*ooof*: A Look at Pre-history

For today’s *ooof* I have decided to go back to pre-history. Well, in the fast-paced entertainment business a year and half seems like a loooong time. And I am harking back to that because I will be drawing upon my initial experiences and reactions when I attended the first red carpet event I took marky Mark to. For those not in the know: I am not talking about a muscly ex-boyband member. Marky Mark is my name for my trusty camera. But don’t worry, ladies, I will not bore you with a picture of yesteryear. I shall entertain you with something that is slightly more current, even though not the most current of imagery that we have recently seen.

I am talking about press call photography again, and the last weeks have given us a lot of material to peruse, courtesy of the CinemaCon event in Las Vegas, covered in an *ooof* here, and the Jameson Awards, also previously covered. Mr A has become much more visible in press call photography over the last couple of years. That is – of course – down to TH and its mighty Warner Bros. marketing machine. Well, that is not quite fair to say. It is also due to Armitage’s brilliant interpretation of the majestic mountain king. The increased attention is his reward for dedicated, focussed and convincing work on the characterisation and representation of the role that was entrusted to his care. It has sprung Mr A from a largely British, European celebrity status to a more international appeal. And as such he has moved further into the centre of the international stage. Or on the red carpet, for that matter. Where Armitage may have garnered three or four press images in the years prior to TH, he now has to endure more press coverage – and is zoomed in on, quite literally, by many more photographers than before. For the fans that is a positive development, as we have a wider array of imagery to look at and to enjoy.

With the “go-to red carpet outfit” (the Tom Ford suit, reputedly, although that did not get many outings this season; instead Armitage wowed us with very fashionable get-ups from the likes Zegna or D&G), apparently also come a number of “go-to facial expressions”. The “toothy smile”, the “low-brow-smoulder” (which Armitage himself has taken the piss of mocked), the “mid-sentence glance”… Am I a bad fan for taking particular delight in the rarely seen “smirkitage”, that I have chosen as today’s highlighted image?

Embed from Getty Images

I admit, I have only chosen this image, because the geeky closed-mouth smile is a rare occurrance in the Armitage press call repertoire. Usually, when Mr A smiles (noticeably), he shows his pearly whites. If he keeps his thin-lipped mouth shut, he usually smoulders or arranges his face in the inimitable and enigmatic “am I happy or am I not”-smile that communicates a positive message without actually noticeably drawing up the corners of his mouth or crinkling his eyes with the smile muscles. This then, is an exception. Do the finger test – hide his eyes by placing your finger across them and look at his mouth. Corners up > smile = check. And now hide his mouth and look at the eyes. Crinkly eyes > smile = check. Double whammy? The geeks among the fangirls get hit in the feels, and the rest of the lot is simply happy that Armitage seems happy. Note also the characteristic exaggeration of the smile on the left side of his face. Servetus has extensively noted and written about this – Armitage’s facial expressions seem more pronounced on that side of his face, visible here in the left corner of his mouth drawn up higher than the right. There is a notion of ambiguity coming with an asymmetrical smile like that – a mixed message again of “do I really smile or not?” that may possibly belie a certain amount of embarrassment and a feeling of discomfort at being photographed. Personally, I find it quite endearing. It gives away an internal mix of thoughts and feelings – of being humble and modest, of being amused by the amount of attention that the subject feels is gratuitously heaped upon him, of being embarrassed to be pictured in this uncomfortable situation, of laughing at himself being taken so seriously? Conjecture – but it amuses me to think about Armitage’s potential ambivalence about his own status.

