Supporting Women in Photography - Interview with SheClicks Founder Angela Nicholson

Marianne Stenger
7th January 2022

Photography is by and large still a male-dominated industry. Although there have been many changes over the last decade, it can still be an intimidating landscape for women to navigate, especially those who are just beginning their careers. 

According to the British Journal of Photography, while globally 70-80% of photography students are women, they account for just 13-15% of professional photographers. 

In an effort to provide women with a supportive environment where they can hone their skills, photographer and journalist Angela Nicholson started the SheClicks community, which has since grown to over 10,000 members. 

“One thing I’m keen to point out is that SheClicks isn’t about excluding men,” says Nicholson. “It’s about creating a space where women can express themselves and feel confident and foster the right relationships. So it’s a lot less political and exclusive than some people think.” 

We asked her to tell us a bit about the idea behind the female-led platform, as well as some of the challenges women may face when they’re first starting out  in photography.

First of all, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background in photography? 

I started reviewing cameras when I was working for Amateur Photographer in around 2004. I later went on to be their technical editor. In 2010, I moved on to Future Publishing where I was the head of testing across all their portfolios, including TechRadar. 

I left in 2016 to help set up Camera Jabber, a website with news, reviews and advice for photographers. In fact, my leaving day was the day of the Brexit vote, so my leaving drinks took on a whole new meaning. Then in August 2018, I set up SheClicks.

Tell us about the idea behind SheClicks and why you wanted to create a female-only photography community? 

It was something I had been thinking about for quite some time, and my partner was always telling me “you should have a website for female photographers.”

Having set up Camera Jabber and worked with a lot of other websites, I knew how much work setting up a website involved. Particularly a website with a niche interest like photography, and this would be a niche within a niche. 

So I knew it was going to be difficult, but I was talking to some people in the US, and they mentioned that female photography communities were getting big over there. It was around this same time that Facebook Groups were becoming quite prominent. 

I had a conversation with the team at the Photography Show, and they said about a third of their following on Facebook Groups at the time were women. Yet if you went to a show at that time, less than a third of the people attending were women. So I thought there might be something about the way women interact that made a Facebook Group the way to go. 

So I created SheClicks as a Facebook group. I thought, with all the contacts I had developed in the industry, we would probably get to around 300 people within eight weeks or so. But instead we got to that number in 24 hours. That’s when I realised there was a real desire for this. 

My plan was to start doing webinars, but I’d initially thought that in about six months, once we’d reached 1000 followers, I would get started with that side of things. But we got to that number in about a month, so I had to rethink everything and get organised and galvanised. 

Why do you think there is such a need for an exclusively female photography community? 

I used to run some photo walks for an event called Digital Splash by Wilkinson’s Cameras. Normally, the ratio would be something like ten men and two women. But there was one walk I did where it was the other way around, and there were ten women and two men. 

I asked them “Did you all come together and did you all know each other?” But they said “Oh no, we just looked at the list and you were the only woman doing a walk. We thought we could probably ask you questions and you would be a bit more approachable and probably wouldn’t patronise us.”

I thought that was interesting. I think there’s quite good evidence that women like to be taught by other women. So it just seemed like an important thing to do to encourage more women into photography.

Having worked on photographic magazines for quite a long time, I was very aware of lots of women working in photography and doing all sorts of things. But they were just quietly being brilliant, without ever really appearing in the magazines. 

I don’t think it’s deliberate sexism. It’s often just that the editorial teams are so busy that they go to the people that they know, and that’s usually men, because that’s the cycle they’re in. Also, a lot of the women didn’t seem to realise that you don’t just get selected to go in a magazine. You have to approach them.

I also became increasingly aware that it was a confidence thing. Women often think their photography isn’t good enough to approach a magazine with. So I wanted to encourage and support women, and also explain some of the processes and connect them with other female photographers. 

