No Longer Seeing the World Through Men’s Eyes
The first Women Photograph grants to support personal projects by female visual journalists have been presented to Alex Potter, Lujan Agusti, Gabriella Demczuk and Néha Hirve. Women Photograph, a new organization, aims to help women gain opportunities in an industry that has historically been dominated by white men and has been rife with sexism.
Most new photography grants or awards are announced with great fanfare promising long-term impact. But if Women Photograph succeeds in helping visual storytellers, there may eventually be no need for it, said Daniella Zalcman, a freelance photographer who founded the group.
“In some perfect world of the future, half of working photojournalists will be women and there will not need to be grants for photographers of color or female photographers,” she said. “But right now, as we work to level the playing field, we absolutely need to create intentional opportunities to address the huge imbalances in the photojournalism community.”
The group’s website and database features 550 female and female-identifying photographers from 87 countries who are available for editorial assignments and have more than five years of professional experience. They have been advocating for more jobs and editorial assignments for women photographers from leading publications, and its private Facebook group has become a forum to exchange professional tips and occasionally to discuss instances of sexual harassment and gender bias.
The top grant, to acknowledge an established female photojournalist, went to Ms. Potter to help fund a four-week trip to cover conflict in the Middle East. She will focus on “the daily lives of families from every strata of society,” she said. Ms. Potter, an American who is also a nurse, works extensively in the Middle East and will receive $5,000 to collaborate with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting on her continuing coverage.
The Pulitzer center and ONA, a camera bag manufacturer, provides support for the awards. Three grants of $2,500 each went to emerging photographers.
Ms. Agusti, an Argentine photographer, will use her award to continue her project on Mexico’s clowns who come out for festivities celebrating saints and holy days. The clown figures harken back to the earliest days of the Spanish conquerors and are a result of a syncretic mix of Catholic and pre-Columbian indigenous beliefs. The project’s first chapter was published on Lens.
Ms. Demczuk was awarded an emerging grant for a proposed project to explore the effects of a new Texas law that will outlaw sanctuary cities and require local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, permitting them to investigate a detained person’s immigration status. Ms. Demczuk is based in Washington, D.C., and works frequently for The New York Times.
Ms. Hirve, an Indian photographer based in Sweden, will explore the environmental impact of a collective near Auroville, India, that is restoring a tropical dry evergreen forest. She has a B.F.A. in film from New York University and is pursuing a master’s degree in photojournalism in Sweden.
There are many more women photojournalists than 30 years ago, women are now the majority of the photography program graduates in the leading journalism schools in the United States, and most of the top photo editors at the large publications are women. Still, Ms. Zalcman said the best assignments continue to go overwhelmingly to men.
Ms. Zalcman and her volunteer team have been collecting data about the gender breakdown of the photographers in the best-of-year roundups as well as the front page photos and covers of major Western newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Le Monde, Time, the Atlantic and National Geographic. The results indicate that between 75 and 95 percent of the most important photos that readers see are taken by men.
These figures do not mean that photographs are being chosen because they were taken by men, but do suggest, she said, that women are not getting many of the big assignments from wire services, newspapers or magazines, and that there are still glaring gender disparities in the industry.
She said the obstacles female photographers face are complex, 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.
The dearth of opportunities for women, she said, means that “readers in the U.S. are essentially seeing the world through the eyes of men.”
Follow @womenphotograph, @dzalcman, @alexkpotter, @gdemczuk, @JamesEstrin and @nytimesphoto on Twitter. Alex Potter, Lujan Agusti, Gabriella Demczuk and Néha Hirve are on Instagram. James Estrin is also on Instagram. You can also find Lens on Facebook and Instagram.