I grew up in a darkroom. My father was a commercial photographer, and I spent a lot of time around photographers and camera stores. In those days, everyone had a camera, but most people only took snapshots or pictures at special events. The cost of film and the annoyance of sending it out to get processed limited the appeal of photography, as well as how many people became proficient at taking good pictures.
Perhaps nothing has been more delightful to me than the increased number of people taking pictures in the digital era. A professional photographer friend of mine groused about the influx of photographers and how it has changed the profession. That’s certainly valid, but to me, it’s as if the whole world has gotten a super-power. One day everyone woke up and had the potential to take great photos, but didn’t even know it. Certainly, it has made things harder for some working professionals, but it also has raised the standard by which photography is judged. If college students can land jobs at magazines thanks to their astounding Instagram portfolios, surely the world is, to some degree, a better place for photographers.
To me, one of the most important changes in photography has been the demographics of both the professional and amateur markets.
In the days when I wandered camera stores with my father, there was barely a woman in sight because there were barely any female professional photographers. There were outliers, naturally—Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark and Cindy Sherman—but their names are spoken in reverential tones. They’re the exception to prove the rule that photography is a boy’s club.
Today, though, the world has changed.
Some of the most striking images I’ve seen of late have come from women photographers, and even as I type this sentence, I wince a bit because to me they’re not women photographers, but photographers. And the world is now filled with an incredible array of photographers of all genders, ages, backgrounds and occupations, many of whom are professionals. Fortunately, though, our government tracks a lot of data regarding gender and occupation, so there’s a lot of fascinating insight into the percentage of photographers who are women.
The National Endowment for the Arts has surveyed the percentage of women in creative industries for decades. (You can find this information at arts.gov.) According to their data, in 1970, there were 67,588 photographers, and only 15% were women. In 1980, the ranks of professional photographers swelled to 94,762, and 23% were women. By 1990, there were 112,297 photographers, and 31.5% were women, which marked the high-water point for the number of professional photographers in the United States, but not the highest point for the percentage of women in the industry.
The 2003-2005 survey from the NEA shows that 42.8% of the 77,767 professional photographers were women. It also shows that 34,530 photographers disappeared from the market, which is interesting, as it corresponds with the rise of digital photography. By 2005, a lot of jobs were being eliminated in photography, largely from the competition caused by the ability of digital photographers to get more done in less time and the consolidation in the publishing world.
At this point, we have to jump to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which calculates occupations data slightly differently than the NEA, but shows that, in 2010, 39.4% of the photographers were women (close enough to match that 42.8% using the NEA data’s sampling), and that by 2015, a full 51% of the professional photographic workforce were women.
Let that sink in for a moment. In 2015, more than half of all professional photographers were women.
In the next issue of Digital Photo Pro, we’ll look at some of the incredible women shaping photography today, but we’ll also ask, “Why aren’t more companies paying attention to women as customers?” while lauding those that do.
There certainly are a lot of entry-level products that still, embarrassingly, are referred to as being for “soccer moms,” but what about pro gear? If more than half of all professional photographers are women, why do so many products and services feel like they’re targeted to the same market as the photographer of the 1970s?
So be sure to check out our profiles of several astounding and inspiring photographers (who happen to be women) in the next issue, as well as the trends and products that this changing demographic brings to photography, and that make photography a more inclusive space every day.
You can follow David Schloss on Twitter and Instagram at @davidjschloss.