Fathers and daughters: why do 2/3 of the population prefer that dads will take family photos?

Jun 19, 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.

Fathers and daughters: why do 2/3 of the population prefer that dads will take family photos?

Jun 19, 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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A woman taking a photograph, photographed by a man
Me, taken by my father. How perfectly meta.

It’s Father’s Day today and accordingly, my email inbox has been deluged with gift ideas for fathers. Even if they are photographically inclined (you might not believe how many press releases I receive that aren’t even in my preferred ball-park) the chances are that they won’t present me with many opportunities to feature them. I was surprised then when something did catch my eye.

The press release in question concerned the results of a survey conducted by the photo-printing company Photobox that focused on the habits of picture-taking within families. Admittedly it was only a small survey, conducted on 2,000 people, but it threw up some interesting results—namely that almost two thirds of fathers (61%) believe that they take better photos than their other halves, and that 68% of mothers prefer that their families’ fathers take the photos. For me, this was especially noteworthy because it vindicated the conclusion of a discussion that I’ve been having since at least 2011.

The question that has been under discussion: ‘Where are all the women photographers?’ The conclusion? That girls being photographed by their fathers has a lot to do with it.

These are incredibly broad statements, with some far-reaching implications, so perhaps we should unpick them a little.

Men out-number women

First, let’s take the question itself: ‘Where are all the women photographers?’ Before everyone beats a path to the comments section exclaiming that of course there are women photographers and proceeds to name them, yes, I’m well aware of this. For no other reason, I am a woman. (At least I was when last I checked.) Rather, it is a question of men far out-numbering women in the field.

If you have ever attended a photography workshop or seminar and conducted a quick head-count, you will have noted that men heavily out-number women. Go to Photokina, the Photography Show, or something similar, and you’ll notice that women are in the minority. A sample of the Photocritic Photography School sign-up statistics indicates that approximately a third of the students are women. Sure, there always have been women photographers and I’d like to think that the numbers are increasing, but we remain under-represented.

Why?

When I originally discussed this question with family and friends, several theories rose to the top. First, that it is the result of our patriarchal society. Second, that women are deterred by the perceived technical demands of photography. And third, because daddies take photos of their little girls. All of these theories have their merits and their flaws, but I don’t think that any can be dismissed.

The patriarchy

Are girls and young women discouraged from pursuing photography because it doesn’t fit with our cultural narrative of how girls and women are meant to behave? Historically, well-to-do young ladies were expected to prove themselves ‘accomplished’: capable of painting, drawing, embroidery, playing musical instruments, and reciting poetry. All women were expected to contribute to the household, for example by sewing. While photography could be considered an artistic accomplishment for some women, for others it would be regarded as a frivolous indulgence that was beyond their families’ means. And most certainly the scientific demands of photography would have been a deterrent for many girls and young women. It is easy to dismiss these old-fashioned principles as not applicable today, but stereotypes have a vicious tenacity and while the original reasoning behind them might have long evaporated, the stigmas remain.

‘Too techie’

The scientific element behind photography is certainly worth investigating further as a potential impediment to women’s participation in in the medium. It doesn’t matter that women can drive cars, do qualify as surgeons, and are capable of piloting planes; there is still a pernicious assumption that women cannot engage with technological activities. This is both an external pressure (go back to the patriarchal notion of what women can and cannot do, also reflected in a 2011 Ofsted report (p.7) that children divide occupations along gender lines from a young age) and an internal doubt. In the Girls’ Attitudes Survey conducted by the Girlguiding UK asked 1,200 girls (some Guides, some not) about their attitudes to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Among many findings, it revealed that almost half of girls (53%) think science/engineering is too hard or complicated (source, p.15).

Does the technological element of photography deter girls from picking up cameras because it’s ‘not for them’ in a similar way that it deters them from pursuing careers in engineering? It’s not a difficult parallel to draw.

Dads with cameras

Finally, we come to the notion that fathers photographing their daughters discourages girls and young women from picking up cameras themselves. This is significant for two reasons: first, it encourages them to regard themselves as the subject of men’s gaze, as opposed to the director of the gaze itself; second, it doesn’t present girls and young women with any role models to whom they can aspire or seek mentorship. In particular it is this second argument that the results of the Photobox survey upholds. If men consider themselves to be better photographers than women and women prefer to be in front of rather than behind the camera, what kind of example does this set for little girls and young women? And research suggests that, whatever the discipline, role models are important (source, p.13).

