Photography Business: Decline of the Female Gaze

It's not just about male dominance in the photography business or the stereotypes against women that have proven concerning, but the declining number of women behind the camera.

11 mins read
photography business

Mobile phones, webcams, and iPhones have gone synonymous with photo-taking among the youth and the elderly all over the world. These digital technologies have been perceived as a threat to the photography business. However, I find this to be a fallacious judgment. Traditional photography is still a profitable business. Images captured through the mobile phone mostly end up on social platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, and probably Snapchat, but really do not serve for professional use.

Serious photography still requires the services of a traditional photographer with the right photography kit. If you have the right equipment and experience, then you are set to offer your photography services to customers. Professional photography has accorded many opportunities for photographers with a good eye for images, landing many on global stages, online galleries, and media houses.

These are realities that easily lure keen entrepreneurs to venture into the photography business. However, to thrive in professional photography, entrepreneurs will face many demanding circumstances such as increased demand for quality photos from clients. For your clients, their life on social media, for instance, must be picture perfect. And this mounts pressure on photographers to up their creative game. This might be hard to keep up with.

Going by observational data of December 2019 for instance, there were only two professional photo-studios in a place like Lodwar town, against a population of about 80,000 people and about 900,000 people in Turkana County. In Kitale town, there were less than ten professional photo studios serving a population of about 160,000 people. Eldoret town had only twelve professional photo-studios against the town population of over half a million people. It is notable that Nairobi has fairly a large number of professional photo studios, but still for a city population of about 5 million people, it is grossly underserved when it comes to photography as a service. This is the same situation in Mombasa. Meaning, photography industry holds immense potential for entrepreneurs, more so female entrepreneurs.

Notably from the spot check, most of the professional photographers in these areas were men. They have managed to carve niches in photography and built successful businesses from it. This trend is not new in Kenya as the photography industry is male-dominated the world over. However, over the years we have seen more women join the bandwagon and have become equally successful.

Photography is more a creative than a technical field, which beats the logic that the industry is male-dominated. What gets me though is that, in developing countries like Kenya, women are not as enthusiastic about photography business as in the developed world. But why, considering there are many associated benefits of being a female photographer? I mean, as a female photographer, you’re welcomed into worlds that have been kept secret from men. You can easily be invited into homes, and you can be trusted to handle the most delicate subjects that clients would otherwise shun male photographers. Any person with a concern for women and inclusive social development or gender policy can thus ask; why are women in Kenya and Africa at large are not enthusiastic about photography as a business yet there is a ready niche market for the service?

Read Also: Entrepreneurship: Enhancing Women’s Economic Empowerment

Challenges faced by women photographers

A research conducted by World Press Photo Foundation, suggest that there has been a historical underrepresentation of women in photography and this is an ongoing phenomena even today. However, varied research has failed to provide data concerning the work patterns and challenges that women photojournalists face. There is also no empirical data that shows why women are not motivated to join this lucrative industry both as a career or business. In this article, however, I will try to unravel the particular challenges facing women photographers.

Understandably, there are many downsides to being a female photographer: being in dangerous and unpredictable situations, finding it hard to be taken seriously in a male-dominated industry, and fighting gender stereotypes about workplace roles, topics to cover, or places to go. But really, why is it that only a smaller proportion of women photographers in Kenya present visual stories on the country’s most pressing issues?

  1. Stereotyping

Stereotyping women in photography spans many areas including, their ability to execute tasks, technical competence, and the differences in storytelling. For instance, people think that a female photographer is more likely to produce a sensitive story. Thus if a gig requires more objectivity and fewer emotions, the client would most probably hire a male photographer. The mounting stereotypes against women have made the view of what constitutes ‘good photography’ to be largely defined by the work of men. Ending stereotyping against female photographers should be about making sure women have access to more and better opportunities within the industry.

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  1. Tough Competition

These days, almost everyone is a photographer. The rise of digital and mobile photography has rather reduced the need for professional photography. And that’s not to mention all of the seasoned professionals you’ll be competing against. What discourages women is the stiff competition they face in terms of pricing, quality of the photography gear, skills, portfolio etc, all of which aim at getting you noticed. As a female photographer, you’ll have to learn not only how to beat the competition at their game, but also how to make yourself stand out from an overcrowded space. Once you find your way past the challenges, you’ll find photography a rewarding and exciting career.

  1. Lack of women grants

One possible way to encourage more women to get into photography business is the use of industry-specific grants, such as the Canon Female Photojournalist Award. But sadly, there are hardly any female photography grants in Kenya to help push women photographers in their businesses.

Photography business remains something you do when you are middle class or wealthy. Women do not venture into photography business because of capital-related challenges, rent, permits, and sometimes lack of technical know-how to handle complex photography equipment.

  1. Rejection, Rejection, Rejection

The biggest hurdle for female photographers is the rejection that they will face on a daily basis. Clients will decline your services in favor of those from another photographer, galleries will turn you down and magazines will fail to pay for your services if you do not meet their standards. However, this should not stop you from venturing into photography business. Even the world’s greatest photographers face rejection. To succeed as a female photographer you should be able to shrug off those rejections and pursue your business goals.

Your forte with photography business

Reading the Jews and History of British Photography by Michael Berkowitz shows that photography as a business is all about money-making. It was brought to Britain and many other countries of Europe by the Jewish petty traders. The first Jewish families that were involved in photography entrepreneurial ventures as struggling photographers are now oligarchs controlling finance empires.

In a chapter under the title ‘Cancer is creed’, Felix Rohatyn the owner of Lazard & Freres, Wall Street’s most successful investment banker, had a dream to convert his struggling girlfriend Eliana into a millionaire. He achieved the dream by buying her a camera and starting a photo-studio for her in her own house. He encouraged Eliana to fly from New York to Congo to take photos of the ‘rumble in the jungle’ in which Muhamed Ali was having a boxing match against George Foreman. She accepted. Within two months of returning to New York, Eliana made over a million dollars from the proceeds of selling the photos of the ‘rumble in the jungle.’

The extensive growth of high powered organizations in the West like Kodak and Goldman Sachs –key manufactures of cameras and other photography related items – are only a market response to how lucrative the photography business is. This is also the message conveyed by William Cohen in his documentary work ‘The Last Tycoons’.

Your photography business will definitely grow as long as you observe quality, keep professional distance with clients, avoid impulsive credit sales to customers, avoid cheating your customer and you command good communication with a focus on what your genuine customer wants. Unlike other businesses where you have specific people as your customers, photography has all human beings as your customers. There are also many International organizations concerned with competitions in art, sculptor, painting, and photography who pay well for content and services. Many art magazines equally accept submissions of photography.

So, you young lady sitting there, it is your moment to take a camera and go out. Your unicorn might be the rumble in the jungle!


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