Even as the media talks about adding new voices and perspectives to its coverage of our divided society, photo editors continue to rely on their stables of familiar, trusted contributors—who are overwhelmingly white males. In the fall of 2016, for example, World Press Photo noted in a report that only 15.5 percent of the entrants to its 2017 contest were women, a decline of 2 percent since 2012. As the report was being prepared, some photographers and photo editors were working to address that imbalance by compiling databases featuring the work of women photographers and photographers of color. Brent Lewis, senior photo editor at ESPN’s The Undefeated and one of the people spearheading a list of photographers of color, says the goal is to show photo editors “that there are a lot of talented people out there that they may not see, have the time to go looking for, or just don’t know where to begin to find.”
Lewis and collaborator Andrea Wise, a photographer, artist and documentary filmmaker, took inspiration from photographer Daniella Zalcman, who in February launched womenphotograph.com, a website highlighting the work of female editorial photographers with at least five years of working experience. She started by circulating a Google doc among some women photographers, who then recruited other colleagues to recruit more women. “I’ve heard too many times that photo editors don’t hire as many female photographers because they don’t know where to find women photographers in region X or women photographers who know how to shoot with technical skill Y. I wanted to create a resource as a direct response to those excuses,” Zalcman says.
After gathering a list of about 400 names (photographers who identify as gender nonconforming, transgender and genderqueer are also invited to join), Zalcman built a simple website that lists photographers’ names, addresses and a thumbnail of their work. Photo editors who contact the site can also access a full database of over 550 photographers, with more information “that might be useful to editors like languages spoken, geographical areas of expertise, whether that photographer has gone through hostile environment training, and so on,” Zalcman says.
The launch of womenphotograph.com generated press in WIRED, The New York Times Lens blog and elsewhere. The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which has supported some of Zalcman’s photo projects, agreed to offer a grant for women photojournalists. ONA, the camera bag maker, asked to be involved, and is now sponsoring the grant.
Lewis says he hopes that the website for photographers of color will be a useful resource not only for photo editors but also art directors and creative directors. At press time, a Google doc is still being shared and forwarded to photographers. He plans to then curate and qualify each submission. “Right now we are getting closer to 1,400 people on the list,” he says, noting, “that will change once we begin to go through work.”
Collectives designed to mentor and also promote female, black and Latino photographers have been around since at least the ‘60s. Whether the latest Internet-based efforts do more to generate assignments for women and people of color will be up to photo editors and their editors. In PDN’s 2016 Photo Annual, we asked black photographers how clients could provide more opportunities for non-white photographers. Photographer Bruce Talamon replied, “Look around. Have some conversations. Go out on a limb.” Online databases make the task of looking for diverse talent a little easier. Whether photo editors will do the rest remains to be seen.
This article is part of a larger series of trends and challenges in the photo industry. To read more articles in the series, check out The Ups/Downs of the Year Past and Year Ahead.