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Women photojournalists call for action to tackle 'damaging' under-representation in news industry

A group of female photojournalists are calling for more to be done to increase the representation of women in press photography.

It comes as ten out of 110 photographs (9.3 per cent) in a British Press Photographers’ Association exhibition showcasing “the best of British press photography” from the past year were taken by women.

Freelance photographers Suzanne Plunkett, Anna Gordon and Susannah Ireland, part of a group calling themselves the Women Photographers of the UK, have called on the BPPA to do more to tackle what they described as a “shocking gender bias” in its latest exhibition: Assignments.

Assignments was on show in London earlier this month and will run from July to August at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent.

In an open letter to the BPPA, Plunkett, Gordon and Ireland said the gender imbalance in the work on show suggested the BPPA does not care about the “under-representation of women photographers”.

They added it had also “thrown into sharp relief the industry’s reluctance to acknowledge that there is a problem” which is “damaging to the BPPA and to our industry as a whole”.

However, in its response the BPPA revealed that the percentage of photos by women in the exhibition, chosen blind by both male and female curators, was roughly in line with its percentage of female members – 12.5 per cent.

Some 161 photographers entered images for the exhibition of whom 18, or 11.2 per cent, were women. Out of the 1,351 photos entered into the competition in total, women’s entries made up 11 per cent.

Lynne Cameron, vice chair of the BPPA, added in her reply to the open letter that the association was “very aware of the issues” around the representation of women in the photojournalism inudstry.

She added: “The issue of gender imbalance is a complex one, not just related to photography but to wider society. The association is proactively working to improve such imbalances.”

Cameron told Press Gazette the organisation “would love” to increase the proportion of women in its membership and that although they “can’t make people join” they are taking steps to spread the word and get more women signing up.

Men dominate photojournalism industry

The World Press Photo’s 2018 State of News Photography survey found that more than 80 per cent of participating photographers were men.

Two thirds (68 per cent) of the survey’s female respondents said they have experienced discrimination at work. They considered sexism within the industry (54 per cent), a lack of opportunities for women (49 per cent) and social and family expectations (42 per cent) as the main barriers to their work.

Asked what challenges face female photographers at work, Cameron said: “It’s just things like being ignored in press rooms. It’s very male dominated.” But, she added: “I think it’s important that we move on and not dwell on the past. It has been difficult.”

Tabatha Fireman started Female Perspective, a photo agency specifically for women photographers, in January. She told Press Gazette: “A female’s perspective is different to that of a male’s. Not better or worse just different.

“So why is it that 80 per cent of the images that we view in today’s news and media are shot by male photographers?

“When asked why commissioning editors were engaging so few female photographers, the response was that without internet searching individuals, they are not easy to find.”

On challenges faced by women in the news industry, Fireman said: “Having worked as one myself for over 20 years now, I can imagine that many female photographers would be put off after feeling somewhat ‘bullied’ by the large male dominated photographer packs that generally attend photo calls for example.

“Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of really lovely male photographers out there, but some of the others need to learn some manners.

“Then there’s the issue of being sent to the bottom of the list when your commitments as a mother means you aren’t able to say yes to a job instantly.

“Having worked in the offices of various agencies before I can see why this happens. It can often be so busy and staff just don’t have the time to wait around, they need a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ and they need it now. I totally understand that but feel that a bit more understanding of the circumstances might help.”

‘Everyone has to make the effort’

Plunkett, Gordon and Ireland have called on the BPPA to look at how the World Press Photo competition increased its female entrants from 15 to 30 per cent to see if it can achieve a similar feat.

They also want it to openly publish full statistics on its female members and exhibition entrants, and introduce more diverse categories for its exhibitions.

Finally they asked that the organisation create a “safe space” to voice criticism of the issue after a backlash to their letter, and that it adds a clause to its code of conduct stating that “sexism, racism and any prejudicial behaviour will not be tolerated”.

Cameron told Press Gazette the BBPA has funding in place for two projects to take place early next year – one to coincide with International Women’s Day in March and the other to help women get into sports photography.

She said she often goes into universities to talk to students about how to make it in photojournalism,  adding: “Journalism in general has had a real push [on gender diversity] and done really well in increasing its numbers and I think photography is the next area that we really need to work on.

“I would like to reassure our members and also the wider photographic community that this is something that we are very aware of and are working on.”

Fireman told Press Gazette she does not believe there should be a forced 50/50 gender quota, adding: “I don’t believe that a female photographer’s image should be picked over a male photographer’s image, for an exhibition or in a competition, just to address the gender balance.

“It would be incredible if the gender balance could improve organically but in reality that’s not going to happen quick enough so everyone has to make the effort.

“I think large organisations like the BPPA and the NUJ are all starting to make an effort and it is fantastic to see that females are at last being elected onto the boards of such organisations.”

She added that she wants to see more promotion of female photographers, more opportunities for them to be involved in and more active awareness of the situation for commissioning editors.

“There are a lot of great things happening at the moment to embrace this issue,” Fireman added. “Onwards and upwards.”

Picture: JEShoots.com/Pexels

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