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Highlighting Women in Photojournalism

Started by Md. Anikuzzaman, May 19, 2018, 09:40:03 AM

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Md. Anikuzzaman

In 1973, Sara Krulwich visited 29 newspapers, looking for a job after graduating from the University of Michigan. She met with male photo editors who mostly scoffed at the idea of a woman as a news photographer. One editor, she said, told her that hiring a woman was like "hiring half a person."

When finally she did land a temporary job at the Providence Journal, an editor cornered her in the darkroom and tried to kiss her, she recounts.

Ms. Krulwich was hired by The New York Times in 1979, a year after the settlement of a suit by women employees over sex discrimination in hiring, pay and promotion. She was among the first female staff photographers, and she recalls facing rampant sexism from many of her colleagues. Minority photographers also "had a very hard time," she added. These difficulties, she said, lasted until Carolyn Lee became the first woman to lead the department in 1984.

Ms. Krulwich's experiences were not unusual for female photojournalists of her generation. When she started, photo editors were almost all white men. While there have always been women who did important work despite widespread gender discrimination and sexual harassment, the field didn't really begin to change until the 1970s and '80s. And change did not always come easy. Only in 1973 was the first female photographer, Joyce Dopkeen, hired at The Times. Currently, there are four women photographers out of a staff of 13.

Today, women make up the majority of students in undergraduate and graduate photojournalism programs. The top photo editors of National Geographic, Time, The Washington Post, The New York Times and many other American publications are female, as are many if not most of their subordinates. There are, by most accounts, a large number of outstanding young female photographers doing excellent work, leading the way to new directions in storytelling and engagement.

Despite these gains, there are still very few women working on assignment for the major international wire services. Over the last five years, women have consistently accounted for about 15 percent of the entries to the prestigious World Press Photo awards, according to statistics provided by the organization. And the vast majority of photos in many major publications' collections of the most significant images of 2016 overwhelmingly carried male photographer's credits — ranging between 80 and 100 percent, a Times review shows.

These figures do not necessarily represent bias in choosing the best end-of-year photos, said Daniella Zalcman, a freelance photographer who juggles assignments while pursuing long-term projects. What they do suggest, she said, is that women are not getting many of the most important assignments from the wire services, newspapers or magazines, and that there are still telling gender disparities in the industry.

The issues that female photographers face are complex, she said, but include gender prejudice, hiring practices, a possible confidence gap between men and women, strains on personal lives, sexual harassment and a general decline in the media industry.

In response to these challenges — and to some photo editors who say they have problems finding qualified and experienced female photographers in certain locations and for certain types of assignments — Ms. Zalcman has created a database of women photojournalists with five or more years of editorial experience. Today, she is launching a website, "Women Photograph," where the work of 400 women from 67 countries can be seen.

She doesn't think the list will solve gender issues in photojournalism, but she hopes it can show editors that there's "not a shortage of women photographers, just a lack of equitable hiring."

Lynsey Addario has been working as a photojournalist for more than 20 years, including for The New York Times. She has often worked in dangerous situations and was captured and held in Libya by pro-Qaddafi forces for six days in 2011 along with Times journalists Anthony Shadid, Stephen Farrell and Tyler Hicks.

"I can't believe we're still having this conversation," she said. "There's no secret there are fewer women than men in this profession, but there are amazing women in this profession, and I think the editors need to recognize them and give them good stories that they would excel at and give them a chance to have their work published."

There are more women photographers working in the United States than when she started her career, she said, but there are still too few covering international news. Moreover, conditions have gotten much more dangerous on the front lines in the Middle East.

"It's extremely difficult for both men and women photojournalists working internationally in dangerous situations to juggle having a personal life with their work," she said. "But, as the mother of a son, I think for a woman, it's even harder."

The romanticized ideal of a photojournalist has been a rugged white man with a scarf around his neck and "a 3.5 on the electric razor," she said. "Our job is to challenge that view and put more and more women into the field if they want to be there."

More female photographers are working in Africa, the Middle East, India and Asia than five years ago, offering different views of their regions. Often they face discrimination and dismissal by men.

Eman Helal faced gender discrimination early in her career while working for newspapers in Egypt and has, like many women, been harassed on the streets of Cairo. Her biggest problem today, she said, is that Western photo editors prefer sending American and European photojournalists to cover Egypt and Middle East, instead of giving local photographers like her the chance to work.

