Every camera manufacturer runs some kind of ambassador scheme, somehow they don’t really represent women

Dec 24, 2016

Daniela Bowker

Daniela Bowker is a writer and editor based in the UK. Since 2010 she has focused on the photography sector. In this time, she has written three books and contributed to many more, served as the editor for two websites, written thousands of articles for numerous publications, both in print and online, and runs the Photocritic Photography School.

Every camera manufacturer runs some kind of ambassador scheme, somehow they don’t really represent women

Dec 24, 2016

Daniela Bowker

Daniela Bowker is a writer and editor based in the UK. Since 2010 she has focused on the photography sector. In this time, she has written three books and contributed to many more, served as the editor for two websites, written thousands of articles for numerous publications, both in print and online, and runs the Photocritic Photography School.

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Most camera manufacturers run ambassador schemes. They vary in their numbers and the precise ways in which they’re run, but the principles seem similar enough: pick a range of photographers who use their gear to promote them to the public. But I’ve a feeling that they could do better.

Olympus UK announced its latest crop of ‘visionaries’ and brand ambassadors last week. It’s not the sort of press release to which I often pay much attention, but a scan of the thirteen names left me a little dismayed, shall we say. Of the thirteen people—four visionaries and nine ambassadors—only one was a woman.

Me in the middle of Sicily. Photo by my father.

According to the press release these visionaries and ambassadors are part of a scheme that:

… honours the talents of the Olympus Visionaries and Ambassadors, the relationship based on their passion for photography whilst shooting on Olympus imaging equipment. These inspirational photographers represent a wide range of genres across macro, fashion, reportage, wedding, portraiture, street, travel, sport and landscape, bringing a wealth of knowledge to the scheme.

But apparently only 7.7% of these inspiring and representative photographers are women. I did ask Olympus if they had any comment regarding this, but so far I’ve heard nothing. Regardless, it led me to wonder: is Olympus an outlier, or is it broadly similar to other manufacturers’ ambassador programmes. I took what was meant to be a quick look but turned into a much deeper analysis of the genre. It didn’t make for pretty reading.

Who comprises manufacturers’ ambassadors?

Let’s take a look at Canon first. Canon Europe has a multi-tiered representation programme comprising ambassadors, explorers, and masters. The driving force behind it is that it: ‘brings together a wealth of creative talent and industry experts all of whom share their skills, knowledge and passion for photography and filmmaking at various Canon workshops, seminars and industry occasions that are held throughout the year across Europe, the Middle East and Africa; thus inspiring generations of like-minded professionals.’

There are ten Canon ambassador positions but one of these is occupied by a couple, Jonathan and Angela Scott. Of the eleven people serving as Canon ambassadors just Angela Scott is a woman. That means 9% of the Canon ambassadors are women. There are 52 Canon explorers. Nine are women. That’s a healthier 17%, but still not exactly a bastion of gender equality. Of the four masters, one is a woman. I did send an email to Canon asking them is this was an accurate representation of photography today but I’m yet to receive an answer.

When it came to Nikon, I assessed the Nikon USA ambassadors programme for gender balance, rather than Nikon UK’s or Nikon Europe’s. Nikon USA has 24 ambassadors, chosen because they ‘… are some of the most talented and influential visual artists working in the business today. These gifted, spirited storytellers go above and beyond most, and are admired for their passion, energy and commitment to their craft.’ Seven of them are women. That’s by far the healthiest gender balance, with women comprising 29% of the programme.

The gender balance of Pentax’s ambassador programme is, quite frankly, abysmal. It has four ambassadors, three of whom are men and one is an organisation. Credit to Ricoh, however, as when I emailed them regarding this, they did pay me the courtesy of a response.

Our programme is currently under review as we move into our new financial year. However, we note your comments and will take these into account for the future. However, please note, potential ambassadors usually make representation to us and any partnership is based on the mutual benefit of both parties.

Sony has 55 ambassador positions. One of these positions is held by a couple, making for 56 ambassadors. Ten of these are women. In percentage terms, that’s 17.8. For a programme that claims its members ‘… are carefully chosen to represent their local locations in Sony markets and to form a greatly diverse group of imaging professionals,’ women aren’t exactly given similar status to men. (Also, what the bejeezus is a ‘local location’?)

Fujifilm doesn’t have an ambassador programme in the same sense as the other manufacturers, but instead the X-Photographer group. This is a far bigger collection of photographers than found elsewhere, with 29 photographers alone whose surnames begin with the letter A. Given that the X-Photographer group appears to have a slightly different approach to the ambassador programmes for other manufacturers, I decided to omit this one from the analysis. It’s worth noting that a cursory glance of the X-Photographers does show a heavy presence of men.

