You Shoot Like a Boy

As a female photographer, good work often draws parallels, not praise.

‘You shoot like a boy. When I first saw your work, I thought you were a guy. Your camera takes nice photos. Did you edit these yourself?’

To be told you do anything ‘like a boy’ isn’t a compliment – it’s undermining.

Work should never be defined by gender, yet men remain the benchmark for diligent work, for quality work, for knowing what you are doing.

What does my choice of shutter speed or how my eyes see the world have to do with gender, especially when it comes to portraying art?

It’s funny: This gender-perceived role has had a female perspective dating back to the origins of the art form. Women have been involved in photography from the very start, however the part played by them has earned no recognition.

“Herstory” is hardly ever a part of history.

In the 1860s, Julia Margaret Cameron was probably one of the most influential early women photographers. Although she started working with photography late in her life, she lead a new wave of women photographers: Women who viewed photography as a means for creative expression. Even though her style was not widely appreciated in her own day – Margaret was often criticised, her soft-focus aesthetic put down to technical incompetence – she did not let this get to her.

She was not the first or the last artist to find her voice through what many would regard as an error.

In a patriarchal world, one that struggles to let affirmative action fully take charge, photography should be used as a tool to reject stereotypes and explore social issues – especially gender-related ones.

When I questioned some people on what it means to say I shoot like a boy, someone said the decisions I make when I shoot are in-line with what boys do; they are riskier and more alternative than tried and tested – that because I always know what to do with my camera it was a compliment overall, and that the person probably couldn’t find the correct way to say that I am unconventional (as opposed to other women or even other photographers).

To view my work, or anybody’s work, as masculine because it is technically correct is neither okay nor a compliment.

People may argue that photography may appeal to the gadget, technology and collecting side of the male personality, where you typically find them arguing about lens sharpness, Nikon vs. Canon, studio lighting and other technical things, or how men often see photography as a technical challenge and something to conquer, whereas women photographers seem to take a more light-handed approach (and are usually fine with one good lens and working on their settings as they go).

There are exceptions, of course, and these are just generalisations, but this is why gender stereotypes are so harmful; because they don’t allow people to fully express themselves and their emotions. Widely accepted judgements or bias about a person or group are not always accurate and cause unequal, unfair treatment and backhanded compliments.

If the question is do men or women take better pictures, the answer is neither.

Better photographers do.

It’s not gender-driven. Instead, it has to do with the photographer’s personality, interests and how they experience the world. The core of photography is sensitivity and honesty towards others and yourself, and the trick to a beautiful photograph is just being there when it all comes together.