I’ll be the first to admit that, when I set up my photography business twelve years ago, I didn’t have the slightest clue how to run a business. I was lucky – I made contacts and friends who helped me along and gave me invaluable advice. And, when it came to writing, my father was a writer until he retired, so I had plenty of help there.
But one of the things that never crossed my mind to think about when I started out was the fact that I was (and still am!) a woman.
I’m a chatty person by nature and think that my abilities as a photographer are aided by my ability to relax people. At least some of that is probably connected to my gender.
Female photographer friends working in other areas also report a ‘feminine’ advantage. Shooting weddings can be easier as a woman, as a bride can feel more comfortable. And, as previously mentioned, those shooting sensitive photojournalism issues can find that being female helps with intimate gender work.
So, within the work some of us do, gender is either entirely irrelevant or can, in fact, work to our advantage. Certainly I’ve found it to be hugely beneficial in some areas of my work. And, in the main, I think I have it fairly easy.
However, I’m well aware that many of the things that could be an issue to me as a female photographer are issues that I’ve avoided due to my own personality. I’m not one to let anyone discriminate against me and I can be somewhat ‘forceful’ in my attitudes! What distresses me somewhat is that, even in today’s supposedly enlightened age, I’ve had cause to use this assertiveness.
For me, one of the areas that brings up the worst offenders is working in the corporate market. Over the years I’ve repeatedly worked with a couple of wonderful male assistants (as well as my long-term star female assistant!). Astonishingly, I’ve lost count of the number of times businessmen have walked up to my male assistants and shaken their hands, thinking that they must be the photographer as they’re men.
Fortunately, in most cases, they’ve been fairly embarrassed when the truth has been revealed. But there have been a few clients who have surpassed themselves with their stunningly outdated sexism. My particular favourite involved a corporate shoot involving three young directors of the firm. All in their mid-thirties, and young enough to know better, they took it in turns to march up to Andy, my assistant, and shake his hand. Upon being informed that I was the photographer, one of them turned to me aghast and said, ‘A woman?’ in such a sneering tone that even I was momentarily taken aback.
As is the way with clients such as these, they turned out to be insufferably rude throughout the shoot and then refused to pay my invoice for months. I did get the last laugh, but that’s all I’m saying on the subject…!
As I stated before, the fact that I’m fairly assertive usually means that clients quickly forget about any preconceived ideas about ‘the weaker sex’. The only time I’m occasionally reminded that I’m not perhaps quite as strong as some is when I am trying to lug round eight bags of kit! But that’s less to do with being female and more to do with the fact that I’m something of a weakling (although I do manage to lug the gear around!).
There are so many amazing female photographers out there that it saddens me that there is still a preconceived notion amongst some that photography is a man’s job. You see, there really shouldn’t be any differentiation between male and female photographers – we’re all just photographers, trying to make a living from the craft that we love.