A few days ago I received an email about a new grants program designed to support women, female-identifying and non-binary photographers and videographers. It offered a substantial amount of money and mentorship to the successful applicant. I was excited at the thought that this could kickstart someone’s career. However, as I read on, my heart sank. Applicants were required to submit their proposals for projects about the ‘authentic representation of women’. Most competitions have a theme, but why does every one aimed at women seem to focus on what it’s like to be a woman? It’s widely recognised that there should be equal gender representation in photography and videography, but these competitions, bursaries and awards seem to be so academic and worthy. Why don’t they aim to support women who are interested in more accessible forms of photography? Wouldn’t it be better to find the best female landscape, portrait, commercial or pet photographer? That would attract more entries and draw more attention to female photographers than challenging, academic artwork.
I also worry that by focusing on projects that show ‘real women’ we’re actually elevating the subjects to the point that they seem unreal. It almost reinforces the inequality. And whilst I applaud anyone pursuing a project exploring representation in photography, doing so specifically to win money seems to detract from the authenticity. I think the awards bodies should concentrate on the craft of the photographers and their point of view. After all, that’s usually what happens in open-entry competitions and it’s more likely to lead to a successful career that inspires others. I imagine that some readers may be wondering why there should be competitions and awards aimed specifically at women. It could be considered sexist and potentially patronising. But statistics show that for a whole host of reasons, women are less inclined to enter competitions or seek grants and awards than men. And as a consequence, they don’t tend to win general or open entry awards as often, which means they don’t get the confidence boost and exposure that comes with a win.
Also, the point of these awards isn’t just to slap one person on the back, they are also about showcasing female photography and letting young girls see that photography can be a career or hobby for them. More significantly, and at the risk of making generalisations, women often see in a different way or have a different point of view from men. That viewpoint is just as valid as any other, but it can get overlooked in a regular competition, especially if the judges are predominantly men. We need women’s photography to be highlighted to attract more women in to the craft, to get more women judging competitions and awards and to get photography on a more even keel.
Former AP Technical Editor Angela Nicholson is the founder of SheClicks, a group for female photographers which boasts more than 6,000 members. Visit sheclicks.net to find out more information.