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9 Conversation Starters for Photographers on International Women's Day

Handy Questions for Image Makers: #PressforProgress

Happy International Women's Day! The theme this year is #PressforProgress.

Here at Envato, we know that our business thrives when we champion diversity and inclusion—we make better decisions, we’re stronger and happier, and it’s the right thing to do. Through our work, we seek to create a welcoming, respectful, and supportive global community. 

In this article we introduce a few questions photographers (and people who love photography) can use to get the conversation started about International Women's Day and gender equity. Here's our jumping-off point:

Now, more than ever, there's a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity. There's a strong call to #PressforProgress motivating and uniting friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.
Portrait of a woman in a business meeting
Candid portrait of a woman in a business meeting from Envato Elements.

1. "Can we have more women in this picture?"

You'd think, with all the images of women in the world, that getting women into the picture wouldn't be a problem. In reality, women are visually underrepresented and typecast in all kinds of subtle but important ways. The next time you photograph a corporate board, annual report, or ad campaign, ask: can we have more women in this picture?

2. "How does she want to portray herself?"

In your mind, is she a woman or a girl? Going through stock photos for this article, I found too many pictures in our own catalog labeled as "girls"—"girls" holding a camera, "girls" at work, "girls" on the town, girls girls girls.

Portrait, sports, and wedding photographers know that people are unique and intricately varied individuals. When you take a picture of a person you photograph that person, not their gender expression.

So how does the woman (or girl) you are photographing want to represent herself? Ask! Photographers have to exercise some creative discretion, that's a big part of what we do, but we also need to take consideration and be creative about how we interpret people. Photographing a person is deeply intimate. Seek to understand, and respect how people see themselves and wish to be seen.

How does she want people to see her?

woman wearing a white lab coat inspects plants in a greenhouse
Woman working, inspecting plants in a greenhouse, from Envato Elements.

3. "Can we ask a woman to photograph this?"

This too is not complicated: hire women for photography jobs. Start today.

Here's an example from my own photographic community:

Aargh.

Hire as many women as you do men, or more. Hiring women creates opportunities for representation, imagination, insight, and communication. Don't wait!

4. "Can we hire a woman to work with us?"

Maybe you already hire women to photograph for you. Great! Now can you hire one to join your team? The next time you grow, add a woman to your organization.

5. "Can we pay her more?"

Pay women as much as possible. Women are underpaid in just about every part of every industry everywhere in the world, so try, when you can, to pay women as much as you can afford. Paying more raises the baseline for what is acceptable pay:

“If my male co-star, who has a higher quote than me but believes we are equal, takes a pay cut so that I can match him, that changes my quote in the future and changes my life.”—Emma Stone in Out Magazine

Not everyone has this flexibility. At a minimum, pay women photographers as much as the men you hire. Do not make any sort of a big deal about it.

6. "Can we have more women on our team?"

Tell everyone that you care about building an inclusive community and a fair industry. Tell them you want more women on your team. I do!

7. "Can we put her in charge?"

Yes, you can.

Woman holding her face with her hands in an office
Photo from Envato Elements.

8. "Why doesn't this woman have a head?"

This one really drives me crazy!

Violence against women is everywhere in visual culture: advertising, art, video games, TV, movies, and magazines all trade in images of women in real or stylized states of violence to move content and sell more ads. You really don't have to look far to see disturbing depictions of violence against women.

Take cropping into a woman's body, for example, to make a more graphic image. This is a very powerful photographic statement. This rude abstraction suggests, visually, cutting off toes, fingers, foreheads (or whole heads), and limbs. Why go there? It's so needless. Just make better photographs, ones that aren't about hurting or killing women. Abstraction, especially abstraction of a person, is only worthwhile when it is absolutely needed to create an interesting result. Otherwise, no!

An alternative way to ask this question is: why is this woman in this picture? Is the photographer using her image out of context?

Woman holding a camera up to her eye
Woman photographing, from Envato Elements.

9. "Did a woman take this photo?"

When you look at pictures, think: "Did a woman make this photo?" Then look beyond the pictures. Take an interest in projects, stories, careers, and people. Find women you like, whose photography means something to you, and share their work. Buy their books. Tell everyone how good their work is, how important it is, how much pleasure it brings you, how happy you are to have found it, found them.

Yeah, you might have some hard realizations. You'll probably have to change your understanding of reality and where you fit. Who you think you are will shift. Isn't that what being a photographer is about, though? We're the ones who go beyond the normal to give people a new view of the world. Take a big dose of your own medicine.

See your world differently.

Transcend Gender

Gender is a constantly changing cultural construct; our gender ideals and social expressions morph all the time! And gender expression is very different from place to place on this earth. But while gender ideas probably aren't leaving human culture anytime soon—they're baked right into many languages—things are obviously changing (my hunch is that it's The Internet, of course).

It's time to think practically as artists about how we create images of people, the responsibility inherent in that, and about how to move beyond the gender binary in an everyday way. Publicly and privately, we are beginning to accept and become more flexible about how people present themselves to the world. So must photographers.

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