Women in Photojournalism, BlackStar, and a Bunch of Horse Puckey

Last night I happened upon a BlackStar article by photographer Paul Melcher entitled “Why Is A Photojournalist’s Gender Relevant To Their Work?”

The article didn’t sit well with me. My initial knee jerk reaction was that I think it’s a load of horse shit (or for you more sensitive types… cow puckey. Or bull malarkey.) Then I wondered if I was missing the point, so I decided to break it down.

First he says…

So why is it so important for some photographers to define themselves as “women photojournalists,” rather than simply as “photojournalists”?

Mr. Melcher has been named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography,” so maybe he knows something I don’t.

I do, however, know a lot of female photojournalists. In my experience, I can’t think of any (read: ZERO) female photojournalists who feel the need to label themselves as “women photojournalists.” We don’t introduce ourselves that way, we don’t put it on our business cards or our websites, and I can’t say any of us really consider it a defining characteristic of what we do. That’s just stupid.

(Granted, I’m sure there are some “Pats” out there who might feel the need to clarify the status of their private parts, but usually the general public is intelligent enough to determine whether or not you’re a lady shooter.)

Mr. Melcher goes on to say…

More and more today, I come across cooperatives, workshops and panels for women photographers only. As if gender had something to do with the photojournalistic process.

My first thought was the Women in Photojournalism conference that was held every year. If I remember correctly, even though it was centered around women and photojournalism, men were still welcome at the conference. I never saw a big “No Boys Allowed” sign.

Unfortunately though, if you go to the Women in Photojournalism Conference URL, this is what you see:


So maybe that doesn’t exist anymore. I dunno.

And there are some other awards, workshops and whatnot out there for female photographers. So… what’s the problem here? I guess some men feel left out.  Minorities are always going to find some way to stick together. I’m sorry that political correctness won’t allow white protestant males journalists any exclusive club other than the Klan, but… what can I say? That’s the way it is.

It isn’t fair to just rag on women for having some female-interest-centered conferences and exclusive awards and whatnot. As to my knowledge we don’t even have our own national association. You going to harp on members of the National Association of Black Journalists next? Or the National Association of Hispanic Journalists? Didn’t think so.

Gender DOES have something to do with the photojournalistic process. I believe it has a lot to do with it, but I don’t think it has any more to do with it than, say, age or ethnicity.

Gender doesn’t change ethics, it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) change your mission to tell stories and it doesn’t change how you operate a camera. However, as much as we may not like to admit it, a photographer’s experience – be they male or female – is going to affect how they do we do our jobs. How we perceive and present ourselves and how the public perceives and receives us will affect how we do our jobs, the stories we tell and the photographs we bring back.

In my relatively short career, people have tried (read: tried) to push me around, and I know for a fact if I wasn’t 5 foot tall, young and have ladyparts, they wouldn’t have had the balls to even try.

I’ve been assaulted on the job. I’ve been verbally AND physically harassed by everyone from your generic goon to Boy Scouts (really), police officers (also really) and other journalists (also also really). (And I was not dressed provocatively – my professional wardrobe staple long pants and golf shirts). It sucks and it’s not right, but that’s part of the job.

On the other side of the coin, I know there have been a lot of situations where I have gotten surprisingly good access to stories, and as much as I’d like to think it doesn’t have anything to do with my gender, I’m smart enough to realize that being female is probably a contributing factor.

To be fair though, the fact that I was clean, professional and didn’t look like a creep probably also had something to do with that. It seems (around here anyway) that the stereotypical news photographer is a slightly dumpy, slightly balding, slightly smelly and sloppily dressed middle-aged male wearing “rapist glasses” and a vest.

Guys, if you look like that, you’re not doing yourselves any favors.

Later Mr. Melcher says

It seems that political correctness has now started to reach the shores of the previously sexless island of photography.
It appears that some people, with a highly developed social conscience, want you to know the gender of the photographer whose picture you admire.

As if it made any difference.

Readers hardly glance at a photo credit, so why would they care ? Photo editors — the good ones at least — are gender-blind as long as a story is well told visually.

I actually agree with him somewhat here. He’s making the assumption that a photographer’s gender doesn’t matter to readers. It’s a fair assumption to make in most cases. While some might be interested in the fact a women took the photograph, I can’t see in most cases how that would change how the photograph or story is perceived.

And then…

So who is behind this, and why ?

I read the entire article, I’m still waiting on him to answer that.

Then he goes on to suggest calling yourself a news photographer is bad, and calling yourself a women photojournalist is the same thing as that.

It’s bad enough that photographers segregate themselves by specialty, calling themselves “sports photographers” or “news photographers” or “celebrity photographers.”

Apples and oranges.

The adjective “female” modifies the word photographer, describing a characteristic of the photographer. Saying “sports photographer”, “news photographer”, et cetera describes the TYPE of photography in which the photographer specializes.

The logic there doesn’t add up. Your argument is invalid.

That being said, I don’t see the major problem with specifying what type of photographer you are. While most photojournalists are generalists in a sense – we’re trained to shoot pretty much everything – some do just shoot mostly one thing. So what’s the harm in that?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know around here, every assclown with a camera is a photographer, and if you just say photographer, usually people think you take photos of flowers and our friends’ kids (I think me being a woman has something to do with that, too). Of course, saying you’re a news photographer brings up it’s own problems, and in response to those:

  • No, you can’t be on TV
  • No, I don’t work for the CIA, FBI or IRS
  • No, I don’t work for the radio?
  • No, I’m not a pervert, vulture or leech
  • I’m sorry some teenager knocked down your paper box with a baseball bat, but I can’t do anything about it
  • I hate politics, and I don’t want to hear yours

That’s sort of off-topic though.

To wrap this up, Melcher last says

Now women are supposed to label themselves “women photographers,” too?

Says who?

It’s a silly distraction at best.

I agree entirely. I wasted entirely too much of my day thinking about this, but I couldn’t get it out of my head until I worked it out.

My conclusion right now is that I’m still not sure I see the point. Gender will without a doubt affect the journalistic process, but it should be irrelevant when it comes to the content of the photos, if you can separate the two. The article seems more like a rant than well thought out piece of criticism or social commentary (and I am aware that may be how this response comes across to some people).

I’d be interested to hear what other people in the field (or not in the field) thought about the article.  So… discuss.


About Lindy.

I like things that kick ass and hate things that suck.
This entry was posted in Journalism Stuff, Photography Stuff, Things That Suck and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Women in Photojournalism, BlackStar, and a Bunch of Horse Puckey

  1. Chris Dunn says:

    “I know there have been a lot of situations where I have gotten surprisingly good access to stories, and as much as I’d like to think it doesn’t have anything to do with my gender, I’m smart enough to realize that being female is probably a contributing factor.”

    Just sayin’: Access is not something to ignore or consider lightly. As one (male) photographer — who has 20 years in the business on me — put it, “I don’t care how pretty your pictures are. You are nothing if you can’t get access.”

  2. Pingback: Girls on Film | Wedding Photography News

  3. Pingback: Friday Followups | LindyShoots

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