Through the lens of experience: American women newspaper photographers
As eyewitnesses to history, American women newspaper photographers occupy ringside seats as they cover local, national or international events. Their names are credited under countless images printed in daily and weekly papers, yet viewers seldom consider how the private lives of individual women intersect with their profession. Regrettably their narratives are absent from most photographic and journalism histories. Female news photographers constitute less than 25% of this male-dominated profession. To comprehend how newsroom culture informed both professional and personal experience, extensive life histories were collected from thirty women who consented to participate in this study. As a means of painting a more complete picture of issues encountered during their careers, the group was chosen to reflect geographical location, age, ethnicities, and sexual preference. Participants were asked how they balanced career aspirations, personal relationships, and self-worth in context of the changing roles of women. What choices have they made? What compromises? Did their experiences change over decades or do some issues remain essentially the same? What kind of discrimination, if any, did they experience in their job and how did they respond? Did ethnic cultures or social mores clash with their career choice? Also explored were statements regarding education, parental professions, marital status, family dynamics, life changes, and stressors. On assignment and in the newsroom their presence has helped change social assumptions but because their profession straddles both journalism and photography, researchers have ignored much of their work. Naomi Rosenblum, author of A History of Women Photographers, cites only a few newspaper photographers and describes pictures produced by women photographers in the 1940s and 1950s as "pedestrian" in quality. Current photographic history is not false, but rather one-sided. Stories shared by the women of this study, whose collective experience spans over fifty years, offer insights to young women who will be working as news photographers in the future and refute benighted scholarly assumptions that women newspaper photographers have no history worth remembering.