Female in Focus is an award purposed to discover, promote and reward a new generation of women-identifying and non-binary photographers around the world. In Linda Nochlin’s seminal 1971 essay Why Are There No Great Women Artists?, she poses a presiding explanation as to why, throughout history, those of us lacking the good fortune to have been born white, middle class and above all, male, have remained so steadfastly on the back foot (in the arts, as in a hundred other areas). “The fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal spaces,” says Nochlin, “but in our institutions and our education”. How, then, do we – as an industry, and as a society – collectively unlearn the centuries of artistic and cultural erasure of women? With the last decade’s unprecedented rise in popular feminism, wider attitudes are ostensibly changing. But the numbers? They’re just not. Between 2013 and 2017, men made up between 89% and 96% of commercial photographers. Less than 14% of leading US fashion magazine covers are shot …
Diversity has never been hotter in the fashion industry. This year, more non-white, plus-sized, and transgender models have walked the runway than ever before, and a record number of black women have appeared on the covers of glossies worldwide. Alessia Glaviano, senior picture editor at Vogue Italia and director of the Photo Vogue Festival thinks we owe it to the internet. “I believe that nothing would have happened, or not this fast, in terms of inclusivity, if it wasn’t for social media,” she says. “It’s a progressive platform for talking about race, identity, sexuality, and disability.”
But diversity isn’t just a trend, it’s a reality. Years before #diversity began to take off, forward-thinking publications such as Vogue Italia were already poking holes in the industry’s representation problem, with initiatives such as the July 2008 “all black” issue. Vogue Italia is known for being adventurous, for setting a standard for cutting-edge fashion photography. Over the years has given artistic freedom to commissioned photographers such as Steve Meisel, Ellen von Unwerth and Miles Aldridge, who have shot stories unlikely to be seen elsewhere, engaging with themes such as plastic surgery and domestic violence.
“It’s been in our DNA since the beginning,” says Glaviano. “We’ve always been really engaged and committed to this part of fashion that can be very strong and influential.
“I’ve never believed in boundaries and labelling things,” she adds. “No one cares that Michelangelo was commissioned to create the Sistine Chapel. What they care about is the final result.”
“In the EU today, we take women’s rights for granted,” says Marina Paulenka, director of Organ Vida, a three-week international photography event held annually in Zagreb. Founded in 2008, the festival has always been driven by political context, and this year, for its 10th edition, its all-female team have chosen to emphasise female-identifying perspectives from around the globe.
“In a time of post-capitalist global turmoil, technological advancements, with the strengthening of rightwing extremism, the growing influence of religion that limits women’s rights again, and the semblance of democracy in the 21st century, we are facing a situation in which women must fight anew for the rights that had been won long ago,” Paulenka insists.
As we move into 2018, BJP review the themes explored in our 2017 editions and ask what you would like us to cover this year