Infographics: What We Learned About Gender Diversity From Over 3,000 Photographers

One of the most important issues facing workers in any profession today is gender diversity–and as we discovered, it’s a discussion that photographers can’t ignore any longer. We searched for a set of data that was a good snapshot of how the photo industry works, and came across the list of photographers from the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD). Using publicly accessible information, we compiled a database of every photographer that each participating gallery represents–over 3,000 individuals.

Using data compiled from this list was a perfect choice because of the makeup of AIPAD’s membership. With over 120 galleries, representation is not determined by a handful of curators or directors but a plethora of market-driven individual spaces. It’s as close to unbiased as you can get. We hope you’re enlightened and inspired to continue this conversation beyond the digital realm, and would love to hear your reactions in the comment section below–ONWARD Editor

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What’s the use of grouping together more than three thousand of the world’s most recognized photographers? On one hand, it’s an incredible resource for revealing trends in our profession and passion. On the other hand, it’s a confirmation of many stereotypes and clichés that pervade the photo industry.

ONWARD isn’t new to the art-world census game, but before now we haven’t taken the time to really hone in on the data specific to fine-art photographers. Drawing data from the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD), we have profiled every photographer represented by the galleries that make up AIPAD, spanning the times of the earliest daguerreotypes up to today. After months of parsing the facts and figures backwards and forwards, we’re enlightened and generally pleased by what we’ve learned.

Ours is a field more welcoming of diversity than the art world as a whole. The AIPAD database is comprised of over 3,000 photographers with an approximate cumulative 3:1 ratio of male to female. As of 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the male:female artist ratio held firm at 4.5:1. According to Guerilla Girls in 2012, of all of the works displayed by the Modern Art department of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, a whopping 96% were created by men.

The statistics haven’t always been so favorable for photography, however. For nearly a century after its invention, photography was a craft almost exclusively practiced by upper-class men. At its earliest stages, photography was an arduous and technology-driven undertaking. Only those with money to acquire the equipment, the means to move it around, and the education to operate it were able to take part.

Even taking into account modern photographers, the majority (76%) of represented (and therefore deemed successful) photographers are still Caucasian men. There are fewer barriers to entry and an ever-expanding array of forums in which to learn, practice, exhibit, and sell photography, yet the numbers don’t lie. Why does gender disparity among photographers persist?


By the numbers

To understand why these trends have emerged, it’s important to first look at how they took shape. Looking at only the cumulative number doesn’t give us a clear picture of gender diversity in 1915 versus 2015. The oldest photographer on the list was born in 1775, the youngest in 1993–that’s a difference of 218 years. To get a better lay of the land, we broke the data down by the decade in which photographers were born.

The disparities in early decades are pretty astounding. In the 1820’s, for example, only one female photographer represented was born, compared with with 50 males. In the 1830’s and 1840’s no female photographers are present at all on the list–zero. And the number of men from those same years? 82. Not an acceptable start, to be sure.

The rest of the data isn’t quite as gloomy. There is a steady, albeit not meteoric equalization that begins in the twentieth century. This trend accelerates after 1950. From 1901-1950, the photographers are 83% male and 17% female. From 1951 to the present day, it has improved to 66% male and 34% female.

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It’s not cause for a champagne toast, but there’s some room for optimism here. If we break it down by decade, we can start to see the bright side a little more clearly. The 1950s: 28% female to 72% male. The 1960s: 32% female to 68% male. In the 1970s, 42% of all represented photographers born were female. In the 1980s, there was a slight dip back to 38%, but the 1990s followed up with a clean 50/50 split.

50/50? So does that mean we’ve crossed this chasm of diversity and can pat ourselves on the collective back? Not so fast. Only 4 photographers represented through AIPAD were born in the 90s–hardly a statistically significant polling sample. Symbolically, however, the ratio is a powerful one.

Onward and Upward?

Now that we’ve laid out the hard facts to support our time based findings, let’s take a quick look at how some of the biggest nations have done with the diversity of their photographers. AIPAD is an international organization, after all.

The top five countries represented through AIPAD are the United States, Germany, France, England, and Japan in that order. This hews to where the lion’s share of fine art is being produced. Germany and the Japan hold top spots at 26% and 25% female representation respectively, with the USA at 24% and England at 17%. France brings up the rear at a very discouraging 9% female representation. All five countries’ numbers have improved in recent decades, however, following the general patterns listed in the previous section.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten through the stats, let’s zoom out and take a look at the larger picture here. What are some of the broad social factors that contribute to these trends, and how do we assign a system of value or accomplishment to these photographers and their work?

