For Women’s History Month, we’ve been thinking about images of women — especially the ones that help obliterate stereotypes and replace them with new, more inspiring visions. We asked female creators about their experiences making feminist art and finding their voices in historically male-dominated fields, and the blank spaces waiting to be filled by creative women.
Why images of women matter.
We all have a sense that everyday images of women reinforce gender norms, but we wanted to know more of how women creators think about the images around us. We asked Karen Beard, photographer, Adobe Stock contributor, and founder of Shestock, a catalogue of purposefully realistic photos of women by women.
Karen told us how easily images slip into thoughts and impact the way we navigate the world: “Visuals have no language and are the fastest way to communicate a message. They are stored in our long-term memories, and often go unquestioned,” she explains. “These visuals impact social norms and inform implicit beliefs, beliefs that may affect opportunities we offer others or choices we make for ourselves, without us even knowing it.”
Since so much of the artistic imagery we see — from the canon of master artworks to everyday ad campaigns — reflects a male gaze, bringing in more female creators and greater diversity are key for changing our unconscious perspectives. As Karen explains, “We need more women of all ethnicities behind the camera. Art directors and brands need to actively seek diverse female talent.”
Telling women’s stories.
We’re exposed to gender stereotypes every day, so even female artists can struggle to find a feminist voice. When she’s talking to her fellow female photographers, Karen emphasizes a deeply personal approach: “I encourage women photographers to draw from their own experiences. What do their daily lives look like? Who are their friends? What are the girls and women in their lives doing? We need to consciously get away from the ‘shoulds’ that leave us feeling not good enough and apart. Imagery needs to stop idealizing a reality that no one relates to. Successful imagery is about connection, and connection is found in honesty. Women don’t feel understood by marketers, because marketing has told women who they should be, instead of asking them who they are.”
Eve Saint-Ramon, an Adobe Stock Premium contributor who often photographs women, has honed in on these ideas, too, seeing her work as a female artist as a way to amplify women’s voices: “My work is a conduit for women to express themselves,” she explains.
In her process, Eve thinks a lot about how to capture sensual images of women without objectifying them. “An essential element of my work is humor,” she explains. “It gives sensuality its dimension of humanity, without rigidity, because for me the sensual can only be sparkling, joyful.”
Tina Touli, a graphic designer who often works with stock imagery, looks for images like these, where women are actors instead of objects: “There is an inclination to depict women as sexual objects or beauty symbols, failing to show the strong, full-of-energy side of women. I like images that look engaging and communicate about both genders, including their strengths and their weaknesses.”
Becoming female creators in a male-dominated field, and lifting each other up.
Even accomplished female artists face challenges making their way in historically male-dominated fields — they encounter everything from salary disparities to mansplaining. “In a recent survey, women professional photographers averaged less than one-third the annual income of their male counterparts — just over $48,000 versus nearly $155,000,” says Karen. “This disparity shows that few women are taking part in the visual dialogue. Photography has been male dominated and its infrastructure is uniquely male. As a photography student I was told that a woman would never be trusted with a high-production-value shoot. I have been in camera stores where I have been told what an f-stop is. These types of stories are common to women photographers.”
Experiences like these motivated Karen to create Shestock, and build a network of women mobilized for real change in how they are portrayed in stock photography: “Shestock is an evolution of all the women that offered feedback and support from its inception. Women photographers that were willing to create and give imagery to an agency that didn’t have a website yet, women in STEM fields that contacted us to be photographed in hopes of inspiring girls…veteran women in the stock industry, mentoring, supporting, and giving their time to advise.”
Helen Fields, an Adobe Stock Premium contributor who often covers women, sees a similar role for her work — she’s not just adding a woman’s voice in stock, she’s encouraging other women to do the same: “I’m proud to be a female cinematographer and I hope it shows other younger women that it’s an accessible career. That women can play an equal role in creativity.”
Filling in the blanks.
We asked Karen about the kinds of images women could be adding to stock to really make a difference. Her list was long: more female-centric images where women are the actors; images of women in leadership roles in STEM fields; photographs of women in real bodies, enjoying themselves rather than eating salads and stepping on a scale; scenes of women working together and supporting each other in sports and leisure time; and women owning their sexuality.
For women who want to take up the cause, Karen has a rally cry: “I think we need a conscious evolution that breaks past conditioning and explores different voices.” And quite a few talented women artists are ready as role models, and to give a hand up if you need it.
See more incredible work by female creators in our dedicated gallery, and hear Helen, Eve and Tina speak to the role of women in our featured video, The Female Creator.