While the ambiguous smile may not make the image a particular favourite with picture editors far and wide unless they want to find an image to accompany a relevatory article with embarrassment potential, this is a nice example of a press call photo where the photographer has  made the most of the setting he was faced with. Armitage is nicely illuminated by the on-camera flash and has arranged his body in a pleasing pose at a slight angle to the camera. This adds a bit of interest and tension, as well as dynamics to the image and feels less static than a dead-pan, straight-on shot. Also, it tends to make the subjects look a bit slimmer (entirely unnecessary in case of the Armitage), and adds a three-dimensional quality to the shot. The background – while not entirely ideal for a subject with dark hair – is relatively monochrome and undistracting, a clear advantage over the other press shots from the same occasion that showed Armitage (and his colleagues) in front of a massive TH poster and had Gandalf peeking over Armitage’s shoulder in a slightly freaky way, imho. The fact that a number of figures are discernable in the background does not take away from the shot but enhances the press call occasion that no doubt was meant to be conveyed in these shots, too: We see other people = we can assume that this was an official event the image was taken at. The line of colourful lights visible in the tree to Richard’s right adds a festive feel to the image – but not too much to make this image Christmassy. It allows us to gauge that the image was taken outside, in the dark, and that in turn allows us to interpret this image as a photo taken at some official event, most likely a premiere. (We, the fangirl elite :-D, know that *anyway*, but for those who are not minutely informed about Armitage’s itinerary past, present and future, may find these little clues helpful.)

While we are still talking about press photography, I’d like to respond to a question that Kathy Jones left in the comments to last week’s *ooof*. Kathy wrote

“As far as I can tell photographers competing for those spots appear to be mostly male. Are they better at staking out a spot and defending it, just by virtue of their size or temperament?”

I do think size has got to do with it on some level. Men being taller means that they simply get the better shot. But there is more there, a strange kind of sexism that occurred to me only a year and a half ago. You wouldn’t think that “women and photography” is an issue worth broaching. The contribution that women photographers have made to photography is undisputed – from early pioneers such as Julia Margaret Cameron, to early art photographers such as Marianne Breslauer, Ilse Bing, early war correspondent Margaret Bourke-White, first woman-member of Magnum Inge Morath or documentary photographer Dorothea Lange. I won’t even mention the countless female photographers who pushed the boundaries of art photography from the 1960s onwards. Actually, I will because I like to name-drop women photographers get brushed aside all too readily still and any opportunity to mention their names must be seized: Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Annie Leibovitz, Sally Mann, Hilla Becher, Cindy Sherman, Rineke Dijkstra… oh, the list goes on and on.

Strange then, that photography on the whole seems to be still dominated by men. Strange, but maybe no wonder. Photography is still perceived as a technology-driven medium. It is inhabited by gadget-obsessed males who can spend hours discussing the advantages of Fuji Provia 200 over Kodak Ektachrome 200, tenderly hugging their 5 d iii and comparing the length of their penises lenses. Photography, it is by-and-large accepted, is a weird mixture of art and technology. To be proficient in photography, you cannot just be intuitive, you need to know the workings of the machinery you are using, you have to understand the laws of physics that govern the realm of optics and you have to keep up-to-date with the hardware development. Machinery, physics, hardware. Three keywords that seem to exclude the participation of female enthusiasts. Ok, I am being deliberately provocative here – we *are* living in the age of emancipation and equality and the small(er) number of women photographers may not just be down to the legions of male photographers who are jealously guarding their profession from contamination by female participation. It might be the women themselves who shrink back from photography, for whatever reason. And not all genres of photography are characterised by the dearth of women practicioners. It is safe to say, that within art photography women are well-represented (all the names listed above are women fine art photographers) and there is little sexism among art photographers.

In the area of press photography, I am not so sure. This seems to be a part of the industry that is still ruled by testosterone. As was brought home to me when I attended the TH premiere in London, December 2012. Instead of shooting from the press area (which had been my intention and my dream, alas I left it too late), I was literally sidelined, excluded from the press area. The next best thing, I figured, was to actually position myself in a spot from where I had a view of the entrance to the press area, as I wanted to drool a bit over the photography hardware on view. When the event finally ended after about two and a half hours at -2 degrees Celsius (my dedication to my movie boyfriend craft knows no temperature limits bounds…), I waited with bated breath to see my fellow professionals emerge from behind the barriers. I was not disappointed –  they spilled out in groups of two and three, laden with three or four cameras each, rucksacks full of lenses and other assorted paraphernalia on their backs, the occasional stool and stepladder under their arms, or monopods over their shoulder. I counted 40 press photographers present. But then the shocker: Among them there was just one woman. ONE!