The diversity riddle

I know that photography has a gender imbalance; I’ve experienced it enough times; I’ve written about it enough times. And yet these ambassador programmes are actually an opportunity for the industry to begin to redress this disparity. If these programmes are designed to inspire and motivate other photographers, why not take advantage of the platform and appoint some more women as beacons and role models?

Whenever one writes or speaks about diversity and representation, a normal response from a lot of people is that it doesn’t matter if people in public life or running companies or even representing camera manufacturers are women or men, minority ethnic or not, gay or straight, disabled or able-bodied–they just have to be the best people for the job. In a world where everyone has perfect equality of opportunity, that’s absolutely true. But in a world where women are consistently under-represented in politics and boardrooms, where minority ethnic people struggle to access higher education, let alone enter public life, and disabled people can’t even get into a fifth of UK shops, you’ll find that it isn’t necessarily the brightest and the best who are where they’re meant to be.

A critical failing in the achievement of inclusive political structures, boardrooms, and creative industries lies at foundation level. We can’t choose the brightest and the best to fill these roles because the brightest and the best aren’t there to be selected. In which case it isn’t about lowering bars and reducing standards; it’s about recalibrating our requirements. We fail women because we assume that they’ll want to go off an have babies, rather than thinking about how they can best be supported in these choices. We fail minority ethnic children because we allow them to slip through the cracks in the education system. We fail disabled people because we can’t even ensure that they have adequate accessible loo provision.

Even if people aren’t actively discouraged from going to university, for standing for office, for seeking a promotion, from picking up a camera, there’s often little by the way of real encouragement to do so and furthermore there’s the issue of inspiration. If people don’t see someone who resembles them running a FTSE 100 company, speaking in Parliament, or even making a name for themselves with a Canon camera it makes them less inclined to think that they might be capable of being there and of doing that job, too. Yes, it’s about role-modelling.

The benefits of diversity

For programmes that actively seek to encourage and inspire people with their cameras, these ambassador schemes are the perfect platform to engage with women–and indeed other under-represented groups in photography’s ranks. In the case of Pentax, might a woman be more inclined to enquire about ambassador status if there were more women already there? Or even if they knew that they could enquire at all. It’s time for the manufacturers to stop reinforcing the notion that photography is just for men and embrace the fabulous diversity of the photographic community. None of them need lower their bars for entry; they just need to recalibrate them. You never know, it might just help to boost camera sales.


In the interests of thoroughness, my methodology for determining if ambassadors were women didn’t rely on just assessing someone’s name or photo. I also read their biographies for references to he/his/him and she/hers/her. I read a lot of biographies.

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Daniela Bowker

Daniela Bowker

Daniela Bowker is a writer and editor based in the UK. Since 2010 she has focused on the photography sector. In this time, she has written three books and contributed to many more, served as the editor for two websites, written thousands of articles for numerous publications, both in print and online, and runs the Photocritic Photography School.

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12 responses to “Every camera manufacturer runs some kind of ambassador scheme, somehow they don’t really represent women”

  1. Gvido Mūrnieks Avatar
    Gvido Mūrnieks

    Simple reason: Marketing to men actually attracts more “diverse” crowd, than advertising to women.
    Simple reason, that well is known to advertisers: Products that are aimed at women are bought mostly by women. Products that are aimed at men are bought both by men and women.

  2. Nadine Spires Avatar
    Nadine Spires

    It’s a sad fact that males are chosen more as ambassadors than females. Although I did come across a situation where a female “photographer” was selected to receive a free lens from a manufacturer (while promoting their brand on her photos) and she is utterly useless at taking photos. In her case, sex sells. Makes you wonder if the manufacturers are really interested in talent or just sales.

    1. Joshua Boldt Avatar
      Joshua Boldt

      um… I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure they are 100% interested in sales… That is how a company that makes a product for sale works. A huge corporation like Nikon wouldn’t even have an ambassador program if they didn’t think it would boost sales by having photographers with notoriety wear Nikon hats and jackets everywhere they go and hold up their Nikon cameras and smile for every Youtube video and photography blog they show up in.

  3. The JennCast Avatar
    The JennCast

    And, how many of the women shoot landscape, or other than mainly weddings or portraiture?

  4. András Kühn Avatar
    András Kühn

    Yes, the fix would be to force or shame companies into having a perfect 50/50 ratio. Just like formula drivers and coal miners as we all know… You’re going to have lopsided representation if the running pool is lopsided. The fix would be for more women to “run” for these positions, and the companies to judge based on merit, it’s as simple as that.

