An Image of Inequality

28 Dec

Today, I did something.  Something important, because talking about the things that matter *is* one of the most important things we can do.

Normally I try to stay away from controversy, so I’ve been sitting on this for a while, trying to find the right words, or the right way to approach it.  But eventually, you have to just speak from your heart and hope it’s enough.  Problems don’t get better by ignoring them.  They don’t improve with silence.

Hopefully, after giving this a read, you’ll have a little more insight into how nuanced inequality, in it’s various forms, can be.  Hopefully, you’ll feel inspired to ask yourself, “What can I do?” and have some difficult conversations.

This article is published in an iOS friendly digital magazine, called Light & Landscape, and I *highly* encourage you all to read it there if you have an iPhone or iPad.  I recognize that not everyone does though, so for those of you without iOS, I’ve included the rough draft of the article here.  The final copy has a few changes, more pictures and abbrieviated brand stats, but the bulk of it is the same.  Again, if possible, please go to the magazine copy first!  The magazine owner will like that. 😉

Here ya go!

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We live in a divisive world. The air is tense. People are afraid. Facts are spun and cherry-picked. Issues are viewed as black or white, with nuances completely ignored. Charged words trigger people to outrage, which discourages conversation. The art of reasonable discourse is all but lost.

 

As I typed that, I imagined that being narrated during an opening scene of the Twilight Zone. I wish I had just described some fictional dystopian future.  I wish that were some alternate reality, in which discrimination, violence, anger and war could be turned off in an instant, by closing a book cover (remember those?) or changing the channel.

 

Unfortunately, these are real challenges our world faces. Most of the hot button issues around the world are multi-faceted, muddied by layers of culture, religion, fears, anger, power struggles, innate selfish or survival instincts, comfort zones and conditioned discrimination, to name a few. There are countless reasons for compromise to fail. How do you find common ground when chasm between sides – racism, LGBTQ rights, gun rights, religion, etc – is so vast? When both sides of any given issue are insulated, unwilling to listen to the other side, unwilling to sympathize, or more importantly, compromise?

 

How do you approach a difficult topic, in hopes of having a conversation? When the idea of broaching the topic of gender bias in photography came up, that is the question I asked myself.

 

And then it occurred to me. You solve problems by focusing on a solution.

 

So what would be an ideal scenario? A conversation where all sides are acknowledged? Mutual respect? Recognizing that gender bias and inequality, much like most issues of discrimination, are nuanced problems attributed to more than one cause? Recognizing that discrimination, even if it’s unintentional, will only improve if it’s worked on from all sides?

Most people I know are willing to admit that cultural expectations for women exist, and those expectations vary internationally. From there, it’s not a huge leap to see that those cultural lenses can affect people’s perceptions of a woman’s capabilities, motivations, and limitations. Then, take that one step further, and it’s easy to see how cultural expectations and norms can influence a woman’s access to opportunities.

I’m not much for cherry picked facts, but I do think we need to clearly illustrate the problem so I’m going to give examples based only on personal experiences I or some of the ladies I am close with have had, and some verifiable brand stats.

Let’s start with the idea that landscape photography involves not only the technical knowledge of photography – iso, aperture, time values, gear limitations and artifacts, techniques to compensate for those limitations, some knowledge of editing software, etc – but also requires a fair amount of physical effort to arrive at your locations lugging anywhere from 5 to 25lbs of gear and considerable investments into equipment, travel, and presentation of the final product. From start to finish, a landscape photograph generally involves a planning stage, a travel to location and capture stage, a post-processing stage, and then a presentation stage. I’ve been un-lucky enough to either hear of, or personally experience some negative gender-based interactions that would leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth during all of those stages.

One of the most rampant issues women run into may seem innocuous; patronizing comments and being talked down to.  When I was first planning this article, I was hesitant to include too many examples of this, because I am not interested in man-bashing.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I strongly believe that these sort of issues will only be resolved with an attitude of mutual respect.  However, a good (male, landscape photographer) friend David Pasillas said, “It would be easier for men, and some women that haven’t had any issues, to understand there’s a legitimate problem [with examples].”  I was also concerned that examples of being patronized and talked down to would be perceived by some as a non-issue.  David responded, “That’s part of the problem.  Talking down to implies they are less than.”