I am not lying when I am saying here that I was shocked. I truly was – I just cannot quite fathom how this area of the industry cannot reflect the gender balance the same way all other areas do. Photography does not demand particular physical strength which might exclude females from practicing the job. Why then are there so few women in this field? Are there socio-cultural reasons? For instance the (irregular, late) working hours of the press photographers, which are unconducive to family life with kids. Are male practicioners in press photography more aggressive, therefore get the better shots and are simply more successful than women? Do women not feel wanted in the ranks of press photographers? But that has never held women back from following their calling. Do they not have what it takes to get the shots and sell them off? That is simply unlikely – women see and shoot as well as any man, therefore their work should be of equal quality. I am genuinely at a loss – I cannot really say why there is such a small number of women engaging in press photography. Maybe me and my sisters are simply not interested in engaging in the battles that inevitably ensue in the press pit, where elbows are extended into ribs and the 6’2″ bloke wins over all the other hobbits.

It pains me to think that (an area of) photography might be caught in some sort of pre-historic sexism… Sexism that, it seems, is somehow alive and kicking. In a day and age where women are train drivers, army officers and carpenters, there shouldn’t be anything holding them back from becoming press photographers. Yes, I know. The mere fact that there are *more* male press photographers than female, is not yet an indication of sexist behaviour and/or attitude of the industry. But there has got to be something at the bottom of this. And it certainly puts me off *big time* – because *I* have not got a long penis lens to compete with.


~ by Guylty on April 8, 2014.

17 Responses to “*ooof*: A Look at Pre-history”

  1. Interesting topic of discussion. (But then, I’m nearly always interested in talking about a.) photography and b.) manifestations of sexism in the work force.) What is the ratio of men/women in, say, event photography, if you happen to know? I’m just wondering if the pool, in general, of photographers who prefer shooting people (ha) is more gender balanced. Because I know I would never consider going into press photography for myself, but that’s just because I outright loathe photographing human subjects and I would imagine that’s not exactly a common problem among female photographers.


    • Hello sister 😀 – gender studies is something I am extremely interested in (it was between photography and a post-grad degree in gender studies when I decided to go back to college five years ago).
      Unfortunately I have no idea what the official statistics are. From my own experience as recounted above and from press events I have attended in Ireland I know that women are outnumbered hugely. I don’t think that it is all down to the actual subjects of the photography. When you look at something like fashion or portrait photography, you will find quite a lot of women photographers. I’d guess that the gender balance is about 50:50 in those areas. Without any scientific back-up whatsoever I would have guessed that women generally enjoy people photography of any sort – possibly more than men do, because womean are (I am generalising – dodgy, I know) rather good at making the personal connections needed for people photography.
      Imho the gender imbalance stems from the fact that photography is perceived as a technical craft. Therefore it attracts more men as they tend to enjoy the hardware and technology aspects more than women (generalising again – dodgy, sorry).
      Personally, I am one of those geeks who actually like the technical aspect of photography. I like working out the physics, and I like knowing how things work. The process of photography is more important to me than the outcome, so to speak. But I may be an exception. I know that a lot of my women photographer friends are less concerned about this, and they prefer shooting automatic rather than manual etc., plus they avoid shooting in studio or setting up elaborate lighting.


      • By “event photography” I meant weddings and parties and so on, though I suppose I should have been more specific under the circumstances. It’s something I’m terrible at for the exact reason that you suppose women in general would tend to be better — I simply don’t get the human connections that lead to good people pictures. I have tried, and was grateful when all was said and done that no one was relying on me to have captured their big day. I spent so much of my time caught up in the little details that I found interesting that I completely missed all of the important human moments.