  5. Beth LeBlanc Avatar
    Beth LeBlanc

    this is really disheartening as a woman photographer who’s dream is to become an ambassador #inequalitysucks

  6. TheInconvenientRuth Avatar
    TheInconvenientRuth

    I got my first job as a photographer when I was 18. I was so proud, so happy. Only to have my pride painfully crushed a few months later when I overheard that one of the main reasons they picked me over a male candidate was because I “ticked 2 diversity boxes in one”. Female and non-white. Yeah…
    I got the job because the law forced them to hire a “fair” ratio of females and “other ethnicities”. I guess if I’d been in a wheelchair too, I’d have been the jackpot for them.
    Trust me, this is NOT how you want to get a position…

    In my 25-year career so far I’ve only met 4 other full-time professional female international “hard news” photo journalists. I know there are more, obviously, but I’ve personally only met 4. I’ve met some more who only cover specific subject such as local sports, news or politics.
    But out in the rough stuff I’m still a rare sight. Why? Because we often choose to shoot weddings, kids, babies, pets. Not that interested in sleeping rough, getting shelled, getting arrested and detained and generally looking like a mess most of the time. I hate sand more than Anakin Skywalker does.
    So should we force companies to go out of their way to find female photographers to represent them in a field in which there are very few, sometimes by choice, just to keep the ratio ‘fair’? That’s just silly.

    Let’s reverse it; should we claim outrage because 87%* of all baby and pet photographers are female and men are seriously under-represented? Should we force some of these females out of their jobs to make room for male representation? (*totally made-up statistic).

    Why is it that people demand jobs, positions, promotions, representation
    and acknowledgement purely based on race or sex? You should get it
    based on skill, performance, value you bring. Where are the protests about the shocking lack of female coal miners, garbage collectors, offshore oil rig workers, night club bouncers? Oooh, right, these are jobs women don’t WANT to do, so we don’t push for equality in those sectors.

    Forcing this kind of equality actually creates a ton of inequality. Simple example. Let’s say there are 10 jobs up for grabs. 95 men apply, 5 women. If “equality” was applied here, then all 5 women would get the job and there’d be 5 jobs left for the 95 male candidates to fight for, assuming everyone was more or less equally qualified. Yeah, that’s totally ‘fair’…

    And in all fairness, one of the companies mentioned in this article has asked me, a few years ago, to represent them. But I politely declined as it is not in my professional interest to have my face become too public. It -could- make it more difficult to get in (or out..) of places.

    1. FM Avatar
      FM

      Very well put. Often “gender equality” is not used to promote fairness, but as a pretext to further one’s agenda, unfortunately. It should be about the photographs, not the photographer, the photos should stand on their own merit in a blind test.