 

Accepting or dismissing patronizing comments perpetuates the idea of inferiority, rather than equality and respect.

Jill Sanders, a photographer out of California, owns her own gallery and her husband manages it for her.  People frequently come in and assume he is the photographer, despite the large Jill Sanders labels.  “When he points them in my direction, men have actually asked numerous times if I take these photos all by myself.  When I reply with an affirmative they state that I must have a great camera,” Jill explains.

Another landscape photographer, Melissa, recently took a trip out to Austin with her husband.  She has been shooting for over 12 years, and is experienced in wedding, portrait and landscape photography.  Her and her husband, a non-photographer, were visiting a waterfall, and she had her tripod set up to take some photos.  Another male photographer approached and Melissa tried to strike up a conversation.  The gentleman not only dismissed her, but said to her husband – who was holding Melissa’s large camera pack so it would be out of the way of traffic – that Melissa must not be up to the task of carrying her own gear.

 

Heck, even bringing up a conversation about the challenges our industry still faces garners negative, and dismissive comments.  Marie Gardiner, a photographer out of the UK, wrote an insightful blog piece about the topic, and was asked to then write a follow-up a few weeks later for a camera retailer’s website.  Many of the comments on the post range from derogatory to downright hostile.  

 

One gentleman complained, “What a load of rubbish, I am fed up with this crap, first women wanted equality, now they want more.”

 

Another gentleman ranted that he worked with female photographers, and “you don’t hear them moan about sexism, they get on with the work and deliver super images!…Utter crap in my honest opinion.” That, of course, ignores the cultural nuances in most places where women are taught from an early age that they shouldn’t complain, or speak up, or defend themselves when being treated unfairly.

 

There were also a number of people who either outright said, or implied, that because they had not personally experienced a discriminatory attitude, then it must not exist.  Instead, the lack of female representation in things like publications, as brand representatives, as presenters at events, as members of the jury for events must instead be due to other factors.  Some suggested the mathematical improbability that there “are not as many female photographers doing the work to a standard the magazine publishers want”, and that “equal representation assumes equal numbers of people of both gender of equal skill and equal interest in achieving the same things.”  Other people implied that this lack of representation was solely based on “who’s right for the job”.  One said that he personally was the only male photographer he knew in his genre, so insinuated that the lack of representation in the aforementioned areas couldn’t possibly be true.  Although some of those comments were likely meant to suggest that sexism, both intentional and ingrained/habitual, may not be the only reason women are underrepresented, by their very nature, those comments also dismiss the idea that sexism IS most definitely part of the reason.

That all being said, there were a number of people in the comments who agreed that sexism was a very real problem and were interested in improving the culture of photography, which was heartening to see.  At least one gentleman acknowledged that these conversations were helping.

 

Unfortunately, the challenges our industry faces are deeper than just derisive and condescending comments.  The long-time accepted culture of stereotypes, gender roles and appropriate gender-based interactions frequently leads to a loss of opportunity for female photographers, both directly and indirectly.  Personally, I have faced difficult decisions and lost work because I am female.  When releasing a book co-written with David, we actually had to put a lot of thought into whose name was listed first on the cover, or if I should list my full name rather than a first initial because there have been correlations between female author names and reduced sales.  Some women go so far as to take gender neutral pseudonyms.  Another time, I wasn’t hired for a photography gig because I was told, “we didn’t think you’d be comfortable traveling with a bunch of smelly dudes for the whole trip”.  I’ve had other male photographers refuse to go shooting with me because “their wives wouldn’t be comfortable”, and that’s just local day hikes, let alone something that involved travel and overnight accommodations.  On the whole, I’ve been understanding and tried to keep some perspective when these moments come up.  But if I had been male, these opportunities for networking and income wouldn’t have been jeopardized.

