“We should have an old girls network – not just an old boys network. Why don’t we? Why aren’t we networking as well as men are in the photography business?”
Photographer Anna Fox raised this point at Close Up, an event we hosted in October with Metro Imaging about women in the image industry. It was possibly the busiest IdeasTap Spa ever. Speakers included photographers Anna Fox, Jane Hilton and Tate curator Shoavir Mavlin. Industry figures came from LA Noble Gallery, Firecracker, Magnum and Night Contact. Close Up was the brainchild of Metro’s New Business Consultant Kate O’Neill and Marketing Manager Alice Widger.
“The overwhelming feeling [on the night] was so positive,” Alice recalls. “So many inspiring things were said and debates raised. There was no finger pointing. It was very supportive. It was more, how do we find a resolution to these questions? It’s not about excluding men – they’re our allies.”
Building on the success of the first session, and inspired by Anna Fox’s words, Kate and Alice decided to set up The Old Girls Club. The plan is to run three or four events and an exhibition a year, as well as a website which will showcase work and stimulate discussions through guest blogposts and social media Q&As. The next event, in February, is on how collectives can benefit women photographers, whatever stage of their career. “We’ve got speakers in their 20s, speakers who left the industry temporarily to have children and career changers who've come in later,” says Alice. “How do you make connections when you haven’t gone through uni or started off assisting and built your networks through that?”
Image: Alice and Kate, founders of The Old Girls Club
Networking is one issue among many – all of which Kate and Alice hope to address through the Old Girls Club. Kate, for example, talks about feeling intimidated to label herself as a photographer at an expo full of male photographers because she didn’t feel her technical skills were “up to scratch”. Alice mentions a competition recently with an all-male shortlist. “There was a lot of discussion about why there were no women in there,” she says. “No-one wants to be that token female photographer. But why didn’t more women submit work? Is it because of how the competition was marketed? Intentionally or unintentionally there was a lack of women applying.”
“I don’t think it’s malice,” Kate stresses. “It’s more about falling into habits. The people who are curating and awarding aren’t purposely not choosing women, they’re just following the trends.” What’s the answer? “You give them an alternative option,” says Kate. “If someone submitted their work to us, we’d filter for credibility and then approach our contacts and say, would you consider this?”
They’re also running Instagram takeovers and a section called Women in Focus, updated every six months, showcasing women who are doing interesting projects.
What’s their advice for women starting out in photography? “Have confidence in your own work,” Kate says. “Believe in your work – it’s an obvious thing to say but it’s easily forgotten.” Alice adds: “Never stop learning. Always read, research, go and see other people’s work. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
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Images courtesy of the Old Girls Club