I was commissioned to write this a few years ago for the Central European House of Photography in Bratislava (and thank you to all the photo...
Thursday, 1 October 2015
Sexual Harassment in Photography
One of the problems mentioned by Sohrab Hura in the previous post was the difficulties experienced by women photographers.
I think one thing it is very easy for men to forget about is how difficult this can be, not just on a financial level, or a being-taken-seriously by editors, or getting paid less because you're a woman, but also how general everyday harassment can affect women photographers - or indeed women everywhere (there was an item on the radio about the effect of sexism and harassment of female surgeons in the UK this morning - it's everywhere and even when it sounds relatively harmless, it's not. It's insidious and damaging for so many reasons).
Photography isn't just a local business anymore. It's international. There are prizes, festivals, and workshops all around the world. And harassment does take place at these events and especially in meetings and communications leading up or coming after these events.
Phony connections, photographs (look how much I can help you - here's a picture of me with this person) and exaggerated influence (I can help you win this prize) might be dangled in front of people, accompanied by a sleazebag 'I scratch your back, you scratch my you-know' vibe. It's a photographic perving and it happens more frequently than we like to imagine, done by more people than we like to imagine.
And of course, it is most often to those who are less confident or powerful in places that might be off the photographic beaten track in some ways. This is especially true in more conservative places where the very act of a woman even wanting to be a photographer is a challenge.
Very often, women don't want to speak up because they think it will bring shame to themself, to their family or threaten their career or make the rest of the photographic community angry (because if you look at photographs, or on Facebook or Twitter or whatever, we're all friends with each other and support each other).
Speaking out won't make me or most of the people I know angry, even if the person they speak out against is friends on Facebook or whatever. Being friends on Facebook or wherever is a superficial thing. Being friendly with somebody on social media doesn't mean we would forgive our co-writers/photographers/editors/judges their concealed sleaziness, Similarly just because somebody appears in a photograph with somebody (as in the picture above) doesn't mean they sanction their behaviour or are even that particularly close. But unfortunately, we don't see the world that way.
The problem is women photographers in many places have no outlet for their complaints. They feel like they can't complain themselves; it's too embarrasing, it's career threatening. There's the idea that it might be just 'cultural differences? (no - it wasn't), and of course there's the family. And at the end of the day, who can you complain to? Especially if the harassment consists of something that isn't illegal, that might appear quite trivial, that is joking or banter or just part of normal human communciation. Except of course it's not.
I'm writing this post because I've had complaints passed on to me from distant lands and I don't really know what to do about them. Maybe just staying quiet is the best thing. Except it's not.
But at the same time, I don't think having trials by internet is the best thing. Trial by internet is a not a good way to do anything for so many reasons.
But there is a problem that exists and it needs to be addressed, especially in a niche of photography that likes to think of itself as so right-minded (we're not in Terry World). There should be some kind of outlet for complaints, a code of conduct if you like - a little equal opportunities section to tag on to the special events that take place across the globe.
Maybe it's time that photography festivals, awards, workshops, agencies had a basic code of conduct with accessible contacts for complaint so that grievances could be addressed when they happened. So there is at least some kind of forum for complaint.
Maybe it could start with the big guns who run workshops and events as part of their overall profile, all of whom I'm sure have some code of practice in place already; World Press Photo, Arles, Aperture, Deutsche Borse, Magnum, National Geographic, VII, Paris Photo, and filter down?
It might not be much, but it would be a start.