Image: Mridula Amin
To coincide with International Women’s Day, we invited three photographers to discuss women photographers’ representation in Australia. We also examined Head On Foundation’s position and the steps we have taken to improve representation in our Festival, Awards and exhibitions.
Head On Foundation is proud to be gender-equal. Our blind selection process, where we select work without the artists’ names attached, ensures the selection is based on merit alone. We believe this process attracts diverse submissions, especially from artists from under-represented groups.
While we judge without names and knowledge of gender, Head On ensures the selection committee’s diversity. We invite industry professionals, including curators, picture editors and practising photographers, to be involved and ensure they come from a range of cultural backgrounds and experiences, as well as being gender-equal. In 2021, our selection panel comprises seven women and five men.
Representation of Women
Although significant research into women’s representation in the arts has been undertaken overseas, little had been done in Australia until recently.
According to the 2016 census, 17,100 Australians identified as photographers, 49% were female.
In 2016, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC, first asked the question; can you name five women artists. A yearly campaign, #5womenartists has sparked a global conversation about women’s historical and current treatment in the arts.
In response, The National Gallery of Australia’s Know My Name initiative aims to promote Australian women artists and their contribution to Australian culture. The NGA has revealed that only 25% of the Australian collection comprises women artists.
The Countess Report, first released in 2014, looked into women artists’ representation in Australia. It highlighted that while women make up a larger proportion of arts practitioners, they were not represented to the same degree in galleries and museums. However, the 2019 updated report was more positive, indicating a significant increase in women’s representation across the board in art prizes contemporary art organisations, boards and executive staff, and artist-run spaces and commercial galleries, but lagging mainly in the state-owned galleries.
Head On Spotlight – International Women’s Day
For our most recent Head On Spotlight, three outstanding women photographers joined us: Julia Coddington, Mridula Amin and Lyndal Irons. We heard about their incredible work and reflections on being a woman in the industry.
Julia, Mridula and Lyndal discussed their involvement with photography collectives and the importance of being a member. Julia as the co-founder of the woman-only street photography group Unexposed Collective, Lyndal with women-only Lumina Collective, and Mridula in Occuli. All three photographers acknowledged the support received by other collective members, regardless of gender. They were conflicted by the benefits of women-only groups against the challenge of holding their own in a mixed-gender group.
They also acknowledged that different genres of photography posed additional challenges. While the fine-art space is seeing a real push for equality, it seems photojournalism is trailing behind. When preparing for the session, we noted that in last year’s Nikon-Walkley Awards for Excellence in Photojournalism, only two women were finalists, against ten men, and World Press Photo reported that only 20% of its entrants in 2020 were women, an increase from 15% in 2015.
Head On Foundation
To improve a more diverse representation in photography, we need to identify processes that will accelerate change. Like Head On Foundation, organisations must lead the way, examine their practices, and improve the representation of women and other under-represented groups.
In keeping with the blind selection process, Head On has not captured previous exhibitors’ gender. Without this accurate data, we have analysed the first names of previous submitters and exhibitors, to provide an understanding of the representation of women photographers in the Festival (unfortunately, this analysis doesn’t take into account non-binary photographers).
While we cannot control who submits or the quality of the work submitted to the Festival, we make sure our selection panel is all-inclusive. In 2021, our selection panel comprises of seven women and five men, 2 First Nation artists, seven practising photographers, five curators/academics/picture editors, five from a cultural and linguistic diverse background.
While Head On is proud of its position in the industry and the work we have done towards gender equality and representation, we are aware that this is an increasingly pressing issue. As the leading photography organisation in Australia, Head On will continue to promote Australian women photographers’ fantastic work and hope to see more shows by female photographers and artists in this year’s Festival!