Given that I am still relatively new to photography (this year marks my 2 year anniversary!), I'm always trying to challenge myself whether that be through direct prompts and challenges (The Photograph Collective) or various techniques that I want to try out (oof, gifs were a tough one...). One thing I've realized recently is how almost all of my portraits are of women! On one hand, most of my close girl friends are comfortable enough to ask for portraits, while on the other hand it seems that society has deemed photoshoots to be more "acceptable" for women than for men. In the past two years alone, I've had dozens of girl friends ask for a photoshoot, while I've only had two or three guy friends ask for "a new LinkedIn photo." Of course, I've absolutely loved shooting the sessions with the women in my life and have been so happy to share the gift of beautiful photographs which each one. Each woman I've shot has a different personality, a unique style, and something different to portray which still adds a significant amount of variety to my work. Lauren of The Pear Shape and Samantha Davis of @stylemediator are both fashion bloggers, but with completely different looks and attitudes. Even in photographing two girls who I'm exceptionally close with: my best friend Janet for her Penn senior portraits and my "little sister" Kiersten in San Diego, the experience has been completely different, and the photos certainly reflect that. During Merry & Kelly's engagement shoot, however, I took some photos of Kelly that I really loved - in particular, the shot of him looking off to the side. There's something very different about photographing men, although I'm not quite sure I've figured out what it is yet. In terms of very broad generalizations, I think that women are often times more comfortable in front of the camera due to years of group photos, mini photoshoots with friends, etc. After 4 years in Chi Omega, I can pop a skinny arm and sorority squat in .15 seconds, flat, and one of my good friends even has a head tilt that is somehow at the exact same angle in every. single. photo. In contrast, whether it's due to societal pressures of what's "acceptable" or just a pure hatred of being forced to take photos, I've encountered plenty of guys who have absolutely no idea what to do in front of a camera. Max, who I'm featuring in this post, never had any idea what to do with his hands. When I was abroad my junior year, I literally made a folder of photos where he was throwing up a peace sign, a thumbs up, a fake gang sign, or some other ridiculous gesture - they were all hilarious and a continual joke, but he just insisted he didn't know what else to do. Beyond that, I think a lot of it also has to do with who I am as a photographer. I feel comfortable "directing" shoots with my female friends. Saying "That looks stunning! You look beautiful! Yes your hair looks so great in that light!" is much easier with women than it is with men. Nevertheless, for 2015 I've sought to give myself a little mission of "shooting more men" (how hilariously questionable does that sound?!) and to do it well. When I did my very first portrait shoot with Kareli, she gushed at how beautiful she felt when she looked at those photos. While my photos might not evoke quite the same response with guys, I do want to produce photos that they are happy with, more confident because of, and truly appreciate. So with that, I present to you these portraits of one of my favorite Brits, Max, whom I visited in London over Thanksgiving. He put up with all of my running around, trying to find good light, constantly yelling conflicting directions like "Smile! Wait don't smile! Be serious! Step forward! Wait that light is bad, move back!" and was just a good sport all around. I'm quite happy with the way the images turned out - he sure is the handsome fellow, isn't he? And if you're a photographer as well (or aren't!), I'd love to hear your thoughts on taking photos of men, or perhaps of the opposite gender. Do you find yourself more comfortable with female subjects? How do you give confidence-boosting compliments to the opposite gender without making it sound creepy? These are real questions, and I think that being a good photographer involves so much more than being able to frame a good shot technically. Making someone feel comfortable, especially if you're a portrait or wedding photographer, is crucial for their experience, yours, and ultimately the outcome of the photos.
Today, I had the amazing fortune of being able to watch Anne-Marie Slaughter speak at Wharton about work/life balance with Jocelyn. Already extremely well-established in international affairs, Dr. Slaughter wrote a phenomenal piece in The Atlantic this summer titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have it All." It's a pretty lengthy article, but it was well worth the read and so eye-opening about the struggles women face in the work-field. Essentially, the article argues that women have been told the myth that if they work hard enough, find the right husband, or do the right things, they can "have it all." The article challenges that idea saying that currently, with the work environments we have now, it isn't possible for women to have it all. On top of that, those myths are just leading women to feel as if they have personally failed because they can't have both a successful family life and career. If you haven't read the article yet, I strongly recommend it. Even if you don't agree with everything she says, I think the importance is that the article has created a dialogue that's been necessary for many years now. Dr. Slaughter said something interesting today - that she said she wrote this article for my generation. She wrote it for young women who felt and demanded that these sentiments be shared. As one of those women, after reading her article, I felt both an immense amount of panic (Wait - I thought I could have it all, and now I can't?!) and relief (Thank God someone told me this early on in life). It's interesting, though, because as a 21-year old, I haven't (yet) to feel discriminated against because of my gender - especially in the workplace. All of the places I've worked in the past summers have been wonderful environments and I've never felt treated differently because of my gender. But then I realize that the real issues women face don't begin to pop up until far later in the game when marriage and children are part of the conversation. At the same time, it's made me realize that just because I'm not personally going through a struggle, it doesn't mean that I should ignore the general issues my entire gender faces as well.
A really interesting aspect of current work culture that Slaughter argues against frequently is society's obsession with face time. She strongly believes that the person who works the latest is not nearly the best employee, but rather an inefficient one. One example she gave was of an experiment with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) where each member of a team was given "Predictable Time Off" - a night where the employee couldn't work, email "blackouts," or uninterrupted time to focus on work and leave earlier. The idea behind this was that employees were suffering from not having a predictable schedule where they could make plans. The result was phenomenally successful. Satisfaction, teamwork, and retention rose. In fact, BCG is now implementing this method across 900 groups now.
A running theme throughout the Q&A was "What can we do? How can we enact change in this system?" Dr. Slaughter's answers ranged quite a bit depending on life stages. For women who were going to take an extendde time off to take care of their children, she recommended always keeping one hand in some jar whether it be taking classes or being involved somehow in the industry just so that there wasn't a large gap in your resume. What struck me a lot more was her recommendation for younger women - she recommended that when you were considering marriage, to have a serious and frank discussion with your significant other about his expectations. Would he be willing to move to a new city if you were offered a promotion Traditionally, wives are just expected to do that. Admittedly, when she said this my first thought was, "Oh my god. I'm never going to find a guy who will agree to that!." Obviously these discussions are so far away from my current life status, but I know that at some point in my life, I'll have to cross this bridge as well.
Dr. Slaughter calls for systematic change where companies make it easier for "caregivers" (not just mothers or fathers, but also children who are taking care of their elderly parents) to continue working and succeeding while sharing life and love with their families. This can range from the Predictable Time Off, to more flexibility in work time as long as you meet quality standards and deadlines, to daycare options in the office. She argues that companies are wasting money if they cannot retain the women they have dedicated time and training to - it's in their interest to change as well.
I'm grateful and thankful for the courageous women, including Anne-Marie Slaughter, who have brought this discussion out in the open. I hope that by the time I cross this bridge, it might just be possible to "have it all."
[Update] In a turn of events I was not expecting, Anne-Marie Slaughter actually replied to my tweet and retweeted my blog post out! Immensely flattered she took time out of her day to read my post. Follow her on twitter at @SlaughterAM.