographers, but for women it can get tricky to find a flat shoe that doesn’t look like a nun’s or an old-school teacher shoe.

Smudging make up is an issue, not so much eyeliner but foundation. But then again, a minor issue.  One that bothers me slightly more is that having my nails long scratched the body of my DSLR camera and made it more difficult for me to manipulate the controls so I have to keep my nails somewhat short. You can always argue that a real photographer shouldn’t bother about having pretty nails, but then, is being a real photographer denying a feminine aspect of  your appearance. Do male photographers have to make that kind of decisions?

Another item to consider are bags designed for women. They are made to look like a “normal” ladies handbag, that you could match with your attire. Then again, this might be a matter of choice. Less of an issue because you can change bags at any time.  I don’t really like the idea of “female” bags. I do have one of those bags, which is practical when you want to be somewhat low key which is always a good idea while shooting in a foreign context (another issue to ponder for another post, safety and gender). But those bags are a pain to carry! Already a normal handbag is torture on your back (maybe because I tend to carry tons of stuff, including make up, in it), so really, a backpack is so much better, especially when you have less strength. Carrying cameras around is such a pain!

My gut feeling though is that PIX is incredibly patronizing, is aimed at aspiring photographers who are more interested in pretty things than the hard-nosed facts of photography and would have worked better if it had been aimed more at women simply by virtue of not featuring ads for glamour shoot workshops and men talking about the size of their kit.

PIX is really saying that if you’re a photographer and a woman, how you dress and the colour of your camera bag is at least as important as your ability and vision. In an industry with something of a male-dominated culture, is PIX redressing the balance or reinforcing stereotypes?

PIX reinforces stereotypes, no question about it. But sometimes all a girl needs are pretty cute photos to look at while getting their hair cut 🙂

On a more serious note, I think women will still buy normal photo magazines. Or in any case I’ll still do, I’m used to ignore the nude photos by now. Wish there were a little more male nudes from time to time. Maybe if men felt less threatened in their masculinity we could have photos with male and female nude photos portfolios!  Now that for gender equality!

Short-nails, no make up and untidy hair. Oh well… If only PIX had existed then!

Photos by @lau_merritt

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5 Comments on “On photography and women”

  1. Glass Eye says:

    How I wish Pix would employ a writer like you! It would seem there are female photographers who do need to know more about the products that are suited to their needs, though I think we both agree Pix goes too far into the ‘girlie’ realms. It’s more a case, perhaps, that mainstream magazines need to attend to their female readers’ needs more.

    Interesting about the clothing. Actually, I struggle and I don’t find pockets in my trousers etc to be all that useful. I now use a large bumbag so that I can avoid carrying a camera bag which just wrecks my back. I thought that Manfrotto clothing was rather odd-looking though. Like something out of a dystopian scifi movie! But it does demonstrate the need for someone to actually think about the design of clothing for women photographers.

    I couldn’t help thinking about how bad those handbag camera bags would be for your shoulder and back. They really did appear to be all about pretty design over practicality.

    But you are right! Men don’t necessarily have the same presentational problems that women do. We can keep our nails short, don’t have to wear makeup, and can dress in simpler clothing even at formal functions. If a woman needs to dress smart, she’ll often end up in clothes ill-suited to the task, and in shoes that will wreck her feet.

    I’d say though that I don’t think Pix looks like it would properly address these issues, instead it concentrates on the fluffy issues of how to look pretty with a pretty camera strap and flat shoes that don’t look like they’d last five minutes even when not worn in a war zone.

    Thanks for putting in such a lot of effort to broaden my view of the issues raised! Is that a patronizing thing to say? 😉

  2. Glass Eye says:

    I also forgot to mention, you’re right – there should be more male nudes. Our magazines are quite prudish about showing men, but look at the work of the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe and you’ll see the same work both praised as art and derided as porn. Personally, I think it’s just beautiful photography.


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