Gaslighting in Photojournalism:
Revisionist history threatens to whitewash The Silent Generation — women who paved The Way.
“For a very long time, we’ve been predominantly looking at the world through the experience and vision of male photographers,” wrote photographer Daniella Zalcman.
This is a sexist and ageist quote. It was published in a piece on NationalGeographic.com that also showcased the work of younger female photographers. The text included a reference to a male-dominated “status quo” working world that purportedly is only now starting to change. This is inaccurate and why I decided to write a response.
The impression given does not represent my 35 years of experience in the field of photojournalism. My recollections reveal a different, more complete narrative.
The article, which was posted on International Women’s Day, failed to mention all women photojournalists, like those who paved the way at the venerable National Geographic Magazine — talented National Geographic photographers who’s work I remember: Karen Kasmauski, Melissa Farlow, Joanna Pinneo, Alexandra Avakian, Alexandra Boulat, Lynn Johnson, Susie Post, Maria Stenzel, Sisse Brimberg, Jodi Cobb and Annie Griffith Belt. Instead, the writer highlighted a crop of relative newcomers to the field and magazine and glossed over any reference to the past. This false narrative is beating a drum that ignores the talent, sacrifice, and accomplishments of their predecessors who now make it possible for today’s women photographers to stand tall.
It’s shocking and disappointing to think this article was printed in a publication that considers itself a mainstream journalistic institution. Sadly, this seems to be a trend, as an entire generation (and more) of women photojournalists have been ignored, forgotten or made to simply disappear through a prism that paints only the younger contributors as those who have supposedly broken through a glass ceiling in photojournalism.
Stunningly and inexcusably, the editors behind this piece seemed unaware of Cathy Newman’s book that documented 100 years of contributions by women photographers to the pages of National Geographic. The book, “Women Photographers at the National Geographic” was published by the National Geographic almost twenty years ago!
Photographer and educator Todd Bigelow reacted to the article best and I agree:
“The narrative has been hijacked to some degree in an effort to make it seem like the male barrier has just now been pierced…that’s simply revisionist history. It’s just not true, but it serves the two-minute cycle of those with big social media followings. I grew up in this profession looking up to all the women listed here BECAUSE they broke through by creating incredible bodies of work. And have continued to lead the way as well.”
We –- the women who have preceded our younger sisters in the profession — have fought the good fight for diversity, equality and opportunity for over 35 years.
I remember 1997 was a breakthrough year for women in photojournalism. Looking back now, we established that women stood firmly on an even playing field across the entire industry. We had a collective voice that was raised and listened to by dint of the power and quality of our work.
Women swept awards that were previously bestowed largely to a field of men. It was the year Carol Guzy, Gail Fisher and I dominated the NPPA/Pictures of the Year competition (I won Magazine Photographer of the Year — only the second time it was awarded to a woman; the first time, 42 years earlier!). Corinne Dufka won the Robert Capa medal. Women swept the Overseas Press Club awards and top categories within the World Press Photo — the industry’s highest honors at the time. This story by Sherry Ricchardi retells what women faced then.
Today, we’re faced with a different and much sadder kind of battle: our history and accomplishments are being diminished and whitewashed, as quotes in the NG.com piece by a market-savvy younger generation with a social media megaphone and by gatekeeper-editors who aid in promoting this false history.
“I think the current narrative about the lack of women in photojournalism ignores the reality that there has been a significant number of talented, successful women photographers in the industry the past few decades. There has been a notable female presence at newspapers and magazines for a long time, both on the shooting and editing side. Women have played a big role in how stories are told, which stories are told and who is telling those stories,” said photographer Radhika Chalasani.
Women have always played roles telling stories throughout the greater realm of journalism for years. A good photojournalist is able to transition between covering important women’s issues, as well as navigate other assignments not always deferential to women.
The women who I came up with — photographers who were my comrades and closest friends remain to this day, strong, independent, courageous, fearless and dynamic but with empathy that shows in our work across a range of assignments and stories. They were mavericks, that fought tooth and nail to get better assignments. Photographers such as Janet Knott, a Boston Globe staffer, had guts and gumption. I remember her photographs to this day and her work is not represented on the internet because she worked in pre-digital days.
Similarly, Carol Guzy, is a rare combination of vulnerability and incredible inner strength. Not only is Carol the best woman photojournalist of all time, but one of the best journalists period. Many of her greatest photographs are not found on the internet for the same reason as Janet’s, but I remember her work indelibly. You should see her work in the field. She’s relentless, yet is also the antithesis of a bull in a china shop.
