Women photograph not just on Women’s Day

©Sima Diab
©Sima Diab

International Women’s Day, March 8th, is the perfect time to highlight the outstanding work of female photographers all over the world. So I reached out to Daniella Zalcman who recently created a new website and database called Women Photograph.

Hopefully, soon we won’t need a database like this because female photographers will be equally represented in the industry, but in the meantime, networks like Women Photograph help us get there step by step.

Here’s my Q & A with Daniella:

TTW: First, basics. Can you tell me how this idea started?

DZ: We have a huge diversity problem in the journalism industry. I think that’s reasonably apparent to most people. But often when I have conversations with editors about why there aren’t more female photojournalists working for their publications, they not infrequently reply that they have a hard time finding women photographers in specific regions, or women photographers who have a certain technical skill. I really wanted to create a resource that would render that excuse invalid.

TTW: Can you talk about the obvious uses of the website, like for photo editors to search for photographers, but also how it might be useful to promote women photographers?

DZ: There are two primary components to the network right now — one is the website, which is public and acts as a showcase with links to photographer websites. It’s meant to be a place to come for inspiration, to see new and different work, to get ideas. The real resource is the full database, which is only available to editors and organizations that reach out to me directly: it has detailed information about the 500+ female and nonbinary photographers on the list, including languages spoken, geographic areas of expertise, main clients, HEFAT/PPE information, and more. But there are a lot of other smaller pieces that I’m working on too — a resource section that lists funding organizations, competitions, workshops, and festivals. A bookstore that showcases photobooks from women photographers. Everything is geared towards elevating the work and voices of women photographers.

TTW: Do you have any examples from women photographers how the database was used so far?

DZ: Yes! Quite a few. A photographer from India e-mailed me the other week that she’s already gotten two assignments through the site since the launch just over a month ago. Several others have been nominated for various awards because editors found them through womenphotograph.com. I’ve had commissioning editors come to me directly asking for pitches from the Women Photograph community. About eight major newspapers in the United States have told me they’ve circulated the database to their entire photo team.

TTW: Why do you think this gap still exists? We have far more women editors than we did 20 or 30 years ago, but still not as many women getting assignments. Why is that?

DZ: There are a lot of different reasons. Most of all, we still live in a world where sexism is still rampant, and a lot of the issues women photographers face are part of that greater issue. Almost all women have to deal with the fact that we make less on average than our male counterparts for the same jobs, and that we’re treated differently in the work force once we become parents. Then there’s routine sexual harassment — from colleagues, editors, subjects — which especially early on in a young female photographer’s career can be horrifying and extremely discouraging. And maybe most of all, I really don’t think there’s enough support for young female photographers who are trying to break the mold.

TTW: I think it’s also important to realize that women photographers by and large really support each other, and it’s one of our strengths, but yet there isn’t much in the way of a community. Do you have any future plans for this community? Like a facebook group, newsletter, mentoring program, etc?

DZ: Yes, all of the above! There’s a Facebook group, a monthly newsletter highlighting recent projects and clips from women photographers and opportunities for grants, awards, jobs, and so on. And I’m working on getting a mentorship program launched soon, hopefully by about May. The mentorship thing is vital, in my opinion — I really wish that I’d had an older female mentor in the photojournalism world I could have reached out to when I was just starting. One of the issues of an industry that’s predominantly male is that we naturally tend to seek out proteges who remind us of ourselves at that age — so established male photographers frequently tend to mentor young men. I’m working to create a concrete mentorship program for young women.

TTW: I totally agree with this point about mentoring! I was lucky to have some great photographers help me when I started out, but they were all men. Although their advice was invaluable, I really I wish I had a seasoned female photographer with whom I could’ve talked regularly. I think it would have made a big difference.

 

TTW: What’s the most common problem you’ve heard from women photojournalist in the field?

DZ: Mostly, it’s that we aren’t taken seriously — by other photographers, by commissioning editors, by the people we’re photographing. Because we’ve so thoroughly solidified this image of the male photojournalist, or the male war photographer, women so often get pigeonholed into reporting soft features or women’s issue stories. And it’s great to send a woman to shoot a story about women — but we can shoot stories about men too.

TTW: For women to be hired equally, do you think other issues have to be addressed, like societal norms about how we are perceived? Or do you think this is really just about editors not knowing who is out there?

DZ: I think there are a dozen different issues that all feed into each other and reinforce systematic sexism in this business. I find it frustrating that people often believe they know the exact reason for why women aren’t hired as often, or why there are fewer female photojournalists in the field, because the truth is there isn’t just one reason. They all reinforce each other. But yeah, absolutely, perception is a huge part of it. And that goes both ways — while you could maybe generalize that more women tend to gravitate towards more sensitive, social documentary type work and more men tend to gravitate towards hard news and conflict, I know excellent female war photographers and excellent male social documentary photographers. It’s really not that editors don’t know who’s out there — they’re just not looking. And I get it — we all form relationships with the people we know and trust and it’s tempting to just keep returning to that same stable of reliable photographers. But if your stable is full of white men, maybe you should try to think about ways you can change that. Visual journalists are, in many ways, in charge of how so many people see the world — we introduce them to places they will never visit and people they will never meet. And so the way in which we see is important. And if mainstream media outlets are presenting a vision of the world through the lens of one group of people, that’s dangerous. We need to be representing our diverse subjects with a diverse group of journalists.

 

Thanks so much Daniella! I’m really glad this network exists. I’m definitely interested in being involved as a mentor, as I’m sure others are. If you’re interested in learning more about the network, or in getting involved to help the community contact Daniella here.

Also, stay tuned next week for another post on female photographers — this time, turning the lens around to see the women at work. Let’s keep extending how many days we highlight women! #womensdayforayear

By Tara Todras-Whitehill

Tara worked as a staff photographer for the Associated Press for four years in the Middle East, covering the uprisings, revolutions and numerous elections in the Arab world. Her photography has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic and Washington Post, among many others. She also works on personal projects focused on women's issues. Her passion is trying to portray strong women changing their lives and the world around them.

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