I’m still not sure why my entry into the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest didn’t win the grand prize. I mean, just look at it. The soft, sandy tones. The late afternoon glow. The dead fish carcass. It’s the circle of life! Lions? Boring! Dugongs? Boring! Gharials? A child could have taken that! (Yes, a child took that.) Clearly, something else must be at play.
Having recently viewed the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit, which is temporarily visiting the Royal British Columbia Museum from its home at the Natural History Museum in London (England, not Ontario), I did question my own potential to ever take an amazing wildlife photograph. As far as I could tell, of the one hundred award-winning images on display, only three were taken by women (and one woman took two of those photos). Even more interesting was the fact that the female photographers emerged victorious in “special interest” categories: one woman shot two landscape photos (not featuring animals) for the “Earth’s Environments” category, while a young girl placed in one of the youth photography categories for photographers younger than ten years old. The other 97 photos in the exhibit seemed to have been shot by men.
So, what’s going on? I imagine that photography is typically a male-dominated field, though I come to that conclusion based solely on a childhood spent pouring over Vogue and looking at the photos of men like Helmut Newton, Mario Testino and Irving Penn. I can understand why there might be a dominant “male gaze” in the fashion industry, as it is so highly sexualized, but why are so few women winning awards for nature photography? It would be one thing if orangutans were posing in $500 lingerie and staring lustily at the camera, but nature photography seems like a pretty gender-irrelevant genre. Are women not taking wildlife photos? Are women taking wildlife photos, but they’re terrible? Are women taking amazing wildlife photos but not entering them into contests? Are women taking amazing wildlife photos and entering them into contests but not winning?
I did send out a quick tweet to the Natural History Museum to see if they had any ideas about the under-representation of female photographers in this year’s exhibit. It will be interesting to hear back from them and to check out future exhibits to see if they include an increased female presence. In the meantime, I would love to see some of the great wildlife shots you’ve taken, especially if you’re the proud owner of both a camera and a vagina. Post a link in the comments so we can check out your work!