The Female Lens
The TEDX talk given March 17th, 2018.
How do you look?
How does the difference between how men and women experience the world get reflected in the pictures they take?
What about the pictures that are used to advertise?
As the well-known critic John Berger said, “men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”. *
See, this image shows my reflection in a woman’s eye. It is a close up and you can see me reflected, a female photographer.
But for around 90% of the images which blanket our media landscape, from billboards to magazine covers,
if you could see the reflection of the photographer in the subjects’ eyes- you would see the silhouette of a man. A male photographer.
What that means is that almost all the images we see are filtered through a man’s lens, from his Point of View.
About a dozen years ago, I became pretty famous or infamous — depending on how you look at it — because of these pictures of crying toddlers.
Everyone from Diane Sawyer to Bill O’Reilly wanted to know how I made the babies cry.
Who knew that it’s even newsworthy that kids cry?
The backstory was that the toddlers’ mothers were with me in the studio, giving and then requesting back lollipops from their children as I captured their reaction.
So this series would also become the great Lollipop Debate. And I was the female photographer who made the kids cry.
The editor of the London Sunday Times Magazine told me that in his 20 years at the Magazine this story got the most letters — ever. It was that controversial. And the Internet blew up.
I’ve shot commercial campaigns
and created fine art
which shows in galleries around the world.
But, about 10 years ago, after close to two decades in the business, I realized that I might have hit the glass ceiling when I noticed guys getting the jobs to shoot with my signature style.
So, I asked my photo agents what was happening
They said “oh that TV Network is a boys club” and “that movie studio is a boys club,” and — even “that magazine is a boys club”.
Which all sounds sort of cute, until you realize what that means.
Those clients don’t hire women.
then it finally dawned on me — Am I not getting the work because I’m missing a penis?
That’s right — commercial photography is still perceived to be a man’s job.
Now let’s be clear — this is not a pipeline issue.
There are far more women graduating from art and photography schools than men. Women make up about 80 percent of all students in these programs.
And yet in the real world of commercial photography, women are not getting the same opportunities.
Over the past few years, much has been made about gender discrimination in the Film business,
and back In 2015 The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story about the deeply rooted bias in Hollywood.
For the piece — dozens of women were photographed.
All by one man.
The irony is mind blowing. For this New York Times Magazine story — an expose on the gender inequality in motion pictures — the Times hired a MANto take the pictures.
And what’s even more extraordinary — is that it was a team of FEMALE photo editors at the Times who chose the man to shoot a story about sexism.
And this is what happens time and again. All of those Women of the Year covers, even The MeToo and Lean In ones — those get lensed by men too.
Even Oprah — the queen of female empowerment, for 5 straight years, from 2013 to 2017,
ONLY hired men to shoot for her O magazine covers.
At Time Magazine, during that same period, only 7 of 59 covers of celebrities, were assigned to women.
So why should we all care?
Because those who are paid to create the images that shape our culture have real power.
Here’s a dirty little secret about what photographers do:
We make image propaganda!
Commercial Photographers direct, pose, frame, and edit one image out of hundreds or even thousands. We choose the casting, wardrobe hair and makeup, and click the shutter capturing exactly the 1/500th of a second of an already idealized moment which we decide is best.
Each subtle decision effects how powerful the picture is. It’s how we get you to see movies, buy products and believe the messaging and it’s manipulation.
So what happens when our views of the world are shaped by only a male lens?
Obviously, then — we are only getting the perspective, and biases of half the population.
Since almost every image we are surrounded by has been filtered through a man’s eyes, a man’s mind.
Let that sink in.
And just as importantly, this is discrimination that most don’t realize.
Because the idea that women are being so heavily discriminated against in a creative industry feels so retro and illogical.
Something’s amiss when those TV NETWORKS FOR WOMEN- you know which one’s I’m talking about —
Entertainment Advertising Shoots
only hire men to shoot the advertising- despite many talented women being available.
Movie Studios, Cable Networks and Streaming Networks too —
pass over the women photographers for these big prestigious and lucrative ad jobs.
And the same thing goes with the consumer advertising campaigns.
And yet it’s women who make 85 percent of all purchases. We are the deciders.
We primarily choose what car to buy and what movie to see and yet men are shooting the marketing for almost all of that
It’s no wonder that 91 percent of women say that advertisers don’t understand them.
We must blow up and reimagine those outdated stereotypes, stereotypes which were established to make the advertising agency’s job simpler.
A few years ago I created these Glass Ceiling photographs to highlight the absurdity of it all — professional synchronized swimmers — ATHLETES — in heels, the heels they wear for work… corsets may be gone — but the glass ceiling persists in the form of so many biases.
So how do we bust through these barriers? How do we ensure that the images we see, the propaganda that’s created — is diverse and doesn’t exclude more than half of the planet?
We make sure women are taking half the pictures.
So, in January of this year, I launched the site AlreadyMade.
It’s a list of vetted and capable female photographers who shoot advertising, magazine covers and movie and TV key art.
There are no more excuses for not being able to find talented female photographers — Here’s a list!
Times Up on gender discrimination, inequity, and condescension,
It’s not enough to have a panel or a hashtag-
now is the time to take back the gaze, to take back the workplace, and to take back the cultural narrative from men who have controlled it for hundreds of years-
giving female photographers the ability to make a living and manipulate you, just like men.