International Women's Day

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International Women's Day

India Urwin , 01 Mar 2022

Image: Nichole Sobecki

In Susan Sontag’s introductory essay in Annie Leibovitz’s famous photography book Women (1999), Sontag wrote;  

'The imperial rights of the camera - to gaze at, to record, to exhibit anyone, anything - are an exemplary feature of modern life, as is the emancipation of women' 

 

The 8 March marks International Women’s Day, 2022. This year, we at Head On, want to reflect on how we support women photographers and what more we could do to continue to empower them. 

Head On Foundation is proactive in achieving gender equality and embodying intersectional feminist values. Our blind selection process, where we select work without the artists' names attached and no knowledge of gender, ensures the selection is based on merit alone. We believe this process attracts diverse submissions, especially from artists from under-represented groups. 

Head On is determined to ensure inclusivity in the photographers we support and exhibit and diversity in the stories being told. However, Head On understands that the disadvantage that has been systematically afforded to women in the art world cannot simply be fixed by ‘levelling the playing field’. Therefore, Head On commits to assembling a diverse selection committee, from a range of professions, disciplines, genders and cultural backgrounds, including First Nations peoples, to certify that a range of perspectives and identities are informing the selection process. In 2022, our selection panel is comprised of seven women and four men. 

Representation of Women 

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 looked into women artists' representation in Australia. The 2019 updated report noted a positive turn, compared to its former 2014 report, 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. 

However, some genres of photography seem to be lagging behind. Women Photograph collects vast data on women photographers working in the American photojournalism industry. The statistics for 2021 show a distinct disparity between the rate at which men and women photographers are hired and published.  

Image credit: Women Photograph

There is a noticeable lack of research and productivity into improving the condition of women photographers. Thus, Head On strives to be a pioneering voice in women’s empowerment in the photographic community. 

Head On Foundation  

To achieve a more diverse representation in photography, we need to identify processes that will accelerate change. 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 understand the representation of women photographers in the Festival (we acknowledge that this analysis doesn't take into account non-binary photographers).

In 2021, we collected gender information through the submission process to ensure our data would be more accurate. Note: gender information was still made absent during the selection/judging process. 

We vow to keep analysing these statistics in the 2022 festival and beyond, and use this data to fuel practical change to support and encourage women photographers.

Women’s perspectives 

Less visible and more difficult data to quantify concerns the female perspectives and stories and how impactful they are. So, let’s look at some women’s stories from Head On Photo Festival 2021. 

Women on the Move

Image credit: Nichole Sebecki  

The UN estimates that more than a billion people are migrating across international borders. From climate change and war to poverty and inequality, women are disproportionately affected by our world's major issues.  

By the Everyday Projects photography collective, this series shares the stories of women on the move; whether they are running from something or towards something, or both, is unclear. What is clear is the resounding resilience and strength these women embody in conditions that severely lack any security or safety.  

We have become accustomed to framing women in domestic spaces, so it is particularly jarring to see them exposed and unbound.  

Girl Interrupted


Image Credit: Jacqueline Lukowski

Dolls are made in the image of little girls, or is it the other way around? 

This series by Jacquelin Lukowski explores the fleeting liminality between adolescence and womanhood, as represented through the relationships between young girls and their dolls. From an extremely young age, girls are programmed to manufacture a self-image of feminine beauty. We are even provided with inanimate best friends to assist in this systematic gender appropriation. 

While Lukowski’s images are undoubtedly beautiful, these perfect girls have a sinister quality with their perfect dolls. Is the porcelain cracking? 

Invisible Ink

Image credit: Gabrielle N Menezes

Artists Gabrielle N. Menezes said about this series; “When I was 28, I had an affair with a married man. This relationship marked me the most and made me value myself differently. It’s only now, years later, that I can be honest about that relationship and understand its costs.”  

The Male Gaze has long framed women solely through their relationship or significance to men, as a mother, daughter, sister, sexual object, or threat to masculinity. Gabriella N. Menezes subverts this quality of the male gaze, insisting women re-examine their relationships with the men that defined them, shed the image projected onto them by these men, and write their own stories.  

Women cannot be confined to a picture. 

International Women’s Day Spotlight 

An insightful way to mark International Women’s Day is to view one of last year’s Spotlight sessions with three outstanding women photographers: Julia Coddington, Mridula Amin and Lyndal Irons. These three diverse women practitioners joined Head On founder Moshe Rosenzveig OAM in 2021 to speak about their incredible work and share their insights on being a woman in photography. 

 

We look forward to another bright year of exploring and celebrating the work of women photographers! 

Susan Sontag, Women, ed. Annie Leibovitz, 1999 

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