Clearly we need more
Published in POWDER Magazine (46.5) | January 2018 | The Photo Annual
This magazine has a lot of work to do.
Every year, the Photo Annual strives to display the very best ski photography in the world, with integrity to composition, light, authenticity, snow, and action. It is the culmination of a year’s worth of effort, from when photographers and skiers set out to create their art, to the months of collecting, sorting, curating, and editing photos internally. Photographers submitted thou sands of images to the magazine this year; out of those, we published 24 photos in this issue that represent the top tier of ability in photography and skiing. Only one featured a woman. And only one was taken by a female photographer.
The gender gap has manifested in more than just this single magazine. In the Shooting Gallery department, which typically consists of around eight photos in every issue, the problem is right before our eyes. Beyond Lucy Sackbauer, a skier from Vail, Colorado, who closes the gallery on page 98, Christina Lustenberger has been the only other female skier portrayed in the galleries this year (46.3), and she was not skiing.
This magazine is a record of the sport, but if we are not capturing 49 percent of skiers, the women’s demographic, then we are falling short. We know it, and we want to call attention to it. But there are many layers to this problem that we—Powder and the ski industry—must overcome.
Ski photography is a precise craft, and the odds of anyone gettting a photo published are unimaginably low. Over 46 years, Powder has developed a bias toward a certain style and aesthetic: tight body movement, speed, and explosiveness. Most of the photos of women that we receive do not convey the energy we are looking for. That is not because they are lesser skiers. It doesn’t help that 95 percent of the photos sent to the magazine are of men. Additionally, 85 percent of photojournalists are men, according to World Press Photo. We have 87 photographers on our masthead. Five are women.
Re Wikstrom, one of those five, has been working hard to change the status quo. She is a contributing photographer, a step down from the select, elite senior photographers, a list that includes no women. “Me personally, I try to shoot mostly with women because that is my personal mission in life,” she says. “I want to portray skiing as fun and enjoyable, but I don’t want it to be patronizing. I want it to look real.”
It’s not that men don’t support women, says Wikstrom. Once she took the initiative, men have given her many opportunities throughout her career. (She also says her ambiguous name worked in her favor.) Rather, Wikstrom boils the gender discrepancy to numbers and a culture that subliminally skews toward the masculine and generally stereotypes women.
“If you have a blank canvas, a slope, more often than not, the guy is going to step up first and say, ‘Cool, I want to do that,’” says Wikstrom. “Women are not as proactive in that situation. As a result, the photos of the men tend to be better because the women are standing back and taking the leftovers.”
Shooting photos of women skiing, however, did not provide enough to make a living (not that any photographer makes a realistic income entirely off ski editorial). In 2004, Wikstrom started working for Backcountry.com. At first she still had the flexibility she needed to pursue ski photography, but her role shifted to working longer hours in their photo department.
“Sometimes I think, What the fuck? I need to quit my job so I can do what I said I was going to do, but I need to pay my mortgage, I need to pay my health insurance,” she says. Wikstrom submitted photos to this magazine from last winter, but she did not go on a big trip that would produce a run of images worthy of publishing. “If I did quit my job, could I become a senior photographer?” she asked. “I don’t want affirmative action. I want to take great photos.”
Amie Engerbretson is a professional skier who grew up in Truckee, California, with a ski photographer father. Last winter, she dedicated 50 days to shooting photos. She has only been published in this magazine in small photos and advertisements, mostly lifestyle pictures and never in the Shooting Gallery. One time, a photographer on our masthead told her that no photo of a girl skiing powder would be as valuable as “a dude hitting a big air.” Another time, a magazine (not this one) turned her down for a cover because she was smiling. Many times, she has shot with a photographer and several male athletes together, only to see photos published from that day of the men, and not her.
“It’s not like Powder is in this era of pushing crazy high-action shots. There are a lot of artistic shots, a lot of pow shots, things where there is no reason why it should be a boy or a girl,” says Engerbretson. “I know for me, I’m smiley.” Smiling is a topic ripe for feminism. But in photography, if you smile for the camera, you are revealing that there is, in fact, a camera, and Powder has a preference for more authentic photos. Engerbretson also wears a teal jacket, from her sponsors. Powder leans toward a muted color palate in design and taste, so if a sponsor puts a man in a navy blue jacket and a woman in a teal jacket, aesthetics give the man a higher chance of getting published.
“It’s hard, but I also have people asking me, ‘Who are the up-and-coming girls?’ And there’s not a lot,” says Engerbretson. “It’s really hard to find opportunity when women don’t get as much coverage in the magazines and there’s only a spot for one in the movies, maybe two. I get so frustrated about that sometimes…but I want to be in Powder because I worked hard and skied well. I don’t want to be a handout.”
Powder has frequently written about the need for broader representation of gender, race, and sexual orientation in the ski industry. It’s time we held ourselves accountable to those same standards. But what does that look like for Powder? As an editorial staff, we continue to have this discussion. Our philosophy is centered on publishing the best ski photography in the world. We judge every photo with the same rigorous standards and without consideration of who the photographer or skier is. We refuse to sacrifice the quality of photography and stories to fill an overt quota.
But we need more photos of women. We can explicitly communicate this to the photographers we work with. We can mentor young women who aspire to become photographers and provide feedback to athletes. We pay attention to diversity in our photos by including a balance of park and powder, close-ups and landscapes. Photos of and by women should also be in that mix for Powder to accurately document skiing. The only way we can do that is if the best ski photography in the world features women.