Nikon gaffe shines light on ‘industry sexism’

Nikon has been accused of ‘not valuing women in photography‘ after it assigned 32 men, and not a single female, to promote the D850 in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

The cross-continental campaign included local ambassadors Rocco Ancora and Mark Watson.

A series of marketing photos were published online, showing 32 Nikon ambassadors gathered in Japan to test the camera.

Nikon’s campaign organisers have been criticised for not including any women, effectively alienating female customers.

An article in The Guardian, written by Evelyn Hockstein, vice president of Women Photojournalists of Washington, asked how this omission was not obvious to Nikon

‘The image Nikon used to promote its new camera shows that companies still don’t value women in photography, and that professional photography remains a boys’ club,’ she wrote. ‘As one photography blog snarked: was the camera made specifically for men?’

Nikon Asia responded via Twitter saying ‘unfortunately, the female photographers we had invited for this meet were unable to attend, and we acknowledge we have not put enough of a focus in this area’.

In Australia, all seven Nikon ambassadors are men – so it’s unlikely any female Australian Nikon photographers were invited.

Robyn Hills, an award-winning AIPP grand master photographer, told ProCounter it was ‘disappointing that in 2017 we are still having to have this awkward conversation’.

‘Males and females often bring different sets of skills to the table. Neither is good nor bad, just different,’ she said. ‘(It’s necessary) in recognising the need for diversity and a good representation to give a voice to all, to embrace the industry.  It perhaps “appeared” that the launch was saying “only these men have the skills to make it to this page”.  That is why the females got upset.  I know that Nikon do actually run “woman-only” workshops, which is kind of funny as a reverse bias!’

Award-winning commercial photographer, Lisa Saad, made this graphic in response to the Nikon D850 photo.

While Nikon is in the firing line, it’s not the only camera company favouring men over women to market products.

Sony Australia’s Digital Imaging Ambassadors is made up of five male photographers.

The Canon Australia Master program has more diversity. It’s roughly 20 percent female, including Kelly Brown, Jackie Ranken, and Krystle Wright among the 14 Master photographers, as of 2016.

Fujifilm Global X-series ambassador program has over 100 photographers, a fraction whom are women.

However, Hills (pictured right) points out that industry events have a ‘good mix’ of gender, and camera companies sponsor and support these events.

In 1997 Hills won the AIPP Professional Photographer of the Year award – the first female to win it, and when the industry was male-dominated.

Back then she had to fight harder to receive recognition for her skills. In the early days of her career, she was knocked back from a cadetship because she would eventually ‘get married, have kids’, and leave the job. The industry has come a long way since then.

The Boys’ Club
Professional photography has historically been ‘a boys’ club’ – as Hockstein puts it. In some area this remains the case.

The 2015 State of the News Photography global study, commissioned by World Press Photo with Oxford University, had 85 percent male participants.

The study found that the female respondents were less likely to be hired by large media companies, with seven percent struggling to be employed against 22 percent of males. David Campbell, an author of State of the News, said these findings came as no surprise – ‘we know it is fairly consistent with previous internal analysis of contest entrants’.

A recent in-depth Photo District News research article, Sexism in the photo industry: can’t we do better?, explores how females are marginalised in photojournalism.

The article features several accounts from US female photojournalists who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace; have been considered a liability in the field because of their gender; or have had there expertise and professionalism questioned.

A female-dominated industry?
But it appears there’s more female Australian professional photographers than male.

‘The majority of AIPP members are now female, and are operating on a part-time – not full-time – basis. The vast majority who have joined in the last five years, about 60 to 70 percent, are young female part-time photographers. It’s a different demographic than what it was 10 years ago,’ Peter Myers, AIPP executive officer, told ProCounter earlier this year.

‘Some younger men are also coming through, but not at the same rate as young women. So this is a shift in the focus of what the profession is… It’s a different world.’

The last two AIPP Australian Professional Photographers of the Year, portrait photographer Keren Dobia and commercial photographer Lisa Saad, are female.

The Institute recently promoted Refocus Retreat, a three-day speaker event run by AIPP members in Marysville, Victoria ‘for women in the business for photography’. It had an all-female speaker lineup, covering weddings, portraits, newborn, landscape, art, business, and marketing. The major sponsor was none other than Nikon.

Around 55 percent of AIPP members are female, and this number is expected to grow. The AIPP ‘visibly and obviously supports and recognises female photographers’ – four state council presidents, three board members, and 75 percent of National Office staff are female.

‘We know that Nikon and our other partners from within “our industry” feel the same way, regardless of current perceptions.’

Hills, who has been with the industry through great social and technological change during the last 20 years, said there isn’t a stereotypical photographer any more.

‘I suspect the whole industry is struggling to identify who or what a ‘photographer’ is these days. Is it the ‘fly-in-fly-out’ miner, who has lots of disposable income and can afford expensive camera equipment to take photos on their home shift? Or is it the mum who loves taking photos of her kids, and ends up taking portraits at day care for all the families?  Both of these are the “new” face of photography.

‘Most photographers these days are specialised and are creating new categories. Birth and newborn is the biggest growth area in the photography industry.  These areas are very much female dominant photographers.’

Baby photography booms
Baby photography – which covers pregnancy, maternity, and newborn genres – is an almost entirely female genre. The photographers are women and the clients are mothers.

The Baby Summit, an annual event organised by photographer Kelly Brown and sponsored by Canon, has become one of the largest and most successful in the photo industry.

The 2017 Baby Summit speaker lineup is almost at opposite ends to the D850 promo photo.

The 2017 three-day event held in Queensland had 30 speakers, only four of whom were men.

While the male-dominated industry of yesteryear still has a presence in professional photography, in areas like photojournalism and with the D850 promo photo, the reality is the Australian photo industry is gender diverse.

And it looks like enlisting 32 men to sell a camera won’t work any more.

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