Creating a Debate Around Female Visual Journalism

After having launched a platform to support and promote women photographers, Daniella Zalcman is becoming one of the leading voices of her generation in the discussion about gender equality in the photography industry.

© Neha Hirve (Women Photography and ONA Grant winner)

Invited to be on the judging panel of the first PHM 2017 Women Photographers Grant, Daniella Zalcman is a documentary photographer who earlier this year founded womenphotograph.com, a platform aiming to elevate the voices of female photographers and non-binary visual journalists. We talked with her about the importance of diversity among the photography community.

Hello Daniella, can you introduce our audience to the Women Photograph project? When did you first have the idea for creating the platform?

Last summer I had several conversations with photo editors about hiring practices at their respective publications. Most of them explained the stark gender inequality in our industry by saying that it’s often difficult to find female photographers, particularly those who live in specific regions or who have a specific skill set. That seemed absurd to me - I know a ton of brilliant, talented female photojournalists scattered across the globe. So I wanted to create a resource to render that excuse invalid. 

What are the benefits for its members/users and what is its mission?

Our mission is to elevate the voices of female, female-identifying, and non-binary visual journalists. Right now, a disproportionate number of our chief storytellers are white men, and that’s irresponsible - it’s dangerous to only look at war, or politics, or fashion, or human rights stories through the male gaze. If we want to cover a diverse range of people and issues with sensitivity and nuance, we need to make sure our storytellers are diverse as well.

As for benefits for members - I think the biggest thing is establishing a community. There’s an incredible amount of solidarity among the Women Photograph database: we share contacts, resources, and advice. Beyond that, Women Photograph has launched a series of grants, a mentorship program, and a travel fund to provide resources both to our members and to younger women who are at the early stages of their careers.

© Gabriella Demczuk (Women Photograph and ONA Grant winner)

Why do you think it is important to create a debate surrounding female photographers and raise awareness of their work?

It’s really sad that this even needs to be framed as a debate, but it does. I’ve heard so many editors say that they don’t think about gender or race or sexuality or religion when they hire. They should. Diversity is important. Diversity among the journalism community - among some of the most important gatekeepers of information for the general public - is doubly important. If you routinely report on Latino communities and you don’t have any Latino journalists, that’s a problem. If you routinely report on women’s issues and you don’t have any female journalists, that’s a problem. I’m not saying that we should limit people to only documenting the communities they come from (we shouldn’t). But good journalism comes from a mix of insider and outsider voices, and right now the balance is inexcusably skewed. It’s also just a matter of basic math - 50 percent of the population is female, and roughly 15 percent of photojournalists are women. That makes no sense.

Moving more specifically toward your photographic practice, what has been the most valuable advice you have received that really helped your career?

I always have a hard time answering that question because I never studied photography and had a strange path into the industry. I don't even remember who said this to me, but the one piece of advice that's always stayed with me, and that I honour above any other rule of photography, is that whenever I walk into a new environment I make sure to put my camera down and listen, first. I've definitely missed more than a few important shots that way - but it goes a long way towards building trusting, intimate relationships with the people I photograph.

© Alex Potter (Women Photograph and Pulitzer Center Grant winner)

What advice would you give today to emerging female photographers in order to help them further their career and become established in the industry?

Find your community. I remember feeling very alone when I started out as a photographer in New York - I was working for a publication that was predominantly staffed by middle-aged men, and so there were a lot of bewildering interactions I had to try to understand and navigate on my own. I’m not qualified to give anyone advice on how to be a better photographer - but I do know that having a good support system of other visual journalists who will have your back in the field and help you with edits when you’re home is invaluable.

As a judge for this competition, what are you looking for in the applications?

I’m primarily looking for compelling, passionate, empathetic storytelling - but I’m especially drawn to proposals that demonstrate a real expertise in the history behind a project. I’m an obsessive researcher, so photographers who’ve made an effort to pull in the relevant statistics and data particularly appeal to me.

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Daniella Zalcman is a documentary photographer based between London and New York. Her work focuses on the legacies of western colonisation, from the rise of homophobia in East Africa to the forced assimilation and education of indigenous children in North America. She is also the founder of womenphotograph.com

Rocco Venezia is an Italian photographer whose works originate from a personal interest in literature and an awareness of European political and economical situations. He started collaborating as assistant curator with PHmuseum in April 2017.

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