Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on and celebrate the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It’s been more than 100 years since British women first voted in a general election, and although there is still progress to be made, there’s also a lot to celebrate.
Although photography is a historically male-dominated field, female photographers have always played an important role in its growth and evolution. In fact, it was a female photographer named Anna Atkins who published the world’s very first photo book, featuring cyanotypes of British Algae.
These days, an increasing number of female photographers are gaining recognition for their contributions to the field. Some are working to highlight important issues such as climate change, and others are establishing a presence in traditionally male-dominated areas of photography such as sports and photojournalism.
With this in mind, we wanted to highlight some of the many talented female photographers working in the industry today. So we asked five female photographers from different areas to share a few insights about how they got started and what they have learned along the way.
1. Emily Garthwaite, Photojournalism
Emily Garthwaite is a London-based photojournalist who covers humanitarian and environmental issues. She was a finalist for Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2015 and 2018, and was included in Forbes 30 Under 30 for Media and Marketing in 2019.
“I’ve been taking photos since I was 15,” says Emily. “I’ve always been an immensely inquisitive person, introspective and independent. I’ve always spoken to strangers at bus stops and thrown myself out of my comfort zone as often as possible. When I held a camera in my hand, it gave me purpose. People seemed to light up when I took their photos - and so did I. I haven’t stopped since.”
Emily has documented everything from wildlife trafficking in Indonesia to the Arbaeen Pilgrimage in Iraq, so we asked her which of the projects she’s worked on so far has been her favourite. Here is what she had to say.
“In the Spring of 2019 I spent two weeks living with a family in Dearborn, Michigan and documenting the town for a series called MidWest Muslims. Considering that it was my first visit to the USA, it was an intriguing place to start.
Dearborn has the largest Middle Eastern population outside the Middle East, and rests on the suburbs of Detroit. It was the first time I gave myself space to tell a story, slowly and carefully. I hope to continue the story for many years to come.
The experience in the USA came after a great deal of research into Islamophobia, and was informed by my previous experiences both in the UK and Middle East. It felt like the first moment of peaceful reflection I’d had the opportunity to experience after my whirlwind trips to Iraq and Iran.”
Emily says if she could give one piece of advice to other female photographers who would like to start working in photojournalism, it would be to forge your own path.
“I wouldn’t have told my younger self too much, for fear I could discourage her,” she says. “I firmly believe that if you’re passionate, driven and positive, you can achieve anything. Stay persistent, form a healthy relationship with failure and lean on your camera. I find great comfort in my camera.
Be inspired by other people’s journeys, but forge your own path. Know when to be blinkered, and when to look around you. Remember that social media is a tool for reaching a wide audience and using your voice, not for affirmation. Check your privilege and read up about informed consent.
I love my job. It has been a struggle since the day I started, but I’ve done it myself, on my terms. I haven’t compromised my integrity, and because of that, I wouldn’t change a thing.”