I’m a member of some other photography groups, and while some are great, some are just so vicious. You know, someone will post a picture and ask a question, and they’ll immediately get shot down just for asking that question. Or for sharing a picture which isn’t deemed good enough, or shooting it with the ‘wrong’ lens, or whatever.

I just thought, “what a horrible experience for someone who is learning photography.” Nobody has an innate understanding of photography. It’s something that can be quite confusing and has to be learned. So it’s nice to be able to ask questions and not be shot down for not knowing something that somebody else might consider quite basic.

How do you manage SheClicks alongside your paid work? 

It is a constant juggle. Now that we have so many members I do get sponsorship for most of the webinars, which helps, because it can be quite time consuming.

For instance, when it comes to arranging webinars, you’ve got to approach experts and ask them if they’re happy to do the webinar, and then you have to explain what you need and organise all the information. Then you’ve got to schedule it on Zoom and put it up on the website and send out emails.

When I was first doing it, something like that could easily take me a whole day. I eventually got it down to a couple of hours, but it really does add up.

Of course, I think when you care about something and you’re excited about it, it’s much easier to spend time on it. It really is a passion project. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much work goes into it, but I’d say it’s at least two or three days each week.

But, the great thing about doing these webinars is that afterwards we get to see all the pictures that people start sharing on that theme.

For instance, there was one webinar about intentional camera movement, which is something a lot of people are interested in. After the webinar, we had so many people sharing images that were inspired by what we’d taught. So that’s really rewarding to see, both for me and for the presenter.

What have been some of the best moments of running SheClicks so far? 

Well, we’ve had two exhibitions now, which has been absolutely fantastic. The first one was in 2019. Olympus used to sponsor a gallery in Holland Park and had an exhibition every month, so I asked them if SheClicks could have an exhibition there.

They said yes, so I set up a challenge through Photocrowd. I forget the exact number, but we had over  2000 submissions. I got a panel of nine judges, so it was ten including myself, all female photographers and women in the industry.

 We selected 50 images to go on the walls in that exhibition for a week. On the first day we had a private view, and I have never seen that gallery so busy. It was just such a nice moment. There were so many smiling faces and proud women, and husbands, sons and dads who were beaming from ear to ear. It was just such a positive experience.

Then this year at the Photography Show, we had another exhibition. This time with images selected by Cewe from our monthly challenge over the last year. They chose a selection of images and printed them up for display.

It really reminded me just how important it is to print your images. I got some really touching messages from people who couldn’t make it to the exhibition but wanted to let me know how important it was to them to have their image chosen, printed, and included in an exhibition. 

So it was just a really special moment and a reminder that you can actually make a real difference to someone’s confidence just by picking their image and putting it on the wall.

What are some of the things you’d still like to accomplish with SheClicks?

Well, we have our monthly photo challenge now, and I think those images in the gallery page are probably the thing I’m most proud of. You just look at it and see that it’s all work by female photographers, and the breadth and quality of it is just amazing.

So I would like to see more of that. I’m also hoping that we’ll get an exhibition again next year and just make it bigger, better, and more celebrated. 

What was really interesting at the Photography Show was that we were there for four days speaking to a lot of different people, and I think we only had about four negative comments. It was also really lovely that quite a few men came up to me to say how they appreciated what we were doing.

One of the things I noticed when I started SheClicks was that there was a lot of photography I hadn’t really seen much of before, such as using textures and layers and intentional camera movement. This sort of thing wasn’t getting featured much in the magazines and wasn’t that prevalent.

So it dawned on me that if women are really interested in this, and it’s not getting in the magazines, then men aren’t going to be able to be inspired by it either. Ultimately, it’s about seeing many different points of view and letting everyone be inspired by it.

Biography:

Angela Nicholson is a journalist, editor, and photographer. She’s also the co-founder of Camera Jabber, a website with photography news and reviews as well as tips and techniques. In 2018, she founded SheClicks, a photography community for female photographers.

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