        I’m quite fond of knowing how things work too. It’s one of the reasons why I love your ooofs. I’ve learned more about the technical side of photography from you in a few months than I ever did in an entire life of flailing around at it on my own. 🙂


        • Ok, event photography as you describe – yeah, I think there are more women involved in that than in press photography. And possibly for the reasons that we talked about. Weddings and events takes a lot of interpersonal communication, and I do believe women are better at that than men. Could the reason for you not particularly enjoying that be connected to your autism? (Hope that is not an offensive question?). Like yourself, I also love the details, and my own individual way of seeing – which is not necessarily what the client wants to have in their wedding album. I absolutely refuse to do event photography – because I enjoy the connections a bit too much. I like taking pictures of people (although I prefer inanimate objects, like architecture, for instance), but when I do, it is the personal rapport that gives me most pleasure. So much so that I chat too much and forget to release the shutter :-D. However, I do not like the responsibility that comes with event photography such as weddings. If anything goes wrong with the photos, you will have failed the job completely. I do not like that pressure.
          I am glad that you find my ooofs useful. There is a reason why it is important to know how things work – it does improve photography. Rules are made for breaking, and there is no absolute right or wrong, but the important thing is that you need to know why you are deciding to use your settings or composition or framing the way you do.


          • Oh, no, it’s not offensive to ask me that. And it absolutely is connected to my autism. I just don’t have the innate ability to read people, and dealing with them in person is always stressful and difficult. The last time I tried taking what I hoped would be meaningful photos at a friend’s wedding, I missed every important moment and came away with a series of artful still lifes that are much more interesting to me than they were to the bride who wanted things like the first kiss captured on film. I was so glad it wasn’t my job, or I would have felt terrible. But that was the final nail in the coffin of people telling me that I should think about wedding photography. I’d tried a few by then, each resulting in photos more awkward than the last.

            I can’t believe that woman said that to you, btw. Well, actually I can, which is awful. Just, wow.


            • Kudos to you for attempting wedding photography. I have recently been asked by the friend of a friend, who wants to pay me even though I’d also be there as a guest. But I forcefully declined 😀 No way will I be responsible for documenting a unique day – and possibly fail…
              I am glad that you see the “real photographer/big camera” remark the way I did. With my husband so dismissive, I was wondering whether I was acting like a mimose.
              BTW – a friend on tumblr forwarded me this link: http://www.pipermackayphotography.com/2013/03/its-not-about-gender-its-about-business/ It’s a post by a woman photographer that discusses the issue, too. She comes to similar conclusions – except she does not search for reasons, she just accepts there is unexplained disparity in the gender balance.


  2. I simply like him being happy AND this photo does some (very good) things to me. So I am a geek then? Well, so be it. I can very well live with that, as I am a geek in so many other parts of my life also. 🙂
    Female press photographers? I clearly hear you sister – working in a male dominated business myself. Over the years I got the impression that emancipation took a few small steps backwards. So many things our mothers had been fighting for we take for granted nowadays. And also I got the impression that women grew a bit tired of fighting for things and rights that IMHO are basic human rights and must not be deprived of them. We have given proof that we can do as good as any men over and over again – and still it feels like running in a hamsters wheel. Even nowadays I keep running into businesspartners for the first time just to hear they are delighted to be graced by the presence of a woman and they even think they honoured me with a compliment. Whereas I just want to kick them in the crown jewels.
    Errmmmm, sorry for the rant – this year I wanted to be good, extra willingly good. Doesn’t always work…..


    • Nothing wrong with geek 🙂 – I am one, too…
      Yes, I sometimes wonder whether we have gone backwards in terms of gender balance and equality. Not sure why that is. Particularly when it comes to freelance jobs, working conditions are often not conducive to family life. That may be one of the factors influencing women in their choice of profession. There are many areas where women are accepted as practicioners. Photography is a grey area, I suppose. But I often find that people give me strange looks when I turn up as the photographer. The other day I had a little conversation that had me seething with anger. At an event where I was photographing proceedings, a woman came up to me and said “Are you a real photographer or do you just have a big camera?” QUOTE! I was so pissed off, I nearly said, “are you really that stupid or are you just having me on?”. My dear husband did not understand why I was so upset. He thought that the woman was merely honestly asking. That may have been true, but the way she asked was utterly offensive to me because it seemed to question my authority – and I suspect that that kind of question would not be posed to a male photographer…


