This is a heavy issue, so let me get this out first: Photographer Colin Dancel made a directory of Filipino women and nonbinary photographers, as well as a resource library for Filipino women and nonbinary photographers that includes information on grants and helpful articles. They’re free, they’re on Notion, and you should check them out, especially if you’re a brand in the photography industry that somehow still needs to be educated about the existence of photographers that aren’t straight cis men.
If you haven’t been caught up with what’s been happening in the photography world recently, let me bring you up to speed: Last Monday, Canon Philippines announced their new brand ambassadors for 2021, all of whom were cishet men. This quickly drew flack because, well, it’s 2021, we just ended Pride Month, and you’re still only going to recognize cishet men?
The brand responded by calling for female photographers to submit their profile photos, which is insulting. First of all: The onus shouldn’t be on the women to clean up your mistakes and be your inclusivity fix. If male ambassadors are chosen, why do women have to apply to be seen? Second: Why do women have to submit their profile photos, not their actual body of work?
The scandal has caused one photojournalist, Jilson Tiu, to step down as an ambassador. “As of today, I am dropping my ambassadorship with Canon Philippines, it’s been a long time coming (3 years) and this is the tipping point,” he wrote on Facebook Wednesday, July 21. “Thank you Canon for the three years, I will continue to use your camera as a tool, but I don’t want to be an ambassador to a brand that doesn’t align with my principles. Paalam at salamat, magkaiba tayo ng daan na nilalakaran.”
While Canon has since released a statement (didn’t catch an apology there) that they support “camera enthusiasts and content creators regardless of gender, culture, customs, language, or race,” and that they’re listening to the feedback, it’s important to highlight that this fiasco didn’t happen in a bubble.
“This Canon incident didn’t happen in isolation. It just brought into view what the landscape is like for women photographers here,” wrote National Geographic photojournalist Hannah Reyes Morales on Facebook last Wednesday. “What you felt, seeing their all male ambassador lineup, their response of rushing female photographers to submit their profile photo (and not their work) for consideration after people got angry, their non-apology and their adamant response—for women photographers this is a constant, consistent reality, and one that is lived.”
The latest fiasco isn’t the first time something like this has happened. In 2017, Reyes also called out Esquire Philippines for putting out a feature on “the country’s top photojournalists,” none of whom were women. She contrasted this by pointing out a listicle on female photographers the magazine released which made them “look like we’re on holiday.”
Speaking to Preen.ph, Reyes opened up about what happens when diverse views—usually those of women and queer persons—are left out in photography:
“The perspectives of women and nonbinary photographers in the Philippines need to be seen. It’s a loss for us if we can’t see things from different vantage points, a loss if we mostly see through the lens of men.
When I was starting out, the ‘masters’ of photography that older photographers told me to study were all men. And while I look up to much of that work, I missed out on a lot of critical learning. There were wide gaps in what I was being taught, and asked to look at. I was told that this was the standard I should be aiming for.
But of course the world didn’t open up to me in the same way that it opens up to men. The things I feel are worth noticing aren’t the same.
One of the best gifts of looking at photography is being allowed to see through others’ eyes. And we’re missing out when we don’t recognise the views from where women and nonbinary photographers stand.”
That brings me back to the database. Currently, there are 79 female and nonbinary photographers on it, and I’m certain that the number will continue to grow. Aside from Dancel and Reyes, the list includes Nolisoli.ph’s resident photographer and videographer Samantha Ong, as well as past contributors Regine David, Dar San Agustin, and Tammy David.
I can’t stress this enough: Female and nonbinary photographers are highly competent, talented, and good at what they do. Hire them, book them for your next gig, make them your new ambassadors. Inclusivity isn’t just an aesthetic choice. It’s not enough to say that you don’t care if the person holding the camera is a man or a woman, and you support them regardless of that fact. You have to make an active choice to build an inclusive future, and that means actually making sure that you’re not recreating patriarchal norms by defaulting to men.