One upside: There are situations when a woman in the region has access men do not. Kiana Hayeri mostly does stories in Muslim countries, particularly in Afghanistan and Iran, where she is now living. Though she has encountered pushback from men while in the field, she said she often gets hired because, as a female, she has "better access to women than men in this region do."

While teaching workshops and classes, Sim Chi Yin has seen a surge of young, female Asian photographers who look to her as a mentor. Many of them have to struggle to be taken seriously, because of prejudices against both gender and age, particularly in China.

At times Ms. Sim said, she has gotten an assignment because of her gender as well as her knowledge of the region. She joined the VII photo agency two years ago when they were looking to expand their gender and regional representation. But being a woman has at times been a "double-edged sword" in her career, she said, because "you want to be known as a good photographer on your own merits, not just because you're a woman. Or in my case because you're Asian."

The industry is at a point where women who have risen to the top of the editing — and assigning — ranks are looking to make a difference. Sarah Leen's career as a photographer started in 1979, when she became the first woman to win the College Photographer of the Year award from the National Press Photographer's Association and interned at National Geographic. After several staff newspaper jobs, she became a freelancer and did 14 stories for National Geographic, where now she is the first female director of photography.

She is devoted to helping young women break into the ranks of the still predominantly male roster of regulars at the magazine, she said. But she struggles to find women with the experience and expertise in wildlife and scientific assignments that are the magazine's bread and butter. These skills are often learned by assisting photographers on assignment, so she is now encouraging her shooters to hire female assistants.

In portfolio reviews and meetings with photographers, Ms. Leen has noticed that many young women seem to be more focused than men on "humanistic" in-depth photo essays, often on social issues. Those stories resonate with Ms. Leen. But Natalie Keyssar, a freelance photographer based in New York, worried that women are often "pigeon-holed as photographing woman's stories." She likes to cover breaking news too, she said, and thinks "there needs to be gender parity, because we all are different and we need different perspectives, not because we need women to be ambassadors to women, necessarily."

Photojournalism is a competitive business, Ms. Keyssar said, and among the many causes she cited for gender disparity in the industry is "a confidence gap" between young women and men. "I don't think we do enough to teach young girls to stand up straight and say 'I deserve this job, and I'm the best person for the job,'" she said. At portfolio reviews, she often tells younger women to not apologize for their work because the young man before her didn't.

For Malin Fezehai, a New York-based freelancer of Eritrean and Swedish heritage, success often comes from networking and can be a result of connections. People who work in the media "tend to come from a particular background and class," she said. "They know other people who have the same kind of background, and those are the people they are going to bring in."

The challenges for black and Hispanic women in photojournalism are even greater, said Akili-Casundria Ramsess, the executive director of the N.P.P.A.

"I literally know every black woman photojournalist in the United States, and I can count them on both hands," said Ms. Ramsess, who started out as a staff photographer at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner in 1986, and later became one of the few black female directors of photography when she was hired by the Orlando Sentinel in Florida.

The news industry has been in "triage mode for the last decade" as thousands of jobs have been lost, Ms. Ramsess said. Unfortunately, that can put diversity concerns on a back burner, leaving newsrooms to suffer journalistically in lacking women and minorities.

Newspapers and the wire services have traditionally been the training ground for those who make it to the highest levels of photojournalism. With fewer jobs allowing for shooting every day, there is less opportunity to sharpen skills, making it more difficult to advance a career. The lack of new hiring makes it difficult to increase diversity, Ms. Ramsess said.

Maggie Steber became the first female photo editor in the New York bureau of The Associated Press in 1973, and has been photographing internationally for over 35 years. She is known for her teaching and mentoring, particularly of women.

Ms. Steber's mother was a scientist who raised her daughter alone, teaching her daughter to "hold my head up high, work hard, be honest and kind and never feel diminished by anyone, man or woman," she said. "And I've tried to live by those rules, which is probably why I have no patience in being described as a woman photographer."

"Clearly I'm a woman," she continued, "But I think of myself as a photographer who just happens to be a woman. How my gender shapes my views is important and cannot be denied, but I just feel like it's stating the obvious and sets women up in a male-dominated business, still to this day, as 'them and us.'

"It's just not how I see myself," she added. "I'm a photographer."

When Michele McNally, the assistant managing editor for photography at The Times, started in the business in 1978, the field was dominated by men, and the gender disparity was often discussed only among the few women. These days, most of the photo editors at The Times are women, and the industry discussion focuses on women photographers.

"Yes, we're still having the same conversation," she said. "But the fact is, these conversations have to happen."