Women battling sexism in photography – a picture essay

Image © Grumble and Moan Winter by Liz Ham (Screenshot)

From equipment ‘designed by men for men’ to clients assuming they’re the makeup artist, female photographers are still fighting against the tide.

by Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore

Push-ups and photography aren’t normal bed partners. But when Cybele Malinowski was starting out as a young photography assistant in 2005, she was told to do 100 push-ups a day. The reason? To “match the strength of a man”.

“It’s extremely physically demanding work,” recalls Sydney-based Malinowski, now 37. “Camera and lighting equipment has historically been designed by men for men.”

As her career gathered pace, Malinowski battled discrimination beyond heavy gear. Often when she arrived on set, the client would assume that her male assistant was the photographer, or that she was the makeup artist or stylist. More recently, when she became pregnant, Malinowski suddenly found herself losing jobs: clients told her they feared she just wasn’t “up to it”.

Today the majority of students in undergraduate and graduate photojournalism programs are women. Yet between 2012 and 2017, women made up just 15% of entries to the World Press Photo awards, according to the New York Times. A survey of major talent agency websites in Australia and their roster reveals that under 25% of agency-represented photographers are female.

This affects what we see on our front pages and billboards. In the US, as revealed in a TEDx talk by the celebrated photographer Jill Greenberg, 92% of adverts are shot by men, as are 85% of magazine covers. (This despite the fact that 85% of consumer purchases are made by women). Anecdotal evidence in Australia, where statistics are harder to find, suggests similar ratios. As Nadiya Nacorda once said: “Sexism does not stop at the photo industry’s doorstep. It comes inside, and goes in your fridge, cracks open a beer and sits on the couch.”

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