The reality of landscape photography is that it involves travel.  Some of us are lucky to live smack in the middle of a photographer’s paradise, but many of us are not. That means driving, flying, more driving, maybe some sleeping, probably some hiking, possibly some camping, questionable showering habits and a whole lot of shooting at crazy hours. I promise you, it’s rarely luxurious and almost never glamourous. Mostly, it is a bunch of sleep deprivation and snacks at odd hours. It is also a challenge to the standard cultural expectations for interactions between men and women.

 

The hike/trip will be too difficult for a woman. That’s too far for a woman to carry her gear. The men on the trip have wives who won’t be comfortable. It runs counter to some religious beliefs about gender interactions. Extra accommodations may be needed. There may be personal liability concerns. Men may have been conditioned to feel like they have to censor themselves and may not want to deal with having women on the trail with them. And so on, and so forth. Really, I’ve heard all of the reasons, and I can think of very few other professions where those ideas would even be entertained, let alone be accepted.

 

Here’s the thing. I’m a professional. And other female professional photographers are also…well…professional. I understand that landscape photography and the resulting travel, hikes and overnight accommodations present a unique speedbump to social conventions, but ultimately, a professional is a professional and gender shouldn’t matter. Did I mention the word professional? That means we ladies aren’t there to ruin your marriage. We are there for pictures. That means we won’t sign up for a hike if we don’t think we can make it. That means we want an opportunity to succeed or fail based on our merits, not on the number of Y chromosomes we carry.

 

Since the landscapes are our office, in reality, these sort of preconceived ideas about what a woman can or should do may significantly affect our income long term. There is a tendency in all humans to stick to what is familiar and comfortable. That means it’s easy for guys to compliment, network with and share the work of other men, but they may not always be comfortable reaching out to a woman because of cultural stigmas.  That means when opportunities do arise, a man may think first to invite or hire the guys he’s been traveling and shooting with for years, rather than an equally qualified woman who was never invited on such trips because she was female. That means that “the old boys club” mentality is a very real thing.  In a world that lives by, “It’s who you know”, this can have far-reaching consequences.

 

As was mentioned before, this manifests as missed job opportunities, as well as fewer invitations to speak at and to jury events. It also manifests as less exposure. It looks like fewer ambassadorships, which are mutually beneficial partnerships that ultimately also increase exposure. That in turn may equate to fewer offers for work or sales.  Overall, gender stereotypes and accepted gender roles/interactions can perpetuate a vicious cycle.

 

But how do we know this to be true?!  We wants facts, not accusations! Well, this is where the easily verifiable numbers come in, because despite the personal accounts many women give, there will still be people who don’t believe that gender bias exists. I’ve learned, after many loud and frustrating conversations, that the best thing to do in that case is to present some numbers.

 

Canon explorers of light USA
7 out of 42 total
1 out of 9 in the landscape genre

16 out of 62 Canon Europe

Nikon Ambassadors
7 of 23 in US
4 of 13 in UK
0 of 4 in Europe
0 of 7 in Australia
0 of 4 in Singapore
0 of 1 in Hong Kong
0 of 1 in Middle East

Sony Artisans
10 out of 59

1 our of 8 induro tripod team members

5 of 26 manfrotto ambassadors

Formatt Hitech featured artists
4 out of 41

 

As was alluded to earlier, I am 100% certain that there are a lot of reasons for why there are not as many professional women photographers representing brands. Every issue is nuanced, right? It may have to do with marketing demographics, based on local culture. Or perhaps marketing decisions based disposable income along gender lines (that is a whole other topic, though, right??). It may have to do with a woman’s need to juggle a full time career and family obligations, which in turn may affect her ability to dedicate time to building and maintaining brand partnerships (because despite both parents ability to help with things like family sickness or child-rearing, the responsibilities fall primarily on women.) I suppose, as mathematically impossible as the suggestion seemed, it could be due to a lack of talented females to choose from. (Yes, impossible. Because I personally know hundreds of talented landscape gals from all over the world.) It could, in a more likely scenario, be due to a lack of exposure to the many, many talented female photographers out there. Ultimately, there are many non-malicious, circumstantial reasons that could directly affect why there is such disproportionate representation along gender lines (and if we’re being honest here, along all other demographic lines that aren’t “white males”). The end result, though, is a significant cultural and economic problem.  It exists.

