I am a woman, and I was once a girl. I’ve been working in the photographic industry for all of my adult life, working as an assistant for many years in the advertising & editorial sectors, and building up to a freelance practitioner. Within that time I have become a mother, and along with his Dad, raised a child.
Everyone I worked for regularly as a Photographer’s assistant was a man. For years, I barely saw women working in photographic labs and all the couriers I can picture were men - for those who are too young to remember, London was once awash with couriers on bicycles transporting rolls of film, in various states across the city; to studios, labs, and clients in offices. They would gather at a roadside cafe, much like the way Deliveroo workers do now. I don’t recall ever seeing a female courier.
Another factor in any debate about the history of photography and who works/worked in it, is one of privilege. Without a doubt, when I was starting out, those with money or creative parents were at an advantage. Nowadays there are millions of photos taken every minute on smartphones, but the industry still relies heavily on expensive equipment and/or processing techniques to produce most of the work that is accepted by publications and galleries.
Apart from one panel member, I did not know any of the women very well. The photographic industry is huge, and depending on what you photograph and for whom, you’ll only know a certain number of people. I feel that the industry has become a friendlier place overall since the onset of digital, because it has become far more democratic, and you hear the word collaboration a lot more than was ever the case; when people clung onto clients and were very secretive about commissions.
The day before attending FIX Photo festival I had been to a talk given by award winning photographer, and thoroughly nice chap Tom Hunter at The Cass, London Metropolitan University. Tom talked about his illustrious career, which is still going strong.
As I sat in awe, listening to him regale his entry into photographic notoriety, it didn’t really cross my mind that Tom’s approach would most likely have been easier as a young, testosterone fuelled man. He was not scared to confront authority, or push his way into a situation to get the results he wanted.
Of course we could turn to the work of Nan Goldin to see a woman taking pictures in places that many people wouldn’t dare to tread. There have been, and always will be, exceptions to the case, but maybe we shouldn’t pluck these individuals out, as if to say ‘see, what are you worried about? etc. etc.’ It seems that sometimes the stereotypical character traits we align with either sex are so ingrained they do not get noticed. Maybe this is the point: we do need to talk, to sound this stuff out, so we can understand how we are where we are?
You can see why I had so much trouble articulating anything here. Once you start to debate a problem, it spreads into many tributaries, and everyone has their own experience of being a woman, or man: basing their findings on their own experience and knowledge base.