“I’m not surprised to see what you look like.”
That’s what I was told before I even sat down to meet with a photographer for a professional portfolio review. The meeting was required in order for me to complete my bachelor’s degree in photojournalism.
We had never met before, but she had been checking out my work.
All of the confidence I had mustered up before taking this final step toward my degree washed away immediately.
This industry has a way of occasionally knocking one’s confidence down a few pegs. Like many other industries, the challenge is even greater for women, especially for women of color. And a rough portfolio review is something you just have to deal with sometimes.
The difference, however, between this portfolio review and others was that this time, my appearance was brought into the conversation. To the photographer reviewing my work, small woman equated so-called “quiet” work. I wonder if male students were similarly critiqued about the loudness present in their photography.
There’s a theory in film known as the male gaze. Laura Mulvey, a feminist film theorist, coined the phrase in her 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” In film, the gaze belongs to the camera and the person behind it. The viewer inherits the gaze, which is generally an active gaze on a passive woman.
The gaze isn’t exclusive to film. It is apparent in other forms of art, including photography. Most of the images we see in mass media, especially images depicting women, are photographed by men. Men have always been the ones taking the photos and choosing the masters of the art. Women have always been there too, making strong work, but have not had the same opportunities to make a name for themselves in the field.
All this means that we consume media coming from one common perspective. This perspective is then seen as “right.” So maybe that’s why the lack of “loudness” in my work was considered “wrong.”
Media thrives with diversity in voices, whether that’s diversity of gender, race, age or religious, political and social views. Being exposed to work from different perspectives gives us a greater understanding of the world and how other people experience life.
Media maker Amanda de Cadenet understands the importance of representing a variety of perspectives, which was one factor that encouraged her to start the #girlgaze project. Her goal for the project was to provide a solution to the lack of women being hired to make media.
As part of the project, photographers who identify as women can submit their work with the hashtag “#girlgaze.” De Cadenet, along with a group of other female photographers, work to curate a collection of images representing a wide range of women’s voices.
De Cadenet didn’t want to just talk about the issue, but wanted a solution as well. Because of this, the project not only gives these women exposure, but has also provided emerging women photographers with tangible, paying job opportunities.
#girlgaze exposes people to images they would not have otherwise seen from talented women photographers from so many different backgrounds and places. For the viewer, seeing these images gives a better understanding of how women see and experience their world.