Women Photograph is an online directory of female photographers. What started as a spreadsheet has grown to a database over 500 members strong thanks to its creator Daniella Zalcman, a freelance documentary photographer. We asked her a few questions about her experiences, the directory and its origins.
What has your own experience been like as a female photographer in a male dominated field?
At the beginning, it was definitely tough. I started stringing as a news photographer in New York when I was 19, and it was very much a boy’s club back then. Getting anyone to take me seriously was always a challenge, and I can’t tell you the number of times I had a male photographer try to adjust the settings on my camera for me or make a joke about the size of my lens. There was a lot of casual sexual harassment that I think I and many of my female colleagues normalized for a long time — sometimes it’s just easier to shrug and move on. But I’ve done enough shrugging.
Now, I’m a relatively established photographer and I spend most of my time working on long form documentary projects on my own. I rarely interact with news photographer scrums, or even assigning editors, so I’m able to avoid the more frustrating interactions. But I see young women coming up in the field, and I see the attrition rates between photojournalism school and photographers in the first 3-5 years of their careers, and I know what they’re going through. And something needs to change.
What inspired you to create Women Photograph? How did it start?
It started with a Google Form last July. I was frustrated by the number of photo editors who were telling me they didn’t know where to find women photographers, so I wanted to have a resource on hand that would render that excuse invalid.
How many photographers are included now?
Right now, the private database (which includes more complete information like e-mails, phone numbers, languages spoken, geographical areas of expertise, HEFAT/PPE info, and so on) has 525 members. The site is a little slower to build out because it requires that each photographer send me an image and I’m manually entering them all — so it’s probably at around 300 right now.
What’s the response to it been like so far?
It’s been great! It’s provoked a lot of good conversations, which is really what I’m hoping for. If the presence of this site at least makes photo editors who traditionally rely on the same cadre of male news photographers think about their hiring practices, then I think that’s a good start.
Why do you think it’s important to hire female photographers?
This isn’t just about equality in hiring practices — though obviously that’s important to me too. It’s about making sure that the people in charge of visually documenting our diverse, complex world are diverse themselves. We can’t look at everything through a predominantly white, male gaze — that’s irresponsible and, frankly, colonial. We need our storytellers to be as diverse as our audience and our subjects.