Caroline Rowcliffe, a feminist photographer with a mission, introduces herself and her plan to take over the industry.
"The soul purpose of my page is to empower women – queer women, women of color, curvy women, skinny women, women struggling with eating disorders, women struggling with mental illnesses, etc."
Above photo by Amy Linn.
Trigger warning: mentions of sexual harassment, abuse, and rape
In the age of “Me too” and “Times Up,” I have never been more proud to be a woman in the photography industry, a field dominated by men.
In 2015, World Press Photo, the University of Stirling, and Oxford University Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism conducted a study by surveying 1,556 photographers from more than 100 countries. 85 percent of the respondents were male. The survey found that women earned less than $9,999 (42 percent) compared to men (34 percent). Also, 5 percent of men earn $80,000 or more compared to 1.5 percent of women. However, of the 236 women photographers who partook in the study, 82 percent were university educated, compared to 69 percent of males. They were also more engaged in social media and were more multitalented with technology use (video and multimedia), yet fewer women are still being paid and employed.
The gender pay gap is a very real and concerning issue, and I believe it is linked to the psychological stress, specifically the future of photography, and sexual harassment that women have to deal with in the field. One stressor that I encountered before I even began my modeling page was knowing that I would receive messages and comments that would depict women as objects, which is not what I wanted my page to convey. The soul purpose of my page is to empower women – queer women, women of color, curvy women, skinny women, women struggling with eating disorders, women struggling with mental illnesses, etc. It didn’t take but two days for that stressor to become real. I began receiving messages from men, wanting to know a specific model’s name, if I did not tag them. One alarming message that asked me: “so when will I get to shoot you undressed,” made me vow to myself that I would expose these men on my Instagram stories and warn women of their predatory behavior, which I do.
In the release form that models are required to sign, I include my mission statement: “The purpose of this photo session is to help you, the model, better appreciate the beautiful body you live in. Whether you have struggled with your body image or not, this session will still put a smile on your face and confidence in your heart.” Within this past year, I have gotten to know so many strong, beautiful women, and it has been an honor to hear their brave stories; stories of battling eating disorders/mental illnesses, stories of overcoming trauma from sexual assault and rape, stories of saying “no” to male photographers, who want more than just photos and stories of standing up for who they are. It is heartbreaking to hear the suffering that one faces, but that is exactly why I began the page: to help them turn their pain into power.
Today, I still receive messages of men urging me to model “like the naked girls on [my] page,” and predatory comments towards the women I photograph. It is very frustrating, but it encourages me even more to create safe spaces for models to feel more comfortable in. It encourages me even more to pursue this male dominated field. It encourages me even more to tell men that their time is up, and to tell them what Oprah Winfrey told the world at the Golden Globes 2018, “…A new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women…and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say 'Me too' again."
Story by Caroline Rowcliffe