Women photographers are fortunate. Unlike other titles, photographer has no gender. Women photographers don't have to force stilted language like "flight attendant" instead of "stewardess," or "letter carrier" instead of "mailman." "Photographer" doesn't have the historical male/female titles such as "author" and "authoress," or "actor" vs. "actress." Women photographers may not even have to battle the associated gender that "doctors" or "nurses" do. Did you know that bank tellers always were men up until WWII because it was thought that women couldn't handle money?
So when you visualize a photographer, is it a man or woman? It probably depends on your most recent contact with one. But when you look at a photograph, can you tell whether it was taken by a man or a woman? Probably not. So, at least on one side of the lens, it doesn't make a difference that the photographer is a woman.
So why is it important to talk about women and photography? Because, according to a recent study conducted at the University of California at Irvine, women's brains are different than men's.
The study found that women have more "white matter" than men. White matter handles the connections of the brain's processing centers. Men, on the other hand, have more "gray matter" than women. Gray matter controls the information processing centers in the brain. According to Rex Jung, a neuropsychologist and co-author of the study, "this may help to explain why men tend to excel in tasks requiring more local processing (like mathematics), while women tend to excel at integrating and assimilating information from distributed gray-matter regions in the brain, such as required for language facility." Although different, the study found that both types of brain designs are "capable of producing equivalent intellectual performance." http://today.uci.edu/news/release_detail.asp?key=1261
It therefore makes sense that when women think and learn about photography, and even when they take photos, their approach is different than men's. What should women photographers do, then, with this information?
First, women should acknowledge and celebrate their differences. There is no right way to approach photography, as long as it works for you. Don't try to imitate male photographers, and certainly don't be uncomfortable with how you shoot. Second, study the work of women photographers who were pioneers, such as Imogen Cunningham and Dorothea Lange, as well as current women photographers such as Linde Waidhofer, Lisl Dennis and Joyce Tenneson. They may have created easier paths for you to follow.
Most important, you should look for support as a woman photographer. There are organizations that specifically serve the needs of women photographers. A primary example is "Women in Photography International." Its mission is to promote the visibility of women photographers and their work through a variety of programs, exhibitions, juried competitions and publications.
Seek programs like that provided by the Professional Photographers of America ("P.P.A."). It held its 2nd annual "Women in Photography Retreat" this past August. The purpose of the event was to "embark on an exciting journey of self-discovery . . . to forge new friendships, cultivate your strengths, and shape strategies for your personal, professional and creative development in a relaxing, stress free resort."
You also should evaluate your situation. Does your local camera club involve you as a woman photographer? Do you get the support you need from your friends and family? You may have to make some careful choices about your associates if they don't encourage your art.
Likewise, you should examine whether you are getting the photography instruction that you need. It doesn't have to come from a woman for it to help you. Choose photography workshops that offer the opportunity to share the passion and inspiration with all photographic artists in a welcoming environment.
Finally, you should use your female advantage in photography. There are the obvious areas. You can be in the bride's dressing room and you can make a connection with the crying baby. There are the less obvious items, too. You can "communicate" with the person who speaks a different language, connect with the wild animal or see the unique lines of the landscapes. Let your vision expand to its fullest, female state.
This is not to suggest that you become a ranting feminist photographer. The art of photography is to be cherished and appreciated, regardless of whether it is done by a woman or a man. The point is that photography has no gender. As a photographer, you should create superb images of enduring quality. The viewer won't care who it came from. Don't let any artificial designations get in your way. But you also should acknowledge, celebrate, explore and nourish your difference. You may be pleased with what you discover.
Copyright 2005 Carolyn E. Wright
--- ABOUT THE AUTHOR ---
Carolyn Wright is a professional photographer with an active portrait, event and nature photography business. Shooting for 25 years, her award-winning images have been used in books and corporate marketing materials. Her wildlife photos will be included in the upcoming book, "Captivating Wildlife - Images from the Top Ten Emerging Wildlife Photographers" by Scott Bourne and David Middleton. She also is working with Scott Bourne on "Wolfscapes," a photo book documenting the beauty and strength of wolves. Her wildlife images can be viewed at http://www.vividwildlife.com..
On the faculty of Olympic Mountain School of Photography, Carolyn's passion is enhanced when teaching photography. She enjoys writing and speaking on the subject, as well, and is a regular columnist for PhotoFocus, an online magazine for serious photographers.