 

Why is disproportionate representation important?

 

Well, first and foremost, it shows that women aren’t making this problem up. I’m certain that at least 80% of the female photographers (a conservative estimate, but I’m playing it safe here), across all genres of photography, could relay stories of discrimination. Some stories would be clear cut, some might live in a gray area of interpretation. But if at the end of the story, you can say, “Would it be different if I was a man?” and the answer is “Yes”, then we have a problem. We have HAD a problem. A collective problem that can only be solved if everyone embraces the idea of solving it. That means a willingness to have uncomfortable conversations and listen to the other side’s perspective. That means committing to a culture of respect, and calling out offenders. It also means speaking up when something is wrong. That means BELIEVING a woman who says something isn’t right, and truly wanting her to have an equal shot.

 

That is, quite possibly, the hardest part.  Historically, whistle blowers had a good chance of suffering for doing the right thing. It wasn’t until recently that we’ve begun to see significant support for women who have asked for equal opportunities and justice without being disparaged, discredited, and told to “stay the course”. In my mind, some of these significant changes came about with Emma Watson’s speech at the UN in which she invited everyone to participate in a solution. More recently, the political climate in the United States, which likely helped bring the #metoo conversations (and their international counterparts) into the limelight, has also created a social shift away from gender bias.

 

These psychological shifts are important, because without them, there can never truly be equal opportunity. When brands don’t represent demographics, they are sending messages about what is or is not acceptable. Now, many people make the argument that companies aren’t in business to change the world, and they are within their rights to market as they please. That argument falls a bit flat, though, after the Nikon-Asia d850 fiasco. Earlier in 2017, with the release of a new camera, the company’s “Nikon-Asia” region picked 32 men to be the face of the d850. There were no women.  The outcry across the world was swift and loud.

Nikon briefly suggested they did invite women, but none participated.  That was debunked quickly by women who do have ambassadorships with Nikon within that region who said they weren’t even approached and asked to participate. Nikon then went on to apologize profusely.

 

How could this sort of thing happen though?  It is 2017!  Was it cultural since there are some male-centric countries in that region? Or marketing based on the male-centric cultures in the region? Was it an oversight? Was it that mathematical impossibility of no talented female photographers to be found in all of Asia, the Middle East, or Africa?

 

Mostly, it was a big mistake. You see, a company doesn’t have a responsibility to change the world. But if it wants to keep its market share, alienating half of your consumers is generally considered a bad idea.

 

As a Nikon user, I was disappointed in the message they sent. The apologies helped, but effects of these sort of thoughtless campaigns are far reaching. They greenlight micro-aggressions. They send messages about the worth of a demographic. They feed a gap – emotional, psychological, cultural, and economic – between the sexes that doesn’t need to exist. They normalize behavior that is now not considered acceptable in many countries throughout the world.

 

So the real question is, how and why do we fix it?

As for the why?  A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain. – William James

There are so many cliché sayings that sum this idea up nicely, but they all pretty much say the same thing.  If we all thrive individually, then as a whole, society thrives.  It will take work, compromise and a willingness to understand other people’s point of view, but I believe that we are up to the task.

The first step towards an attitude of mutual respect and equality is recognizing there is a problem both in landscape photography and in society as a whole.  That means continuing these conversations, and having teachable moments.  It means taking personal responsibility for your actions, and holding others accountable for theirs.  My hope is that this article will encourage you to try listening to other people’s experiences, and bridging the gap of opposing viewpoints so that eventually, we aren’t chained down or held back by gender stereotypes.

 

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Best of 2017

27 Dec

 

This year, I chose my “best of” based on the memories I was lucky enough to have made.  It was a year of great trips (courtesy of some flight credits I had to use up before they expired) and I am beyond thankful I was able to see England, Northern Ireland and Ireland, Chincoteague ponies, Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, the many nights I spent under the stars with friends, the eclipse, the Adirondacks and Iceland (northern light, heeellllooo). I am grateful for these opportunities and for having good friends to make these memories with. ❤

2017 had its difficult parts, and I am definitely hoping 2018 shows improvement in some areas…but I am thankful.  Cheers to a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year!