More men take photos than women, and young girls don’t just see this, but experience it as the subjects of these photos. From a young age, they are conditioned into these gender-aligned roles.

Effecting change

There’s no single reason for men being more prolific photographers than women. It’s a deeply woven web of expectations, stereotypes, and opportunities. Thus if we are looking for better gender balance, then it has to be tackled on multiple levels. Will the ubiquity of the smartphone help to change the demographics of the photography population? I’m sure that it will have an impact, yes. But if daddies continue to be the ones with the cameras, then it will be a harder gender imbalance to right. A very good place to start is to encourage young girls to pick up the camera themselves because they can do it.

Why do YOU think there are more ‘Dad with cameras’ than ‘Moms with cameras’?

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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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7 responses to “Fathers and daughters: why do 2/3 of the population prefer that dads will take family photos?”

  1. Rocco Avatar
    Rocco

    Go to expos and the attendants will mostly be male (exclude the promotional models).
    Go to a photography course, or anything more artistic related to photography and you will have more women than men. At least that was my appreciation where I live (South america, so could be completely different where you live). In fact, the first course, introduction to photography, were almost all women except two men. Well, it was a morning course, and I was told that in the afternoon courses there were more men.

    I dont think there are more men than women into photography. I think women care for other things, they are not on forums checking the latest hardware, or are in twitter posting about the bokeh of this or that new lens.

    BTW, in my country, for weddings you only see men. That is something that I always thought was strange. But for fashion photography for instance, some of the most known photographers here are women. I dont know if that happens also on other countries.

  2. Gresu Avatar
    Gresu

    My dad wouldn’t let anyone else touch the camera. Family photo time, circa 1970s, was always a nightmare and someone would end up in tears. Would much rather mom take the photos but she was never given the chance.

  3. Vertex Avatar
    Vertex

    because fathers are not stupid enough to step on a car…?

  4. Ralph Hightower Avatar
    Ralph Hightower

    My wife and I don’t have any kids, but when we got married, she brought a 110 camera into the household. I got interested in photography from using my parents
    Polaroid Land camera (with the bellows).
    It’s like when we got married. I had a 4-speed manual shift Ford Mustang. She said she had no problems driving her dad’s tractor. I tried to teach her how to use a manual shift transmission. In the end, I ended up trading the car for automatic. But it was no great loss, since that was a Mustang that should never existed, a 1974 Mustang with a four-cylinder engine.
    With her 110, I wanted to go bigger, 35mm. I researched and Canon with their A-1 was state of the art with aperture priority, shutter priority, program mode, along with manual and stopped-down metering. I added a few lenses, with a motor drive and flash. She could shoot with the camera, but when it came to reload film… well, it comes back to that manual transmission thing.
    She had been wanting to convert me to digital. I talked her out of a purchase when I found her budget was a T3i. Years later, she asked me “What do you think about this?” I answered “You buying me a 5D III?” “Yes” I said “Go for it, but let me check B&H”. That was also the same year that I found a great deal on a used F-1N. She asked “That’s their flagship?” “Yes, for the 80’s.” She said “Get it.”

  5. Justin Prim Avatar
    Justin Prim

    maybe its more that the implication now days is that fathers wont be there as long or are not as inportant to the family unit as they once where and actualy has nothing to do with the actual photographing? Or maybe more males are starting to pick it up as a hobby

  6. Rick Avatar
    Rick

    Two issues…

    First, men lean more toward being visually oriented, women more toward being verbally oriented. It is has to do with the way the hemispheres of the brains are connected. Photography being a visual means is why historically men are the ones more likely to get into it. This gender disparity in the photography world has narrowed in recent years however due to the development of a device that women can not only talk to but it also takes pictures. (Whether you consider the gap narrowing of course depends on whether you consider endless photos of duck lips to actually be photography.)

    As for the issue that fathers taking photos of their daughters repressing them, get the chip off your shoulder. Fathers also take photos of their sons and by your logic this only “encourages them to regard themselves as the subject of men’s gaze”. You question whether a father with a camera is a role model yet there you stand with a camera.

    Gender repression has nothing to do with dad having a camera, it has to do with dad and the way he raises his daughters. My maternal grandfather had both a camera and three daughters, daughters who eventually went on to become a commercial pilot/flight instructor, a scuba diving instructor/dive shop operator, and a police officer, all of which also liked photography.

  7. Gvido Mūrnieks Avatar
    Gvido Mūrnieks

    Generally “dads” are the ones who changed the flat tire on family trip, sets up the new TV, and takes the initiative of dealing with camera…
    Why?
    Why not?