Equality was important to us then, just as it is now. I know, because I fought for it. I risked my life on many occasions so others would never dare to think that a minority or woman couldn’t cut it in the field; I saw it as an additional challenge to set the record straight.
Many American newspapers started to push for diversity and equality in the early 1980s. The staff I worked with at the Boston Globe early on in my career was diverse. We were largely working and middle-class photographers who went to work and competed with each other on daily deadlines, men and women alike. Many of the top photographers practicing today came up through these newspaper staffs, including many National Geographic photographers.
The threat of extinction hangs over working and middle-class photographers today. As the industry continues to nosedive, many seasoned pros have been forced to abandon it. The business has been taken over by a younger generation, many of which have alternate sources of funding, such as trust funds.
Washington Post Director of Photography, MaryAnne Golon in a recent interview with LensCulture seemed to lay it on the line:
“I like to remind people that at the very start of photography, the only people who could afford to pursue it were very wealthy men…It was so prohibitively expensive for anyone else to afford. It may yet swing back in that direction for some time before it evolves again, and I say that because it seems to me that many of the most successful people doing photojournalism right now tend to have alternative sources of money than standard assignment rates or the ability to solely rely on grants. Right now, if you want to be a successful photojournalist, it’s very helpful if you have a trust fund!”
With budgets slashed and paltry fees offered, editors have sought out these self-funding talents. They had little choice. The new photographers didn’t mind, they needed the validation the publications offered and in the case of trust-funders, they didn’t need the money.
Young photographers came into contact with some male editors and older photographers who, sensing an opportunity, behaved shamefully (to say the least). Some of these men were rumored to be predators in the portfolio review circuit, or in their jobs as editors, for years. It was hard for the younger generation to call them out, as they had power to make assignments and help careers. It was easier to just brand all male photographers as predators. Many photographers actually detested this circuit that consumed much of the industry’s oxygen over the past 10 years.
Some editors who historically did not showcase women or ignored diversity now sing the diversity tune. They survive today because they’ve been able to jump on the bandwagon of equality and travel the festival/review circuit. The same circuits that have become a haven for photographers with alternative sources of revenue.
Women photojournalists from the film era are what I call the Silent Generation. This is primarily because we got ahead and made a place for ourselves in this business by doing the work and letting our pictures do the talking for us.
Many older photographers’ work has not been broadly digitized. Some former newspaper and wire staffers no longer have access to their work. This hole in the historical record has opened the door for the revisionist history we’re seeing today. There’s no need to rewrite or erase the history of women photographers to empower the women of today. When you are empowering based on revisionism, you are, in fact, not empowering but perpetuating victimhood!
We aren’t defined by the noise on social media, which is largely coming from those whose knowledge of the industry is limited to the past five or ten years.
Our experience and our lives have been rich; our memories too. We are defined by our work, and the craft of our storytelling, less so by the public inflating of it. Instagram and Facebook may be necessary evils today, but that doesn’t mean we need to let them define us.
I saw, and continue to see men as equal colleagues. I welcome the opportunity to work with them in the field where people are judged on their manner, visual skill, their professional instincts, and ethics.
I am here to attest to the historical fact that there were legions of passionate and heroic women photographers who paved the roads you are walking on today. Respect.