    2. Michael Newler Avatar
      Michael Newler

      I am known within the American photo industry as Captain Explorer because in 1993 I created the Canon “Explorers Of Light,” and managed it for ten-years until my untimely departure in April 2003. Your article is interesting and certainly has merit. However, with the popularity of the “Explorers Of Light” after about four years came an avalanche of similar program from the rest of the “herd.” To date, no other camera/lens manufacturers program has come close to the significance, influence, popularity, education, sales, and advertising created by the “original” Canon USA “Explorers Of Light.” The reason being had to do with the talented world-class photographers (image-makers) I put together in one group with one two-year contract, and all received the same exact signing fee. Everything beyond signing the contract allowing to use their name was “a-la-carte” from lectures to workshops, wall decorations at shows, to advertising — and they all received the same amount of money for each of the different categories. The program involved giving FREE lectures by any of the 65 “Explorers Of Light” who wanted to lecture (some had no interest) across the United States to the general public. In 10-years, I produced over 800 events between the months of September to June a typical school year in the USA. About half of the “Explorers” owned other camera systems, but by signing the contract they had to purchase at least one Canon body and two lenses because I insisted every image they shot from that point on had to be created with a Canon system. I did NOT care what images they showed in their lecture because they did not become famous because of any particular camera system it had everything to do with their creativity, style, credentials, and being able to stay at the top. At the end of this I will supply a list of all the “Explorers Of Light” I invited in to the program during “my watch.” In making my initial long list of photographer’s names I want to make sure there was a somewhat balanced representation of both sexes. However, I had to narrow down my list to 55 bucking heads with both the advertising agency and Canon USA. The only thing I will say at this point is I prevailed but with one stipulation from Canon USA. They felt there were too many women on my final list and it had to be adjusted. Keep in mind, I had only been working for the company eight months after closing down my freelance advertising photo studio in Manhattan, so rather then do what I do best, debate, I decided to fight that battle a for another day and capitulated reluctantly to their request. However it bothered me greatly, and I began a quest to find out why they made me cutback on the women photographers. The answer was right before my eyes as I sat at me desk in their Corporate office. Japanese camera companies are constantly rotating their employees in Japan to the United States to learn our style of sales, marketing and advertising in order to bring the information back to Japan. This rotation process is anywhere from five to seven years, BUT there are never any female employees from Japan only men. This is almost universal among Japanese camera corporations with offices here in the USA. Because the program I created had never been done before, they were reluctant to give me the freedom I requested on that particular point. To this day, almost 24-years latter, I still remember tell the committee, “I have never seen any genitalia hanging on any image anywhere defining whether it was created by a man or a woman — it is simply an image, and nobody should care what gender created it.” They looked at me as if I had three heads. I did have my sweet “revenge” when planning my first FREE lecture event held in the main auditorium at The Fashion Institute Of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan. I brought in four famous FEMALE “Explorer Of Light’ image-makers: Joyce Tenneson, Sheila Metzner, Barbara Bordnick, and Sarah Moon. I sent out flyers and brochures including invitations and there was standing room only in the 700 seat theater. Two years later I was told to increase the number of “Explorers” from 55 to 65, and again I tried to even things gender wise, but new Japanese management came in and I was back to square one again. Nevertheless, from creation to my exit 10-years later, I invited a total of 70 world-class image-makers to become “Explorers Of Light” — nine of the were women. What started out as a program became a family and they allowed me into it. The original 65 “Explorers” and I are, to this day a FAMILY. No other camera / lens program has yet reached the style, class, and popularity of the “ORIGINAL” 65 “Explorers Of Light” —sadly, including the current program. 1993 to 2003 was truly a time of “wine and roses.” Any further questions or information I can be reached at – what else > captainexplorer@yahoo.com http://www.newler.photo <. May G-D bless you all and keep shooting images……!!!! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d2704a638663f565a5d8f33defcbff3f54daa2b8f5ae20912374c908a210b0f1.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4369d9a672dface09598cdfac9f35cd07ba507549ab11a44c67fc79232cb84c7.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/736c9dac091a6e6411b9fc648486e601c2960f80260d18870399eb1fa07a433c.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d374949141dc3027d1f8c5585e0986a31f4984b6e316b8a3961f0f4f02c016f8.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/358f052ddd47c5592ad171c43472afc727c65d5011e4bce6e62d87a2bae82cf9.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8cfa1fc0e185269955e747cf4a745dff4b5ecc809d180433bb697ac61ea83440.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2cb3195fd546ca49e11b3ce2beeafd86a67efa8b70307216f7220dca392a78ab.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/292ceaf87f15844ab1de57b1dbfae4944e00bc431e68682a0e74b27ee0e88346.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9f89430744aa6bcae1a8016ca4b2583ca9e406e33ae2d7c89136363a8de2de4b.jpg

  7. Joshua Boldt Avatar
    Joshua Boldt

    Expensive cameras are overwhelmingly purchased by men. Google image search the phrase “photographers at olympics” and count the number of women with $10,000+ camera setups. Not too many. A for-profit company that markets to the people who buy their expensive products is probably a smart company. Making a lot of money is a very hard thing to do if you don’t market properly, and that means throwing gender equality out the window if it doesn’t sell. Trying to talk these companies into changing by pointing out the problem isn’t going to work — talking talented women into putting pressure on the companies to include them in programs like this would be more effective in the long run. But I’m not a familiar with the kinds of politics that go into these things so I honestly can’t say if that’s true.

    Also, advertising campaigns that target men specifically are viewed positively in test groups by both men and women, whereas campaigns that target women specifically are viewed neutrally by men (they neither like nor dislike them). This causes marketing materials and campaigns to either target men or be somewhat neutral in gender specificity, unless the product is marketed directly to women or children because it is a product only women or children typically want.

  8. AvrilJ Avatar
    AvrilJ

    Good article, well written, Daniela. I note that most comments, so far, have made weight of news, sports, wedding, portrait and pet photographers. There are many other genres and there are many, many superb female photographers.

    You said you were told that these ambassador etc roles mostly arise through photographers approaching the manufacturers, rather than vice versa. Maybe most photographers don’t know that. I didn’t. I’m a Canon user and would love to work with them in one of those capacities. Perhaps I’ll make an approach in 2017!

  9. CPe FOTO Avatar
    CPe FOTO

    I really can’t stand this mentality!
    Could it be possible that someone is chosen for their merits, skill and knowledge without consideration being made about whether they pee standing up or not!
    If I was running a business, I would want the best ‘person’ for the job. If this was a man, so be it. If this was a woman, so be it. IT DOESN’T MATTER!
    Why don’t we, as a human race, stop pigeon hole-ing ourselves, stop separating into different groups and just all co-exist as human beings. The only thing that I wish we were all able to do is be honest and be nice.
    I feel I have vented on enough now so I’ll leave by saying a bit of advise I heard a while ago…..
    Don’t be a dick ??