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Loud and Luminous: Empowering female photographers
Arts and Culture:
International Women's Day 2019 is fast approaching. This year's theme, #BalanceForBetter, highlights the urgency to build a more equitable world. "From grassroots activism to worldwide action, we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence."
While gender balance across all industries remains an issue, photography and visual arts in particular have struggled to move away from their male-dominated origins. But change is in the air as women in the industry are increasingly finding strength in their collective voice.
Today, BroadAgenda Editor Dr Pia Rowe talks to Hilary Wardhaugh, an award-winning photographer and co-founder of the 'Loud and Luminous' project about her mission to recognise and celebrate the contribution of contemporary women in the photographic arts in Australia.
Women continue to be underrepresented in the photography industry - can you tell us about the Loud and Luminous project and how it attempts to address the imbalance?
Loud and Luminous is a project that celebrates Australian women photographers. Our mission is to inspire and empower women and girls.
The project came about because myself and my co-creator of the project, Melissa Anderson were a bit frustrated with the photographic and visual arts industry and the fact that it was still male-dominated in many areas. We had read all these statistics about gallery representation for female artists, photojournalists in news media were mainly men, as were art directors in museums and galleries...so we wanted to do something positive.
We came up with the name Loud and Luminous because collectively we can be loud, and luminous because it relates to light
We came up with the name Loud and Luminous because collectively we can be loud, and luminous because it relates to light.
We had our inaugural exhibition of 56 female identifying people in Melbourne in 2018. We also held our first symposium there and it was a huge success. It was just the right time for it. For example, at the time, a prominent photographic company promoted their new ambassadors and they were all male.
What we’re trying to do is be representative of as many parts of the industry as possible - across corporate work, domestic work such as portraits, fine arts, photojournalism. We also want to increase diversity and show that there are other people out there, people from different cultures, people with disability – not just white people.
What are some of the obstacles facing female photographers in particular?
People have always done things a certain way and they’re too scared to step away out of their comfort zones, and choose someone different to do the work. Someone coined the term ‘mamarazzi’ to highlight the pervasiveness of the male norm.
Women are also still often the primary caregivers and the amount of domestic work that they do, apart from business, apart from creating art, is significant. The income for visual artists, since 1988 to 2015 hasn’t changed, according to the Australian Council of the Arts report, it’s still about $40K, and a lot of the income these days is produced in work that’s actually not related to the craft - whether it’s a part time job, or you’re supported by a spouse or what have you - so it’s a really tricky thing to balance.
Women bring a lot to the photographic arts, a lot of empathy, something quite different – what we classify as the ‘female gaze’ rather than the ‘male gaze’
We need a collective voice. Women work well collaboratively and it’s a good way to get the word out. This is what we’re hoping to address with Loud and Luminous, and inspire people to give it a go. Women bring a lot to the photographic arts, a lot of empathy, something quite different – what we classify as the ‘female gaze’ rather than the ‘male gaze’.
So does the gender of the person behind the lens impact the outcome?
There’s been a heated debate about this and there’s no consensus. But in photojournalism for instance, when they send men and women out to war zones the stories they get back are quite different. I do feel that women have the power to highlight issues that impact humanity but also women and children, through an empathetic gaze.
How do you hope to empower women through photography?
Last year we had the little ‘female’ symbol you see on toilets, and some people thought that it was a really weird thing to include in the imagery, but that’s something that separates us from men. We wanted people to really think about that and use it in a positive way. Some people used it literally in their images, other people referred in pose, form, lighting or colour.
This year we chose the theme ‘power’ because traditionally you wouldn’t put the words ‘women’ and ‘power’ together. We wanted people to think about different versions of power to highlight that it doesn’t have to be strength, it doesn’t have to be masculine power. It can be empathy, the power of community, the power of culture, the power of sisterhood, the power of motherhood.
In social sciences we often look for the silence, or the missing narratives. Is there anything in particular that photography needs to highlight right now?
I’m very passionate about diversity and inclusion, so I think it’s incredibly important for people to document their own cultures and lives. Cameras in the hands of the people living the experience or close to the action gives the viewer a truer story.
I recently came across a group of women of colour photographers who document their stories in central Africa, and I think it’s incredibly important for children to be educated on documenting their stories positively.
One of the 2018 Loud and Luminous artists, Ebony Finck, said she thinks that it’s good that she’s a woman because it means that she can get in close. People don’t feel threatened. And I’ve certainly experienced this as well. As a grey haired, 55-year-old woman, I am invisible. I recently got so close to the Prime Minister photographing outside of Parliament House, that I could touch him, and yet no one batted an eye lid!
So invisibility can be a strength as well as a weakness?
Absolutely. Recently, I documented all these people on their mobile phones. I stood in the middle of the city with a 200mm lens for about five hours, and no one said anything. I was standing there, and no one said a thing. People on their phones didn’t notice, and other people who saw me just walked past. There’s definitely power in that.
Do you have any particular message for people this International Women’s Day?
I think it’s important that the conversation is open to all genders. Most of the people who are coming to the symposium are women, and we need to attract men to come to these things as well. We’re talking about things that impact the whole industry, not just women. We will be talking about gender issues, but gender issues happen because there’s a man and a woman – so we need to have this conversation with everybody, not just speak within the echo chamber.