“PIX is a photography lifestyle magazine for women. If you love to snap photos, chances are you’re pretty creative and artsy about the rest of your world too. It’s important to you that your business is modern and cool, you’ve always got an eye out for hip clothing and accessories, and looking professional and shooting well are top priorities. If this sounds like you, PIX is here to help! In each issue you’ll find tips, ideas, products and trend reports for women in photography. PIX also includes features, beauty and fashion tips and much more!”
Whoa, PIX, let me stop you right there.
So, this little promotion landed in my friend’s inbox recently and not surprisingly she found it pretty laughable. I guess if you’re signed up to the same newsletters as her, you received it too. But here’s why I’m bothering with this little bit of inbox fluff: it’s stereotyping language and outlooks like the above that put female photographers into a limiting and uncomfortable little box, and also reinforce the divide between male and female photographers in ways that are limiting to us all.
Let’s break it down:
First off, this is a ‘lifesyle’ magazine so it has to be considered within the context of encouraging the reader to buy products in order to imitate advertised styles. Of course, these kind of publications exist for photographers already – churning out hundreds of glossy images of state of the art lenses, camera bags and lighting sets for the gadget-heads to fawn over.
Full disclosure here: I’m already pretty uncomfortable with this fetishisation of camera equipment. It strikes me as Capitalist society’s way of turning you into a consumer of what you enjoy rather than an author, artist or creator. Consumers are quiet, lazy and easily placated – all they need is a little expendable income for the next lens and they won’t trouble you by creating challenging images. Artists, authors and creators are troublesome – they question things, they make something new, by their very nature they don’t fully buy into the consumerist deal, indeed, they keep undermining it. Creators reserve the right to become outraged and make a noise about it, consumers have already signed on the dotted line. The lusting over equipment, beyond having a camera that does the job you want it to, is a distraction from the real issue: What are your images trying to say?
The female sex has always been bombarded with the idea of accessorisation. Strip away the jolly pictures of girls clutching handbags and women brandishing diamonds, and you tap into an undercurrent that says: “Without objects you are not a whole woman, accessorise yourself to be adequate.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I like beautiful things too, I even go to the shop and buy them sometimes. I’m not trying to claim I’ve totally edged myself out of this consumerist contract, but what I am saying is, I value my life, my actions and the things I create by a different standard than material accessorises.
So here is PIX – an advertisers’ dream of an overlap on the Ven diagram of consumerism:
Photographers! You need the latest equipment to become professional! You will never create beautiful and successful images without the new ultra-hard-wearing-frost-proof-flood-proof-satchel-style-camera-bag-in-azure. You are literally a failure without it!
Women! You need the latest make-up/handbag/shoes/dress/hairstyle etc. etc. in order to be a REAL woman. How will the world recognise your wonderful womanhood if you do not wear the latest super-gloss-high-cream-age-defying-lipstick-in-plum? You are practically an ugly man/ ‘lesbian’ without it and no person (read ‘man’) will ever love you!
They’ve walked a tough tightrope to anchor these two bastions of self-loathing inducing advertising together, but they’ve just about done it.
Hence, PIX, reckons, my fellow photographing females, that you’re pretty ‘artsy’. Oh how CUTE. I love this use of the diminutive. Because we all know that women – or should I say ‘girls’? – are just so adorably artsy sometimes. You know, with those big cameras in their little hands. Girls aren’t artists after all, that would be far too grown-up and important, they’re ‘artsy’ and creative. To this end, Pix recommends you build a lamp shade out of cupcake papers…
Er, what? Dear professional photographers, is a cupcake paper lantern a priority for you? No, no it isn’t. You might enjoy crafts, there is nothing wrong with that at all, but I resent the implication that because I am a) female and b) a photographer I have everything in common with all the other female photographers and that we all like making paper lanterns – because photography and crafts are so totally the same thing. After all, in both cases all we are really doing is fiddling around with pretty things to make more pretty things.