Women Photojournalists Who Paved The Way :
The Silent Generation: Photojournalists (and documentary photographers) from the FILM ERA who paved the way. Part Two: Update and the List here
Trailblazers: Michelle Agins, Lacy Atkins, Mary Altaffer, Kael Alford, Monica Almeida, Nancy Andrews, Elise Amendola, Juana Arias, Jane Evelyn Atwood, Martine Barrat, Patricia Beck, Adek Berry, Annie Griffith Belt, Karen Ballard, Marice Cohn Band, Letizia Battaglia, Juliana Beasley, Robyn Beck, Natalie Behring, Nadia Benchallal, Nina Berman, Jodie Bieber, Nicole Bengiveno, Susan Biddle, Ellen Binder, Erica Berger, Joan Biren, Mary DiBiase Blaich, Eileen Blass, Alexandra Boulat, Karen Borchers,
Kathy Borchers, Carrie Boretz, Robin Bowman, Heidi Bradner, Sisse Brimberg, Paula Bronstein, Robin Buckson, Melanie Burford, Renee C. Byer, Judith Calson, Mary Calvert, Ann Card, Radhika Chalasani, Rina Castelnuovo, Cindy Carp, Linda Cataffo, Lara Cerri, Debbie Egan Chin, Jodi Cobb, Rachel Cobb, Christina Koci, Gigi Cohen, Carolyn Cole, Jill Connelly, Deborah Copaken, Lori Ann Cook, Elizabeth Conley, Cathaleen Curtiss, Elizabeth Dalziel, Meredith Davenport, Barbara Davidson, Stephanie Klein-Davis, Suzanne DeChillo, Renée DeKona, Françoise Demulder, Anne Cusack Derk, Cherie Diez, Joyce Dopkeen, Madeline Drexler, Corinne Dufka, Mary E Duvendack, Cynthia Elbaum, Karen Elshout, Melissa Farlow, Sharon Farmer, Najlah Feanny, Gina Ferazzi, Donna Ferrato, Giorgia Fiorio, Gail Fisher, Deanne Fitzmaurice, Natalie Fobes, Mimi Fuller Foster, Michelle Frankfurter, Mary Lou Foy, Jill Freedman, Candace Freeland, Ruth Anna Fremson, Karen Pulfer Focht, Mariella Furrer, Liz Gilbert, Anat Givon, Jenny Goodall, Arlene Gottfried, Lori Grinker, Adriana Groisman, Lauren Greenfield, Stormi Greener, Pat Greenhouse, Maya Goded, Louise Gubb, Judy Griesedieck, Carol Guzy, Kari Rene Hall, Kyndell Harkness, Cheryle Hatch, Abigail Heyman, Luci S. Williams Houston, Karen Huntt, Graciela Iturbide, Janet Jarman, Cynthia Johnson, Kelly Hahn Johnson, Lynn Johnson, Nikki Kahn, Karen Kasmauski, Brenda Kenneally, France Keyser, Kathy Kieliszewski, Yunghi Kim, Barbara Kinney, Suzanne Kreiter, Janet Knott, Gabriela Iturbide, Annalisa Kraft, Sara Krulwich, Diedra Laird, Wendy Lamm, Jackie Larma, Marta Lavandier, Adelaide Leavy, Mary Lee, Sarah Leen, Paula Lerner, Heidi Levine, Pauline Leuben, Joan Liftin, Rose Cundari Lincoln, Firdia Lisnawati, Wendy Maeda, Melina Mara, Leonie Marinovitch, Mary Ellen Mark, Michelle McDonald, Susan Tinsley Mcelhinney, MaryBeth Meehan, Susan Meiselas, Cheryl Diaz Meyer, Andrea Mohín, Barbara Montgomery, Mary Alice Murphy, Rebecca Naden, Paula Nelson, Marilyn Newton, Beth B. Nakamura, Anja Niedringhaus, Marcy Nighwander, Enny Nuraheni, Cheryl Nuss, Nancy Palmieri, Angela Pancrazio, Darcy Padilla, Deb Pastner, Peggy Peattie, Mary Annette Pember, Ilene Perlman, Darlene Pfister, Joanna B Pinneo, Sylvia Plachy, Susan Pfannmuller, Cloe Poisson, Susie Post, Carol Powers, Sarah Putnam, Susana Raab, Akili Ramsess, Joanne Rathe, Lois Raimondo, Robin Rayne, Mona Reeder, Lara Jo Regan, Rita Reed, Cristina Garcia Rodero, Linda Rosier, Martha Rial, Barb Ries, Ricki Rosen, Marissa Roth, Jayne Oncea, Francine Orr, Amy Sancetta, Lise Sarfati, April Saul, Jana Schneider, Nadia Borowski Scott, Meryle Schenker, Mary Schroeder, Paula Alyse Scully, Cheryl Senter, Olga Shalygin, Helayne Seidman, Lori Shepler, Iris Schneider, Victoria Sheridan, Callie Shell, Meri Simon, Jean-Marie Simon, Nancy Siesel, Stephanie Sinclair, Lynne Sladky, Allison V Smith, Dayna Smith, Sally Soames, Gaby Sommer, Jan Sonnenmair, Pam Spaulding, Doreen Spooner, Karen Stallwood, Monique Stauder, Susan Stava, Frieda Squires, Evelyn Straus, Maggie Steber, Maria Stenzel, Donna Terek, Beatriz Terrazas, Audrey Tiernan, Margaret Thomas, Elaine Thompson, Susan Tusa, Betty Udesen, Nuri Vallbona, Michelle Vignes, Walsh, Judy Walgren, Diana Walker, Susan Watts, Ruby Washington, Diane Weiss, Annie Wells, Ulrike Welsch, Candace West, Leslie White, Kathy Willens, Mandi Wright, Vicki Valerio, Maya Vidon, Susan Vlamis, Cindy Yamanaka, Marilynn K. Yee, Teresa Zabala, Charlyn Zlotnik,
Pioneers: Eve Arnold, Dickey Chapelle, Dorothea Lange, Lisa Larsen, Catherine Leroy, Lee Miller, Margaret Bourke-White, Gerda Taro,
Directors of Photography and Photo Editors Who Paved The Way:
In Newspapers, Magazines and Photo Agencies.