Elysian :: TN

19 Dec
Elysian :: TN

Elysian :: TN

 

I saw something over the weekend that reminded me that your perception of the world has a lot to do with how happy you are.  The basic idea is that things happen – good, bad, mundane, extraordinary –  but the way you interpret and react to them determines how successful and happy you are.  It goes hand in hand with one of my favorite phrases, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” (Epictetus).

That’s a powerful sentiment, when you think about it.  There will be difficult things in your life.  There will be speed bumps, there will be days where your entire life plan goes off course.  But you have a choice.  Do you choose to rise above, and embrace the positives?  Or do you choose to be defeated by it?

In my own life, I try (and frequently fail, but then try again) to meet challenges, to accept that things are difficult and to either see the positives or to keep my head down and push through until the difficult season has passed.  Hell, this past year alone has challenged me in a lot of ways, with serious family health issues, with heartache, with changes within the circle of people I rely on for support, financial challenges….  But in the end, we have just a finite time on this earth and I try to choose, every day, to work towards my best possible self, to tell myself that this too shall pass, that there is joy around the corner, and in the meantime, to work towards leaving the world a bit better than I found it.

That can mean any number of things.

You can choose to see the best in a bad day – the beauty of a beautiful sky, the opportunity to learn from a mistake (even if you frequently wonder when your “lessons” will start paying off), having a grateful attitude for the blessings you do have…

You can choose to do something kind for another person (or living creature) – a smile or bad joke when needed, verbalizing something you appreciate so they understand their worth to you, all the way up to grander gestures like gifts, or volunteering for a cause, or giving blood, or adopting from a local shelter and advocating for spaying and neutering…

You can choose to use your voice – we are all complicit when we remain silent about things that matter.  The problem, these days, is that we have so many wrongs to right that it can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to start.  Politics is hairy.  Tax laws, health care, the national monument debate…where do you even begin? Global warming is a thing (that recent starving polar bear video from NatGeo just hurts to watch).  There is genocide going on in the world.  Sex trafficking.  Sexual harrassment.  Discrimination.  Religious aggressions.  Civil wars.  It can be overwhelming, but we all have a responsibility to, at the very least, have civil discussions.  We can’t improve any problem by ignoring it.  So find your causes, the ones that are near and dear to your heart, and have a difficult conversation.  Listen to the opposing views.  Find some common ground on which you can begin to build a bridge.

In the end, how you react to the things life throws at you will determine things like how much joy you feel, or how much hope you feel.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are going to be overwhelmingly sad, or angry moments.  But if you keep this idea in mind that you can get through it by being aware of how you perceive a situation, then you will get through the difficult times with grace and find your way back to happiness quickly.

This particular photo was taken at Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in TN.  So much thanks to Ed and Zach Heaton for showing us around to their favorite spots in the area!  They’re talented guys, make sure to check them out!

Also, big shoutout to David Pasillas (as always) for his patient feedback about my image edits.

Invasion :: Iceland

12 Dec
Invasion :: Iceland

Invasion :: Iceland

You know what’s incredible about Iceland?

Almost everything. Except the abundance of tourists. Particularly those who don’t respect the culture and beautiful spaces there.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Iceland and would go back in a heartbeat. But I saw so many dangerous, rude and disrespectful things, even among my fellow photographers, which made me quite embarrassed for the lot of us. As a landscape photographer, I take protecting our collective “office” (aka nature, and access to spaces) pretty seriously. I love the fact that we are lucky enough to see, capture and share the beauty in this world and a few bad tourists have the ability to ruin it for the rest of us.

Do I love that the world is more connected and more people have access to see these wild, gorgeous spaces? Absolutely. But I hope more people will take care to respect those spaces. For example, maybe don’t cross the ropes to hang off of the edge of an eroding cliff or canyon overhang. Or, say, get too close to a beach known for rogue waves that drags people out to sea. Or…well…any of the bad behaviors you read about. Do your research, respect the culture and spaces, and we all win.

