In conversation with Daniella Zalcman, de Women Photograph

Daniela Zalcman

Of the 51 winners of the World Press Photo 2018 exhibition, only five are women. These are figures that can be shocking, and the easy answer would be that “the world is only seen from the eyes of male editors and photographers”. There have been contests, like this one, that have done a lot of self-criticism to change the situation in an obvious way. Even so, in this edition, the percentage has only risen from 15 to 16%. Faced with this situation, Daniella Zalcman, a photojournalist and Pulitzer Center scholar and member of the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), decided to found Women Photograph. Along with Mallory Benedict, who is a photography editor at National Geographic, Zalcman is spearheading this initiative in 2017 to give voice to women visual journalists, including the trans, queer and non-binary collective. The Women Photograph database also includes 700 women photojournalists in 91 countries, and is available privately to any publisher interested in having the female vision in the world of photography.

By Paula ericsson

Paula Ericcson (PE). Only 15 percent of photojournalists are women. How does this affect to our vision of the world?

Daniella Zalcman (DE). That means that we largely are consuming news — whether about politics or entertainment or crime or sports — through a male perspective. And while there’s nothing wrong with the male perspective, it absolutely needs to be tempered with the female perspective as well. We’re fifty percent of the population, we should be telling fifty percent of the stories.

PE. You started Women Photograph to create a hiring resource for photo editors who wanted to find more women photographers with their assigning and also render excuses like I dont know where to find women,” or “I dont think about gender when I hire. How many editors had reached you since then? And from which media?

DZ. I think my audience has been largely American, given my personal background and connections within the industry (and the fact that Women Photograph is almost exclusively an English language operation), but I think there have been real conversations precipitated by Women Photograph. For editors who wanted to hire intentionally but maybe didn’t have the time or resources, I hope I made their lives a little easier, and for editors who haven’t historically believed that intentional hiring from a breadth of identities is important, well — I hope that I’ve made them think a little differently about their hiring practices.

PE. Has Women Photograph influenced in the media dinamics lately? Did it bring more diversity to the breaking news?

DZ. It’s hard for me to truly measure impact, but — I do know that dozens of photographers have received assignments because they were found through the Women Photograph site, and I do know that I’ve had conversations with a variety of photo editors who have started more conscientiously thinking about their hiring statistics. I don’t know how much we’ve impacted breaking news — the situation where photo editors have the least time possible to find and reach out to someone on the ground — but I would hope certainly that for slower assignments I’m a little nagging voice in the back of many editors’ heads now.

PE. Were living the 4th wave of feminism, specially visible in the artistic world. Why we still asking for the same things since the 60’s? What we have to do to see a real change?

DZ. Well, I don’t think we’re still asking for the same things. I don’t know that we were necessarily even discussing the importance of diversity in our storytelling communities in the 60’s (though — I wasn’t there, so I can’t be sure!) — and for sure we were unable to have honest public conversations about predatory, manipulative men. So I think there has been an incredible amount of positive change, just in the past few years. But we also still have a long way to go.

PE. Out of 51 World Press Photo 2018 nominees, 5 are women. Only the 9,8%. Which are the reasons of this invisibility?

DZ. There are so many different reasons. And they all reinforce each other and they all need to be addressed in tandem. Photo editors often disproportionately hire men, especially for physically taxing or dangerous assignments. We tend to recognize the male way of seeing as the most important, because that’s what we’ve been shown all our lives, and what we believe is most valid. So for young women coming up in the industry — trying to push back with a different vision, a different way of looking at a global issue — it’s easy for them to be sidelined. If you’re not getting work, you believe that you can’t succeed, and it’s very easy to get pushed out.

PE. Which rol can contests like World Press Photo or POY have to change this situation? Which advice would you give them to improve the women representation?

DZ. I think World Press tried very hard this year to think about how to create positive change through their contest — they did a lot of outreach to women and non-Western photographers, they brought in a jury chair who was a non-Western woman with a diverse set of judges. But there’s no instant fix here — we have to subvert decades of deeply ingrained traditions that continue to encourage us to see those images that were selected as nominees for the photo of the year as the most worthy photographs. Can a deeply meaningful image only reflect human suffering? I don’t think so — but that’s what this year’s contest tells us. If World Press hopes to change the way the photojournalism industry views photography as a storytelling tool, I’d love to see even more diversity in next year’s jury — not just in terms of identity, but in terms of professional background. Bring in some curators, some people from the fine art community, some experts who work in visual fields who think about photography in slightly different ways. People who aren’t just completely embedded in the standards and visual practices of our business.