Part Two: Update and the List here
Alyssa Adams, Kimberlee Aquaro, Lyn Alweis, Adrienne Aurichio Virginia Avent, Ann Bailie, Martha Bardach, Jo Barefoot, Donnamarie Barnes, Elizabeth Benard, Jocelyn Benzakin, Maggie Berkvist, Beverly Bethune, Elisabeth Biondi, Eileen Blass, Debbie Bondulic, Katherine Bourbeau, Sherry Brown, Bobby Baker Burrows, Sue Brisk, Michele Cardon, Chris Carey, Jane Clark, Jennifer Coley, Alex Colow, Scotty Comegys, Sue Considine, Sue Considine, Caroline E. Couig, Jane Clark, Claudia Counts, Mia Diehl, Claudia DiMartino, Caroline Despard, Jessie DeWitt, Sonya Doctorian, Lee Dudley, Mary Dunn, Sarah Dussault, Sandra Eisert, Debbie Edelstein, Ruth Eichhorn, Linda Ferrer, Beth Flynn Alice Gabriner, Alice Rose George, Yonca Erdogan Gerlach, Lucy Gilmore, Susan Glen, Nancy Glowinski, Margie Goldberg, Maryanne Golon, Esin Goknar, Angie Gottschalk, Kelly Grant, Alex Gregson, Deborah Haberstadt, Michele Hadlow, Lisa Roberts Hahn, Meg Handler, Sarah Harbutt, Mary Hardiman, Hazel Hammond, Barbara Henckel, Kathleen Hennessy, Nancy Jo Johnson, Vanessa Hillian, Leora Kahn,
Selma Kalosek, Daile Kaplan, Midge Keator, Laurie Kratochvil, Elizabeth Krist, Alex Korab, Stella Kramer, Eliane Laffont, Bronwen Latimer, Carolyn Lee, Nancy Lee, Tina Loite, Michelle Malloy, Megan Loorham, Maria Mann, Moya McAllister, Kerry McCarthy, Cheryl Magazine, Marion Mertens, MC Marden, Carol McCay, Kathy Seward Mackay, Linda McConnell, Michele McNally, Dot McMahon, Eveyln Merrin, Geri Migielicz, Sue Miklas, Joanne Milter, Kathy Moran, Sue Morrow, Sarah Morse, Mary Jo Moss, Karen Mullarkey, Jolie Muller, Florence Nash, Meredith Nicholson, Margaret O’Connor, Debra Pang, Jodi Peckman, Janice Pikey, Catherine Pledge, Diane Pleines, Jenn Poggi, Vivitte Porges, Marcia Prouse, Crary Pullen, Susan C. Ragan, Patty Reksten, Julia Richer, Amy Rossetti, Jodi Quon, Hillary Raskin, Susanne Revy, Kathy Ryan, Sylvie Rebbot, Janet Reeves, Julia Richer, Jeannie Rhodes, Barbara Sadick, Cristina Scalet, Ann Schneider, Marie Schumann, Phaedra Singelis, Rosanna Sguera, Jeannie Adams-Smith, Susan Smith, Nancy Smith, Madge Stager, Sally Stapleton, Jo Steck, Jane Stein, Loren Steinberg, Michelle Stephenson, Mary Studley, Cara Sutherland, Sujong Song, Jay Sumner, Eleanor Taylor, Mary Themo, Donna Tsfura, Gillian Tucker, Susan Vermazen, Maggie Walker, Ronnie Weil, Susan Welchman, Susan Wise, Susan White, Deirdre Wilson, Lauren Winfield
This list is largely drawn from US photojournalism, photojournalism having deeper roots in US newspapers and magazines from the FILM ERA. This list also includes some documentary photographers. Names will be vetted before placed on a permanent site this summer. This is a working list and not a full list.
- Other stories highlighting womens role in photojournalism: 10 World Press Photo Awards, 10 Backstories and One Piece Of Advice.
- Copyright to the photographer Credited. All rights reserved. Photos given by each photographer.
- Yunghi Kim has been a photojournalist for 35 years, is a member of Contact Press Images and Yunghi gives back to photojournalism in Yunghi Grant. Follow Yunghi on Twitter: @Yunghi.