Hidden Treasure :: Iceland

5 Dec
Hidden Treasure :: Iceland

Hidden Treasure :: Iceland

 

“One life on this earth is all that we get, whether it is enough or not enough, and the obvious conclusion would seem to be that at the very least we are fools if we do not live it as fully and bravely and beautifully as we can.” -Frederick Buechner

Some of us were born with a wandering gypsy soul. There are days that I think about all of the choices, good and bad, that have brought me to where I am now. I wonder how different my life would be if I gotten the things I thought I wanted. I wonder if I will ever get the things I still do want. I wonder at what life has in store for me. Whatever it is though, I hope it will always allow me to wander, and to fill my soul with joy. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep appreciating the little moments of happiness and the opportunities I’ve had to grow, even when it’s hard. In the meantime, I’ll keep exploring, and making memories and choosing bravery, even when it seems like a monumental choice. Because I suppose, that’s when it counts the most.

Wildfire :: Iceland

28 Nov
Wildfire :: Iceland

Wildfire :: Iceland

I know what you’re wondering.  You’re asking yourself, “Is that a Game of Thrones reference??”

Yes.  Yes it is.

This was taken from the Dyrhólaey Peninsula overlooking the black sand beaches near Vik, Iceland.  We had flown overnight from Boston to Iceland, landing about 6:30am and spent the day exploring.  We eventually got to Vik, checked into our guest house, got some…well…slightly questionable dinner…and by the time we finished we were spent.  We wanted showers and sleep.

I’ll give you one guess as to what Mother Nature thought of our plans. lol

Melissa was wrapping up her shower, and I thought, “I should at least check the skies.  It’s clear, and there is no guarantees with weather here.”  I dragged myself out of my (very comfortable, warm) bed and grabbed my camera.  I went around to the slightly darker backyard, and took just one test shot.

“Damn.”  There were a clear, very blurry due to it being handheld band of green across the bottom of the frame. My “damn” turned into a much more enthusiastic “daaaaaaaammmmmnnnnn!!!”.

Sleep is for chumps anyway.

I went back inside and demanded Mel, who had just put on her PJs, get into real-people clothes because this was one adventure I wasn’t going to let her miss.  Our first stop was the famous white church in Vik, but turns out that’s a beast to shoot.  The lights on the church blew out the frame, even with selective dodging, if we exposed for the sky.  If we exposed for the church, the green of the aurora was barely visible.

Little did we know this was just the weak start to what would turn out to be an incredible light show. 

So did I get my church shot?  No.  But I’m not a quitter.  We had explored the Dyrhólaey peninsula earlier in the day and so we knew it was at least darker than in town.  Was it going to be an epic Vestrahorn/Northern Lights shot?  No.  But I’d figure it out, right?  I’m a professional (who occasionally gets lucky), dangit. So we hopped in the car (because at that point, we had completely given up on the idea of sleeping) and headed back to the peninsula.

This is the point in the story where the night became a magical symphony of dancing lights, and a lot of me sighing happily.  Or pointing excitedly.  Or yelling for Melissa to look in whatever direction I was looking in, so she could also sigh happily. lol

This particular shot was taken towards the end of the light show, at one of our last stops before headed back to Vik.  It was cold, and windy up there and we were tired….but dang it was beautiful.

So what’s the moral of this story?  Gosh, there are so many to choose from.

Never put on PJs before it’s time?  Caffeine is photography fuel?  Iceland is purty?

How about, if you don’t show up, you’ll never get the shotYeah, let’s go with that one. 😉

This or That? Opinions needed!

26 Nov

This is one of those beautiful small  scenes the Catskills in NY is known for. We got here during mediocre light (by photographer standards…aka a nice day to everyone else haha) so I struggled a bit with this edit.  What do you guys prefer?  Black & White?  Or color?

Also, the holiday gift giving season is upon us.  If anyone wants a print or two, let me know!