As a sort of rejoinder to the mini-imbroglio over the all-male "Nikon 32," I've been featuring a few female photographers this past week. And not just Nikon shooters.
It's not affirmative action; I've always included women. Many years ago I wrote the following paragraph in a long essay called "The Photographers Menagerie":
The list of the most remembered photographers is also an honor roll. It is a list that is refreshingly non-sexist, non-ageist, and certainly not limited to the rich or the famous. From the very earliest times—not among the small handful of the inventors themselves, but beginning directly thereafter, from the pioneers to the present day—there have been women among the most important photographers of every era, from Mrs. Cameron in Victorian England, to Dorothea Lange in the era of the FSA and Margaret Bourke-White in the heyday of commercial photojournalism, to Fay Godwin and Joyce Tenneson and Mary Ellen Mark today. The list would include the very young and the very old, ranging perhaps from the prodigy Jacques-Henri Lartigue, who took his first photograph when he was seven and his best ones by the time he was twelve, to Imogen Cunningham, who took her last ones well into her nineties. It includes the great and the near-great, the ordinary, millionaires and paupers, photographers as famous as Ansel Adams or Richard Avedon as well as those who labored in near-total obscurity like old Atget, including even unknowns whose work has so far actually been lost or forgotten, or who remain unappreciated or undiscovered.
Note that of the photographers I used as contemporary examples back in 1998, two are gone now—Fay Godwin died in 2005 and Mary Ellen Mark in 2015. Joyce Tenneson is still going strong at 72.
And note that the last part of the last sentence in the quoted paragraph could have been about another now-famous woman photographer, Vivian Maier.
Joyce Tenneson's A Life in Photography 1968–2008
I suppose this might be Pollyanna-ish (or Pangloss-y*), but it's always been my belief that although camera hobbyists and gear and tech geeks (and TOP readers) mostly skew male—and there's nothing wrong with that—photography itself is open to almost anyone, at least in "first-world" countries: male and female, rich and poor, old and young, and people of any color or ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. It's one of the reasons I like photography. (In high school, I had friends from different cliques.) Any way you want to slice and dice humanity into piles and labels—not just by demographics, but also qualities and properties like dedicated or casual, primitive or sophisticated, seasoned or green, ambitious or humble, supported or isolated, persistent or dilettantish—photography is at least potentially open to all. Just as it belongs to everyone.
What Nikon did doesn't actually bug me. It's sort of a shrug and a so what. But then, it's not for me to judge—I'm not part of the group that might have been affected by the insult**. At the same time, I wouldn't excuse what Nikon did, either. Photography is not, has never been, and never should be a club of any particular sort of folk. Implications that it might be or should be deserve whatever opprobrium they attract.
*Merriam-Webster defines a "Pollyanna" as "a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything," after the main character of the 1913 novel of the same name by Eleanor Porter. "Pangloss" has the same sort of etymology but is much older—it means "a person who is optimistic regardless of the circumstances" and comes from the character Professor Pangloss in Voltaire's satirical 1759 novella Candide. Pangloss, Voltaire's jab at the philosophical optimism of the great German mathematician Leibniz, is beset by disasters and catastrophes yet continues to idiotically insist that "all's for the best in this best of all possible worlds!" (In the novella he gets hanged by the Portuguese Inquisition.) The name means, essentially, "all talk" or perhaps "glib about everything."
**The Nikon thing became a thing not because representative groups have to reflect demographics...that way lies madness, as Franz pointed out in his comment to our post. Steve Caddy (in the comment directly below Franz's) hit on the real reason: "...Representation in ambassadorship isn't important because it reflects the market as-it-stands, but because it's important that young women photographers see a path for themselves." That's right.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Stan B.: "Being more inclusive is often summarily dismissed as including those who are less qualified simply to adhere to some vague fairness doctrine. Being more inclusive is about making the actual effort to find those who are, in fact, qualified but are under-served and without voice. The mere effort, and actual inclusion, has been repeatedly shown to increase not only the size of a participatory audience, but its quality and originality through the freer exchange of ideas, influence and innovation."
David Dyer-Bennet: "The thought that this could, even possibly, be the best of all possible worlds is the most depressing philosophical concept I have ever seen put forward!"
Arg: "Nikon USA's ambassadorial team comprises 17 males and seven females, which is the highest female representation among the main brands, by quite a margin. IMO that is a mitigating consideration. They made a bad mistake, but maybe it was stupidity, and not ingrained."
William Scheider: "Last fall term, I had 14 women and only two men in my beginning photo class. This year's ratio is about the same for students entering our photojournalism and commercial photography majors. We should all get used to an increasing female presence in the pro photography fields."
brad: "I think this might be a problem with Nikon Inc. Japan, it doesn't apply, as per my experience, with Nikon USA. Of the two local past NPS reps, one was a woman.
"As for women in the photo biz, and my client base...more than half of my assistants have been women. One is a highly successful food photographer today. They weren't picked by gender, but by previous experience and on the recommendation of other photographers. More than half of my clients are women. These are graphic designers, art directors and businesspeople—institutional PR or communications directors. This has been the case in my world since the '80s. My first big client was a female graphic design / communications director for a large West coast engineering firm.
"So, while this may be a problem for the Nikon people in Japan, I don't see the 'all male' thing in my photo world."