Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Women in Photography

I suppose I've seen many of these pieces over the years, but a couple came across my personal radar screen in the last few months. Like all "women in whatever" pieces, they seem to come in two flavors:
  • Wow, look at the great progress the girls are making!
  • It is super-duper hard and women are under represented in the best parts and that sucks.

which is all very well. Mostly the two flavors are mostly true. The first is often unintentionally condescending, and the second is usually an excuse to rage quietly against unnamed forces, probably men. Be that as it may, there is truth here and it's worth not only trotting these pieces out from time to time, but, you know, actually doing things as individuals to make things better.

This isn't what I want to talk about.

Here's an interesting thing about photography, which gets left out every single time:

Throughout the history of photography, there has hardly ever been a time when one could not make a strong argument that the greatest working photographer is a woman. Cameron, Arbus, Cunningham, Lange, Bourke-White, Leibovitz, Mann, Sherman, and I am surely leaving dozens of top-end photographers out. I've got a gap in the 60s, I guess, roughly, but I am confident that there are plenty of candidates to fill it.

I'm certainly not saying that Arbus was the greatest photographer of her generation, I have no particular opinion on that. What I am saying is that you could, without looking like an idiot, say "Diane Arbus is the best working photographer right now" at various points of history.

It is interesting that, in the amateur end of things, it's pretty much all men. Always has been. (side note: the phone camera has arguably changed this balance radically). I don't know, but suspect, that in the population of working photographers, the portrait studio guys, the PJs, and so on, it's been largely men (again, with the rise of Lifestyle Photography, this balance seems also to have shifted). But at the very tippy top, the best of the best, it's always been more women than you'd expect. Get into the top 10, and you'll probably find one or two women. Try to pick the top three, and a lot of people are probably still including a woman.

This doesn't rebut anything, this doesn't mean that women are perfectly well represented, blah blah blah. It's just a remark that seems to get left out of the discussion. I like to think that perhaps it adds a dimension or something.

I do think there's something here about men loving gear and toys, but when you clear away the clutter of technical blather and get back to ideas, to art, to seeing strongly, women are more interested, participate more.

And from that perhaps it follows that the people working at the top echelons, those top ten influential photographers working Today (whenever Today is), are drawn from not from the gear-loving amateurs but perhaps from some other population. From that it follows, perhaps, that gear fetishists are more or less doomed to photographic irrelevance. But perhaps I am merely projecting my fondest hopes and dreams, here!

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