      • *Gasppp!! A woman asked you that? Dear, I would have been offended as well. I am afraid there is some severe lack of sisterly loyalty sometimes. Sorry, I cannot see an honest question behind that – just simple stupidity. Graahhhh, questioning my authority can have a horrific effect on my hormonal balance. Not even my icy attitude saves me from going through the roof. Surprisingly I found myself being more hurt by this kind of attack when it comes from a woman. I am kind of used being offended by men – being offended by women is a whole different story. :-/
        I try to keep Mr. A in mind – going on and on through auditions for roles he doesn’t get in the end (which had happened more than once and which in some way is questioning his capability) must be devastating for ones self-confidence. Inhale deeply, keep sticking to your way, pick yourself from the floor, brush yourself off, move on. Sometimes it works….


        • Yes, it totally is more offensive when coming from a woman – who you assume to be on your side and to be supportive. But then again, if women are still subjected to sexism, it is no surprise that they take on the attitudes that they are constantly faced with… I actually held it together in that case – I snorted derisively, and ranted at my hubs in the car home. But I did not tell her that I had felt offended…
          And yes, I do often remind myself of the “placid” Mr A. I am quite placid myself – but inside I am often seething ggg. A little bit of adrenaline is good for you 😉


      • Stupid bi*h!…and probably her favorite sentence ( esp. among men) is ” I’m not feminist hihihihi!” grrr


        • I have to admit that that particular word came to my mind, too… And my subsequent interaction with her at another event did support that theory :-D… But well, nothing to it but to ignore people like that.


  3. […] It’s Tuesday. I have already done my duty and written an ooof over there on me+richard, and as I am idly pottering around, popping over to RAnet for a quick […]


  4. Thank you so much for answering another part of my rambling question. Did you have an opportunity to view the press pit (or was there one) when you went to the Berlin premiere? I was wondering if the ratio was different in a different country. After reading your analysis, I think the lack of women in the pit might have two main causes. First, bigger, stronger men can shove smaller men and women aside to get the shots they want. The more aggressive they are, the more successful they are. Just as, sorry to say, the most obnoxious paparazzi score the most photos and make the most money. I am guessing on this, I don’t know if kind, gentle and polite paparazzi exist. Perhaps they live next door to unicorns. The second reason might be that the level of aggression required in the pit is too much for most women to muster. You must release your inner bitch and rudeness, and in spite of years of liberation, it is really hard to do. I am sure there are many more reasons, the technology one you mentioned would work for me, personally. I am really good at the bitch thing, though. Don’t tell anyone.


    • No, I didn’t bother with the press pit in Berlin. But I hazard the guess that it wasn’t much different in terms of gender ratio.
      The physical advantage of men over women certainly is a factor. And I have no doubt that you have to have a particular personality in order to get anywhere in that business – a dash of ruthlessness, single-mindedness, ambition. I can be quite bitchy myself, but it doesn’t really help much in that situation, I think. (Men may be irritated by bitchiness but certainly don’t feel threatened… I have occasionally found that the other extreme works better; the wide-eyed, slightly naive helplessness. Brings out the protective, generous side in men ggg. Mind you, I don’t like faking it. Cos I am not helpless…) As for polite paparrazzi – yeah, unicorn land. An oxymoron.


  5. A very late comment on the theme of women and photography — a few years ago one used to read all of these disparaging comments by male photographers about how “MWACs” (mommies with a camera) were ruining the market for the average professional photographer with their infinite willingness to provide inferior product. That really annoyed me at the time. I’m not sure if that discourse is still around but I hope not.


    • I haven’t heard that particular accusation – or rather, the gender-specific accusation. The argument that amateur photographers have ruined the market for stock photography due to the cheap availability of good digital cameras is familiar to me, though. However, I think the industry has copped on that technological developments cannot be stopped – and that competition generally advances the industry. Pro photographers are still needed (for obvious reasons – when you look at this week’s ooof for instance, you can see why). Their job desription has only been narrowed down, and there is less scope for all-round or dillettante jacks-of-all-trades.


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