What we see: championing women and non-binary image-makers

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© Nada Harib.

In the first book from Women Photograph, 100 images highlight the diverse perspectives of women photographers around the world

“Photojournalists have a unique privilege in that we teach the world how to see,” says Daniella Zalcman, the Vietnamese-American documentary photographer and curator of What We See, a new book spotlighting women and non-binary image-makers. “We expose audiences to people and places they may never otherwise encounter… If we don’t have a photojournalism corps that’s as diverse as the communities we aim to cover, we’re missing out on stories and ways of seeing. We desperately have to correct that.”

This mission led the New Orleans-based Zalcman to set up Women Photograph, an organisation advocating for women and non-binary photojournalists. “I started Women Photograph in response to several editors telling me they’d hire more women photographers if only they knew where to find them,” Zalcman explains. “I wanted to create a hiring database and to eliminate the possibility of hearing that excuse ever again. It was also important to me to create structural support for women and non-binary photographers in the form of grants, workshops, and mentorship programs.”

A new book, What We See, is the next step. Curated by Zalcman and Sara Ickow, senior manager of exhibitions and collections at New York’s International Center of Photography (ICP), the book features 100 photographs from women and non-binary photographers, including Carol Guzy, Patience Zalanga, Paula Bronstein, and Yumna Al-Arashi, covering diverse subjects: conflict, the natural world, family life. The book is divided into four chapters – Identity, Place, Conflict and Reclamation – and laid out simply, with each photo accompanied by a short text by its creator, making clear the diversity of female photographic perspectives. 

Currently, around 85 per cent of photojournalists are men, suggest Women Photograph, a statistic reflected in the World Press Photo state of the industry report. (One study found that nearly 89.1 per cent of photojournalists are men in the US; another that 85 per cent of newswire photographers are men). The collective analysed global newspapers and found the percentage of lead photos on front pages by women and non-binary photographers is shockingly low – just 7.2 per cent for the Wall Street Journal in the first quarter of 2022, for example. 

This isn’t just an issue of work equality. Media coverage helps to determine which issues and causes people talk and care about, including influential lawmakers, activists, and politicians. “We’re all missing the story,” Sara Ickow says. “We’re missing details, layers and levels of stories, such as the people impacted by different conflicts or climate change.” 

“The photojournalism industry desperately needs to be more inclusive and more diverse across gender, race, geography, class, religion, sexuality, age”


Ickow believes many women approach subjects, such as conflict, differently. “Lynsey Addario’s photo from the book is of Taliban members sitting around having a chat, which doesn’t feel like the typical ‘hard news’ conflict image from Afghanistan,” she explains. Ickow also references an image by Suzannah Ireland, in which a soldier’s hand bearing a wedding ring is foregrounded while a military helicopter looms behind. “It feels like these are moments from the fringes or with a different framing than what you’d think of as a traditional conflict image,” she says.

Women can also access stories that men can’t. “Nada Harib’s photo from Libya, on the book’s cover, is literally not a space a male photographer would have access to,” Ickow continues. “She’s photographing women in her community. There are other feature stories where ethically you might not want to put a man into a space where a woman is talking about sexual assault or trauma.”

But Women Photograph and What We See go beyond advocating only for women. Ickow has set a goal that all Women Photograph efforts need to include at least 50 per cent photographers of colour. “We advocate for photo editors to think about hiring locally,” she says. “A local person could speak to a photographer who speaks their native language, who’s from the place they’re from, who looks like they do, and form a connection differently.

“It’s also a core part of our mission to include gender-marginalised photographers,” Ickow adds. “The non-binary photographers in the book are some of my personal favourites – Lola Flash and Jess T. Dugan are two of my idols. We lose so much if women and gender-diverse, gender-marginalised people are not included in these spaces.”

Ickow believes things are moving in the right direction, but both of the book’s creators want to see further change. “The photojournalism industry desperately needs to be more inclusive and more diverse across gender, race, geography, class, religion, sexuality, age…” Zalcman says. “This business has been dominated by the white, Western male gaze for its entire existence, and that has a huge impact on how we determine what deserves to be documented in newspapers or history textbooks. It’s urgent that gatekeepers encourage, mentor, and support photographers who can bring other experiences and ways of seeing to the table.”

What We See, curated by Daniella Zalcman Sara Ickow, is out now (Quarto)

Graeme Green

Graeme Green is a British photographer and journalist whose work appears in international publications including the BBC, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph, Outdoor Photographer and New Internationalist, covering subjects ranging from conservation to human trafficking. He’s also used his photography to raise money for wildlife charities including African Parks, Panthera and Conservation International. Graeme is the founder of the New Big 5 project, an international wildlife conservation initiative supported by +250 photographers, conservationists and charities.