On Tuesday 13th November a large group of predominantly female professionals from the world of Photojournalism gathered in London for the very well attended “Women In focus”, hosted by Reuters and International Center of Photography at The Ned.
The event was focused on Photojournalism but for the sake of this piece I will refer throughout to Photography or “the Industry”.
During the opening introduction by Sir Harold Evans (Editor at Large, Reuters), to a backdrop of the above image (produced by Pulitzer Winning Reuters Photographer Hannah McKay, we were told this was biggest event focused on women in journalistic photography.
The opening remarks gave way to Session 1 where Daniella Zalcman of Women Photograph presented a number of statistics on the industry. She backed up the oft cited figure that 85% of photographers are male. She suggested that the Industry could not be telling a balanced story if 85% of the view presented is male, it is clear that women and men do see stories differently therefore unless there are more women, how can the presented view of the world be balanced.
Following a short presentation by Erin Barnett, Director of Exhibitions & Collections, International Center of Photography, we moved on to the first panel discussion of the day Gaining Access and Building Trust featuring photographer, filmmaker and writer Yumna Al-Arashi, Magnum Photographer and Fishbar co-founder Olivia Arthur, National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb and documentary photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind, moderated by Jo Webster, Managing Editor for Strategy & Operations, EMEA, Reuters.
One of the overriding threads of this discussion was not only access and trust, but also funding (its quite clear that only with funding can a photographer hope to access the area/people that they wish to focus on) and unless the images “fitted the mould” of possible funders, money would not be forthcoming. Anastasia commented that she saw ours as an elitist profession. With so many journalists being from Oxford or Cambridge her issue was not only were we required to navigate the gender divide but also the class divide. When it came to the points of gender and the slow reduction of “overt sexism” in the industry there were thoughts such as “why do we need the term Women Photographer?” is this term sexist in itself? and “Are you proud of being a women photographer?” which was answered by Jodi with “whats our alternative?”.
The session closed for a tea break with the sobering message:
“If we don’t change diversity behind the camera , photojournalism will die, it has to reflect the diversity of the audience.”
After tea, Session 2 started with Susan Meiselas presenting her project A room of their own. This followed on well from the previous session on gaining trust. Susan showed how she collaborated with the subjects, pasting the works on the wall as the project grew, demonstrating how the story might build on the published page, building trust and confidence with the (possibly fragile) subjects.
We then moved on to the next panel: Photography and social change. Jane Barrett, Global Head of Multimedia, Editorial, Reuters, moderated photographer and researcher, Magnum Photos, Sim Chi Yin, photographic artist, Diana Matar and Pulitzer-Prize-Winning photographer, Reuters (and BPPA Member), Hannah McKay.
During the session Hannah spoke about her first international assignment in Bangladesh and how she saw her camera as a symbol of hope to her subjects. Sim Chi Yin made us think about the unintended consequences that may occur on the subjects if a body of work goes viral whilst Diane showed/performed her project of work showing how the combination of spoken words with the still image can be very powerful.
During Diane’s “performance”, it was clear the huge amount of work that needs to go into collecting the information to create such a project. The words spoken did not only include the names of the victims (the images were of locations of police shootings) but also important statistics, making the story very personal and hard-hitting.
“Reach is not the same as impact” said Sim Chi Yin as the discussion evolved on to the always difficult position of when to be a human and when to be a photographer . Sim Chi Yin did intervene to help a family by raising money to help prolong a subjects life, which is considered a strong taboo in journalism. Consensus said – “surely we are humans first and photographers second” (and my thoughts: is it not our humanity that drives us as photojournalists). The dividing line however, is extremely challenging at times.
During lunch we were about to browse beautifully printed images created by many of the guest speakers.
The afternoon started with Pulitzer-Prize-Winning photojournalist and author Lynsey Addario in conversation with Alessandra Galloni. Speaking on her birthday, Lynsey talked about her stories of Afghanistan, she gave a heart wrenching story of maternal death in childbirth in Sierra Leone, (at this point the atmosphere in the room could be cut with a knife). She also told the harrowing story of her abduction (and expectation of death) from the front line in Libya. Before the floor was opened to questions, Lynsey discussed the idea of making a beautiful image in difficult/war situations. Our job as photographers is to bring the reader/viewer into the story. Difficult blood-stained images will not always achieve this. As she concluded “If you want to do this job, you have to give everything to it”.
Unusually and very usefully the event also included a panel of photo-editors offering a differing view on the issues of diversity. Moderated by John Pullman, Global Head of Video and Pictures, Reuters, the panel on Photo Editors and Mass Perception included multidisciplinary artist Alexandra Bell, Editor, North America Pictures, Reuters Corinne Perkins and Head of Photography, The Guardian Fiona Shields.
Alex creates works of art by turning existing front pages layouts of well known media (such as the New York Times) on its head with alternative page layouts to hi-light the prominence of how page layout affects the meaning, importance and slant of the days news. (An important lesson to us all here). Fiona talked about how The Guardian use wire services & contractors to try and even out their gender balance, driven by statistics including womenphotograph.com twitter feed. (I discussed this with her privately later as I am personally concerned that statistic use does not end up in tokenism).
The discussion made it clear that agencies and newspapers have a role in ensuring gender balance features well as race and religion in the balanced reporting of news.
Following a short tea break we returned to the final session of the day, kicked off by Research Curator of Photography, Imperial War Museums, Hilary Roberts. Focusing on the WW1, Hilary talked about some of the pioneering Women Photographers, hi-lighting that evening in WW1, women produced many important documents. She quoted a phrase used by one of these photographers that I am sure many of us have used a great many times “I’m working this out as I’m going along” (although my poor note taking means I cannot tell you who she was quoting).
We then moved on to the final panel of the day: Documenting Violence. The returning Lynsey Addario was joined by photographer Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi and Chief Photographer for Northwest Africa, Reuters, Zohra Bensemra. the panel was moderated by the BBC’s Special Correspondent, Razia Iqbal.
Again, humanity was the key ingredient to the discussion. In the British Industry we often discuss the rights of the photographer to take images in public when and where we want but here were war photographers talking about respecting the subjects and always asking permission even in the most stressful of situations such as death (of course, permission does not always need to be sought vocally). Emotion and feeling emotion when covering violence was also key point.
The day finished with a summation by Alessandra how more want to get into the industry and mention on the Reuters Scholarship for Visual Journalism with ICP’s Documentary Practice and Visual Journalism Program.
I will finish with the thought that “We are also human – not just photojournalists” and a quote from Zohra “The day I don’t feel anything is the day I stop taking pictures”
Julie Edwards for The BPPA.