Confronting Misogyny & Gender Inequality in the Music Photography

It's a present fact that women in the music industry face a high level of prejudice, misogyny, and unequal access to opportunities. This reality is one that is all too immediate in music photography. We see this disparity in the opportunities women have to tour, the difference in how women are treated by security at events, who the music photography community celebrates and more.

If you're a music photographer who is wondering what they can do to confront the misogyny and gender inequality in music photography, here are some actions to consider.

A few notes:

First, women are not the only group that faces inequity in music photography, but they are the largest single group facing discrimination. Women of color, trans women, queer and non-binary or gender non-conforming people face even more inequality. I hope you will consider that these suggestions can be applied to all groups that face forms of underrepresentation, discrimination and unequal access to opportunities despite the ability, talent and drive to succeed.

Second, this post is directed primarily at men. Simply put, men are in positions of power at every level of the music industry and as a result, the burden is on men to change a horribly flawed system.

Acknowledge inequality and prejudice exists

The first step of confronting the inequality and prejudice against women is listening to them when they share their experiences and believing that we as a music photography community can do better.

Stand with women

It's a common experience for women music photographers to meet harassment from security personnel at festivals and concerts. Examples of this can include security assuming that women music photographer's credentials are fake, borrowed, insinuating that they are a “groupie” or a girlfriend instead of a working member of the crew, or that they simply do not belong.

The most blatant examples are security questioning women tour photographers with AAA laminates, but extends to photo passes and more. In extreme examples, women colleagues have told me that their artist's tour manager will specifically talk to security, introduce them as the tour photographer, and security will still question their right to work during the show when the TM is gone.

Men are very rarely questioned in this same way or to the extent that women are in identical situations. This is misogynistic to the core.

If you witness any of these exchanges, it is your duty to stand with your fellow music photographers. I have always said that everyone wearing the same photo pass is equal, regardless of publication, regardless of gear. It is maddening that it has to be stated, but this is regardless of gender identity, race or presentation. Stand with women and confront authority when they are actively attacking us.

Stand up to security and those who would harass your colleagues and peers. Protest when their credentials are questioned. Insist to security that they belong. Protect your peers. Stand with women.

Left to right: Music photographers Skyler Barberio, Todd Owyoung (me), Greg Noire and Jenn Devereaux. I am always proud to be part of the iHeartRadio Music Festival team, but in 2022 I was particularly proud of being part of a team that was equally represented in men and women. I honestly think the photos made this year were among the very ever in the history of the festival and that was due to Skyler and Jenn being such incredible talents. Photo credit Jenn Devereaux.

Evaluate your teams

If you're in a position to hire — from festival media team directors to brands to venues to publications, take a look at your teams, freelancers and go-tos and the make up of your roster and those you hire. Look at the last team photo you took. How are you doing? Be honest.

Consider how you can build the teams you think represent what music photography should be. Which leads us to the next point.

Hire Women

If you are in a position to actively hire, what does your roster of talent say about your priorities and preferences? Who are you giving opportunities to? Examine your biases — and fix the disparities that you see. 

If you’re a photo editor, media team manager, or anyone in a position to hire music photographers, what does your hiring data say about you? 

Women Photograph tracks gender representation in photojournalism. 2022 was the first year since tracking began in 2017 where representation of women in lead photo bylines dropped, from a high of 21.9% in 2021 to 21.5% in 2022.

Women in music photography have the talent, the skill and the creative vision. Full stop. What's clearly not equal is the access to opportunity.

If you're in a position to hire music photographers, what changes can you make to ensure equal opportunity exists?

Refer women

Most photographers may not be in a position to hire directly, but many of us are in a position to refer. If you're a man, reflect on your go-to referrals. Have you referred women in the past? Why or why not? Consider your own history honestly.

Referring fellow photographers is a huge act of trust. It's a representation of yourself. If you have not or do not refer women, you have to look at yourself and what this says about your peers and those you hold in esteem.

If you're not actively referring women for music photography jobs, you're part of the problem facing the music industry today.

There is an abundance of talent, creativity and skill in the music photography community. I've said it before and I'll say it now: The best music photography that's ever been made is being made right now. And much of the very best in music photography is being made by women.

Mentor and actively support women

Finally, look to mentor and actively support women. If you're an established music photographer with the experience and knowledge to do so, look at who you are giving your time to. Look at who you are raising up.

A great example of this is Inhaler tour photographer Lewis Evan's mentorship opportunity for the band's 2023 tour, where he presented an opportunity to photograph the shows exclusively to women, trans and non-binary photographers.

When it comes to supporting women, if you're a conventional man in the photo community, are you actively following and supporting women on social media? Are you listening to them and amplifying their voices and talent the same way you do for male peers? Who's in your group chat?

You've seen the posts on social media by creatives, “supporting my work is free.” It's absolutely true. Supporting the work of your fellow music photographers with likes, follows, retweets and more is the most basic part of being in the music photography community. Look at who you are lifting up and cheering on.

For those we celebrate in the music photography world — are we doing so for the opportunities they have, the images they make, or what they are doing to make our space better?

The music photography community is what we make of it. It is in those we support, those we promote and who we champion. Confronting misogyny and gender inequality in our own community starts with the actions we undertake each and every day.