On this note, PIX also has a feature on lens ‘skins’ for the professional female photographer who wants to look chic on a shoot. These lens covers seems to be mostly based around animal print – Omg! you could coordinate with your shoes! Look no further, they also have a spread on flat shoes for when you’re on the job. These shoes all look very nice but none of them look like they would be suitable for running whilst in a warzone, or even offer adequate arch support.
There is nothing wrong with colour coordination ladies and gentlemen, what I am trying to get at is that I find it insulting that a magazine that claims to be the first magazine for female photographers is suggesting that a professional photographer’s priority is pretty accessories simply because she identifies as a woman. This magazine does not serve womanhood and it does not serve the photographic profession. PIX says women ‘love to snap’ photos. Is that really what we are doing – just snapping away, frivolously, like a child cramming fairy cakes into her mouth at a Birthday party? (1) Is this the extent of women’s contribution to Photography: Some snaps and some well-coordinated lenses? No it’s not. We let this lazy stuff wash over us because there is just so much of it, but we shouldn’t and we certainly shouldn’t imbibe it.
These stereotypes run deeper in more subtle ways: PIX also features a piece on photographing babies. There is nothing ignoble about photographing babies, and it strikes me as a skilful ability to possess. However, I question whether a male identifying photography magazine would run such a piece, and therefore I think it should make us question the ways in which we categorise male and female photographers and the qualities of male and female photography. I’ve often heard it casually banded around that women photographers have an advantage because they are able to become more intimate with their subjects and gain their trust, especially if those subjects are children. This may be true on some level but I think it should be recognised that this truth is born of a cultural set of values that, whilst they seem to flatter women, also limit them, and limit men. Why shouldn’t a man photograph children well? Why do we indulge in the belief that he will find it more awkward and be more easily suspect than a woman?
The implied other side of this coin is that women will find it harder to deal with other forms of photography – typically, the real ‘hard’ stuff of war photography – just by the fact of our gender. Once again, I want it to be clear that I am not making value judgements: I do not believe war photography to be somehow more real or more serious than images of families, but I do recognise that in many professional circles, such a value judgement is made and that female photographers frequently fall down on the wrong side of it. The implication is: Yes, you can probably do the nice, ‘intimate’ stuff a bit better, but you can’t really play with the Big Boys out on the battlefield or in the refugee zone. I think the primacy of the war photographer is well over blown, but I’ll be damned if I allow anyone’s gender to restrict them from access to that role and the respect they would receive for it. Equally, it’s sad that it is repeatedly suggested that men somehow have a distance from children or from intimate stories and this massively undervalues the many intimate and tender stories male photographers have produced.
PIX is a sadly missed opportunity because I would love to see a magazine that discussed issues of gender in relation to photographic practice and highlighted the fact that women are still under-represented in many fields of photography, and looked for a way to even that score. Whilst they’re there, they could also deconstruct some of the prejudices surrounding the male photographer and the female photographer. They might highlight the way women have played a role in the media of our age and the prejudice these women still face – Arab Spring anyone? Perhaps they could even make sure to expand their focus beyond heteronormtivity – radical, I know. Perhaps they could have the scope to include both family focused pieces and a Global outlook.
With Pix magazine I guess what we see is the Yin to the Yang of Macho War Photographer: she’s the family minded, well accessorised, small business running, working mum. She’s good at making clients feel relaxed and matching her handbags to her shoes. Just as Mr. out-in-the-field-with-the-massive-lenses-and-the-Big-Guns is a sad stereotype for male photographers to follow, so too is PIX’s Female Photographer a limiting role. Surely there should be more to being a photographer then decorated lenses – whether that decoration consist of zebra stripes or camouflage print?
See Jezebel’s lowdown on PIX here.
(1) Fairy cakes, or ‘cupcakes’ as they have become to be known, are a whole other crap-cluster of repressed sexualities and gendered consumerism and probably indicate some underlying social-psychic brain rot. Good thoughts on that here.
Madeleine Corcoran, @Madeleine_Pearl