Shextreme Adventure Photography Competition
I am excited to have the opportunity to judge the Adventure Photography competition for Shextreme Film Festival 2018, which is calling for entries along the festival's theme of empowering women in adventure. As part of my presentation, Telling Women’s Stories at the Women’s Climbing Symposium I talked about the importance of positive role models, and photographs and images are a vital aspect of that.
Recently there have been moves within the outdoor industry to harness the trend of female empowerment, with hashtags like REI’s #forceofnature and The North Face’s #shemovesmountains campaign. There are mixed feelings about what some see as a cynical commercialisation of feminism, but Instagram accounts like the Outdoor Women’s Alliance (234k followers) and Wonderful Wild Women (23k followers) have thousands of followers and are growing. Existing to repost photographs of women in the outdoors and to reinforce empowering messages, they feature a diverse range of images and offer fresh and authentic perspectives. Although I appreciate that there's often a long way between an Instagram snap and a professional photograph, there is clearly hunger out there to see more images that engage and inspire women. Maybe there's something to be learned from images shared on social media that can point outdoor and adventure photography towards images that better reflect the outdoor community.
The Women’s Sport Trust and Getty Images developed Visual Guidelines for Sporting Women, in partnership with industry representatives including TV, athletes, marketing companies and household brands. The guidelines include principles such as ‘focus on ability not appearance’, ‘beware of cliches’, and ‘present the full diversity and breadth of women in sports.’ These are useful in the context of outdoor women. Images that 'focus on ability not appearance' like this this photo taken by Ian Corless of Emelie Forsberg (above) during the Glencoe Skyrace show the athlete in action, her skill and strength, set in the context of the incredible Scottish landscape.
If you spend any time on social media you will be familiar with visual cliches (tropes), recurring images taken by different people at different times but essentially of the same thing. For outdoor women this might be flowing (clean) hair, bikini and short shorts on the trail, or posing in a recognisable location. The images that really stand out though, are the ones that surprise, that reveal something different or hint at the character of the subject. Whether they capture sweat, dirt, pain, emotion, fun, friendship, fear, failure, celebration, or contemplation, they are able to tell a deeper story. Kate T Parker's collection Strong is the New Pretty, celebrates individuality, featuring young women as they play, dance, or compete, unapologetically challenging the camera with their gaze, or capturing their unselfconscious joy in movement.
Tropes are a visual shorthand to tell us that we’re in the right place with the right people, but that doesn’t work for people who don’t see themselves represented. ‘Presenting the full diversity and breadth of women in sports’ means increasing the variety of women and girls in front of the camera, in terms of youth, age, athletic ability, culture and race. It isn’t always easy. It takes bravery to put yourself in front of the lens, as well as for photographers to seek out subjects and produce images that don’t look like all the others. The Nike campaign, What Will They Say About You, directly challenges the stereotypes women face, and Alex Rotas' photographs of older athletes competing defy preconceptions about ageing (below).
Well known photographers like Krystle Wright and Jody MacDonald are exceptions to the rule, but there are very few professional female photographers in outdoor adventure and action sports. In the Red Bull Illume adventure photography competition only 2 of the 55 shortlisted finalists were female. Women are still underrepresented and that means we're all missing out. In some cases women are able to gain special insight and access that men could not, in any case every individual brings their unique perspective. Encouraging and showcasing female photographers can only broaden the variety and quality of images and inspire others, whether they're male or female.
Shextreme is a Cinematic Celebration of Women in Extreme Sports and Adventure. Enter the Adventure Photography competition via the Shextreme website.