AIPAD 2015 © Julienne Schaer

AIPAD 2015 © Julienne Schaer, Image courtesy AIPAD

Definition of Success

One of the chief debates among feminist scholars is about what constitutes success, power, and “having it all.” For every critic who applauds woman-only exhibitions, lists of “up-and-coming” women artists, and the like, there is another who disdains such practices. Women are included on ungendered “Top” lists at a rate rarely exceeding 1:4; the rate for inclusion on “young leaders” lists is only a slightly more favorable 1:2.5. There can also be a perception among the establishment that conscientiously including women for the sake of gender balance amounts to tokenism, a nod to politically correct optics rather than genuine merit.

While many people emphasize the importance of measuring equality through salaries, budgets, and other easily quantifiable statistics, a large number of feminists see this as too simple, only a fragment of the larger factors at play. Myriad opinions were presented in the fascinating ArtNews feature this June’s special issue, Women in the Art World. In response to the essay, “Taking the Measure Of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes,” seventeen artists shared their thoughts.

On the one hand, Cindy Sherman cites the disparity in the price her work commands compared to her male counterparts. On the other hand, Carrie Mae Weems alludes to the need to change the narrative of the feminist movement as it relates to the art world.

More nuanced, qualitative, and individualized characteristics may actually be more representative of the degree of success enjoyed by everyone from photographers to dealers and collectors. These factors could include achievements such as prestige (being exhibited in a particular gallery, or being included in an anthology monograph with esteemed peers), influence (being asked to jury a contest, comment in a journal, or teach), or some other milestone that signifies professional fulfillment.


Intersectionality recognizes that gender-based oppression does not occur independently from other means of exclusion, such as racism, classism, ageism, disablism, and heterosexism. It recognizes that people who identify as female experience sexism differently depending upon the other societal pressures they face.

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This helps us understand why, while great strides have been made to open the field to more photographers, and while it may feel like we’re edging past the era of tokenism and affirmative-action-style shows, scholarships, and such, we’re still not to the point of this being a non-issue.

Rosie the Shooter

We are only entering the fourth generation in which widespread access to the general and Photographic workforce has been available to the majority of women. The few who built their careers prior to that time were either from privileged families or earned the support of wealthy benefactors.

This is only the second generation in which women have been largely expected to join the workforce independently, without the assumption of an eventual or sustained income of a spouse or partner. As such, women are decades late to the party in negotiating proper wages for their work or navigating the elitist art world. Earning and wielding agency, as a result, is still an upward climb.

AIPAD 2015 © Julienne Schaer

AIPAD 2015 © Julienne Schaer, image courtesy AIPAD

The Customer Isn’t Always Right

As much as we like to imagine art as a purely aesthetic endeavor, free from the throes of value and commodity, it remains a business in many ways. The dearth of diversity among purveyors and customers of art cannot be ignored.

Fewer than a third of all major museum directors in America are female, and this statistic plummets among the largest museums in the country. For art museums with budgets over $15 million, women hold just 24% of the director positions. For these same museums, female art museum directors earn 71 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. For museums with budgets under $15 million, women hold 48% of the leadership jobs, and they earn $1.02 for every dollar the male leaders earn.

While this is surely encouraging, it is worthwhile to note that more men than women were external hires for larger museum directorships; more women than men were internal promotions. This would seem to account for the income disparity; internally-promoted leaders tend to be at an income disadvantage to those who secure positions from the open market (The Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships, Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) & National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) 2014).

Of the categories of people in fine art photography market, the least diverse is the art collectors. It’s an expensive passion to indulge, no doubt. While not everyone in America’s top tax brackets pursues such investments, the profile of the typical collector is decidedly pale and male. Considering that collectors seek the counsel of similarly biased gallery owners, museum directors, and art dealers, the argument is brought full-circle. Money does make the world go ‘round, and no one’s debating who controls most of the economic power in the world.

From that dreary point of view, the art world is miles ahead of its counterparts. Take a look at the corporate world: there are just 24 female chief executives in the Fortune 500, which is less than 5 percent. Academia has problems beyond numbers, with pervasive, documented stereotypes equating male success with innate raw talent, and women’s success resulting almost exclusively from willingness to work hard. As for the statistics for women in trade labor, they are even more abysmal.

At least change is happening. The question for all of us is, what else could we be doing to maintain or speed the changes taking place in photography today? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

ONWARD is based in Philadelphia, PA, providing useful resources for photographers of all walks of life–from Grant Writing Tips to Getting Gallery Shows. ONWARD also provides educational opportunities for photographers like the Global Mentorship Program, a year-long course geared towards the completion of a long-term project. We also offer incredible destination trips to international locales like the Japanese countryside, tailored specifically for photographers. Want to get more updates about the photography world? Join the ONWARD community!