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New book highlights the work and perspectives of underrepresented photographers
John Yang: The world of photojournalism has always been dominated by men, which means that front page photos and images of other world events are seen from a male perspective when 2018 survey found that worldwide only 18 percent of photo journalists were women.
Women photograph is a nonprofit group working to elevate more female and nonbinary photographers. They published a new book called "What We See: Women and Nonbinary Perspectives Through the Lens," and includes 100 images from both up and comers and industry veterans.
Daniella Zalcman is the founder of Women photograph. She was also one of the curators of the photos and the book. Daniella, in the introduction to this book, you write that photo journalists are tasked with a unique privilege, teaching others how to see. Why are so many, the vast majority of people teaching us how to see white western males? And what's the effect of that?
Daniella Zalcman, Founder, Woman Photograph: I think photojournalism remains an incredibly classist industry. It's really difficult to graduate from a university program with student debt with no access to generational wealth. And then think about becoming a freelance photojournalist where you may have to invest $10,000 into gear and not have any kind of job security to hope that you can work for the best newspapers and magazines in the country.
But, you know, I can say that the impact of that is a huge ethical crisis because when we are seeing the world and building our visual record, almost exclusively through the lens of male photographers, male photo journalists, we are not only missing out on stories that those photographers may not have access to. We're missing out on stories that they don't think should be prioritized.
And in turn, we're teaching our audience that those stories don't matter. So making sure that the documentary photography community is as diverse as the communities the people we hope to cover is absolutely critical.
John Yang: Well, let's get to some of the photos from the book. The first one is family bonding.
Daniella Zalcman: This is a photograph from size of a Connie who is a Filipina photographer currently based in the United States. She herself has worked as a domestic worker and her mother continues to work as a domestic worker in Hong Kong. And this is actually a photograph of her own family, something that we wanted to really address in the book is the fact that a lot of journalists work as outsiders and we're having increasingly nuanced conversations about the fact that we need inside and outside perspectives for holistic and meaningful journalism.
But for the longest time, almost all photo journalists have worked as outsiders.
John Yang: The next one is Dias eternos, project called Eternal Days.
Daniella Zalcman: Again, I think this is an incredible example of an image that we might not have seen in mainstream media without the attention of a woman photographer. This is documentation of a women's prison in Venezuela, one where you can see the living conditions are very grim. Women do not necessarily have access to justice at the speed at which they should they're crammed into these cells.
I think, in this particular instance, with 22 women living in one very small space. And again, you know, between access and interest and hoping to focus on the story I, you know, I think without honors work, we might never hear about these women.
John Yang: Talk about the choice between black and white, which was the first picture we saw the family portrait, and color. This is a very grim situation in this women's prison, but vibrant colors.
Daniella Zalcman: I think that's a very intentional choice that makes images feel sometimes a little more calm. But I think it's also important to remember that even when you're working in grim situations, images don't necessarily have to just convey trauma.
You know, I think there are aspects of that photograph of Ana's photograph that even while these are women in prison in very severe situations, this photo is about family and community and the way that they're all coming together to survive this ordeal.
John Yang: The next photograph is called Portrait for A.
Daniella Zalcman: This is an incredible long term project that photographer Smita Sharma has worked on for years, it was published, is a long form piece of National Geographic about sex trafficking of young girls, between India and Bangladesh.
And you know, something that photo journalists have to contend with on a day to day basis is how do we make sure that we are centering the safety of the people who trust us with their stories. And in this particular case, these are girls that are under age, they have dealt with trafficking and sexual trauma.
And so it was of utmost importance to me to Smita that she make sure that you protect the identity and the image of every single one of these women who she was trusted to photograph. And I think she did a incredibly poetic, very powerful job.
John Yang: The next image is from Afghanistan, it's called Mayhem.
Daniella Zalcman: This is, you know, a really classic example of a space that a male conflict photographer just absolutely would not have been able to gain access to, you know Kiana (ph), though Iranian has worked in Afghanistan for years and years, and in 2021, with Taliban retaking control and explicitly targeting women, girls and women's education. In particular, this is an image that was taken in the aftermath of a school bombing. She was able to walk into this space and with her knowledge of the community and the culture was able to make this photograph of women mourning their children, their daughters.
John Yang: As you say, this is a image a man couldn't have captured because they just are not comfortable because of the culture. It's a different situation if a man walked in.
Daniella Zalcman: Or it may not have existed at all, I think it's very likely that a man would have been physically barred from entering that space. And so if we want to see and hear stories from those spaces, we need to make sure that women from those communities and women in general are behind the lens as well.
John Yang: The next one is the Flying Cholitas.
Daniella Zalcman: I love this photograph so much. This is a Brazilian photographer, Luisa Dorr, who came to the story of us are I Mara and Quechua women who have created this incredible reversal where they have taken clothing that was part of the sort of colonial imposition that they were forced to wear when they worked in sort of service to colonizers, and now they use them as sort of these powerful decorative costumes as they fight.
And it's both this otherworldly and spectacularly beautiful, and kind of funny image that I think is a really wonderful moment of levity in the book.
John Yang: That's a great one. The next one was taken in Kenya, it's called Last Act.
Daniella Zalcman: This is from Ugandan photographer, Sarah Waiswa, who has lived all over East Africa and is an incredible photographer. And you know, she speaks very explicitly in the book about how she wanted to subvert the imagery that she's so used to have, particularly outside photographers coming into poor communities in East Africa and making photographs that we've seen before of young children in poor neighborhoods in Nairobi in Kampala.
And you know, these are two young girls doing ballet which she comments is very often associated with upper class children and children have privilege, but they're still having this wonderful happy experience and that can define their identity as well.
John Yang: Tell me about the organization you founded Women Photograph?
Daniella Zalcman: Women Photograph is a nonprofit I created in 2017. We have 1400 women and nonbinary members based in about 120 countries.
We also are a grant making organization. We hold skills building workshops annually. We run a mentorship program for early career photo journalists and I co-curator on the book. Sarah Aiko is part of that team alongside Mallory Benedict and Piera Moore.
John Yang: The book is "What We See: Women and Nonbinary Perspectives Through the Lens." One of the curators is Daniella Zalcman. Daniella, thank you very much.
Daniella Zalcman: Thank you so much for having me.