Why don't women help women? (Or, why are we so insecure?)
I thought long and hard about writing this blog post. I really didn't want it to come across as a whinge, but more of a note to self, to all of us. I don't know if many of us are completely 'there' when it comes to where we want to be in life, because, surely there's always more? This blog is about doing what you can for yourself, but also for others, wherever you - or they - might be on the 'success spectrum'.
Anyone who knows me well will know that I've been an editor and journalist for around 13 years (phew!). They know that, when it comes to words, I don't often doubt myself, and I make a good living from words - although I am by no means perfect and am definitely not claiming to be a creative powerhouse. My degree is actually in Fine Art and Photography - I mean the film camera, developing your own prints kind of photography - but I put it aside once I entered the world of fashion and beauty journalism. However, over the past year or so I have picked up a camera again, investing in a solid (digital) kit, and have been experimenting and trying to uncover my own style with the goal of adding photographer to my services full-time.
I feel pretty damn confident when it comes to food, beauty and travel, but as I love people, most specifically their faces and bodies, I realised that I don't often photograph them. So, a couple of weeks ago, knowing that I had a free day in London due to a cancellation, I offered my services, free of charge, to anyone who fancied having their portrait taken.
Meanwhile, I'd built up an 'Instagram-rapport' with a photographer I'd been following. Her work features lots of portraits and blogger shoots and I thought she seemed pretty cool. I'd give her beauty tips and she'd advise me on how not to spend a ton of money on my kit. I happened to mention to her that I really wanted to get to grips with portraits and had offered to take some for free. Let's just say I was totally unprepared for her reaction. Initially I was actually shocked. Don't get me wrong - I wasn't asking for a mentor, I wasn't asking to shadow someone whose time I know is valuable. I didn't ask for anything. All I did was tell her that I would be happy to work for free for an afternoon if it meant that I would improve my work.
She was instantly annoyed, and I responded initially in a pretty timid way, letting her know that I never thought someone like little old me would even factor into the world of someone as successful as her. Instead she continued, 'you are undermining the industry...it's hard enough to survive...as every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks they can buy a DSLR and...be a photographer.'
To this I really didn't know what to say. I finished the conversation saying perhaps I should ask friends and family instead, and thought it best to get off the 'gram. As the minutes passed I grew pretty pissed off. I don't want to photograph family and friends - I want to photograph new faces. I'm not undermining the industry; I want to work in it! I won't lie, my anger led me to down Petty Lane and I began to scrutinise her work; I ended up thinking, 'you're not actually that amazing.' Why on earth would she be bothered about me, unless she herself wasn't secure in her work? Does Banksy worry about other street artists taking up space? Does Diane Von Furstenberg sit there annoyed at young fashion designers putting together collections for peanuts? Does, dare I say it, Kanye, sit there worried about a kid making beats in his bedroom with thrown-together equipment?
I'm betting the resounding answer would be a NO. Again, I WAS NOT ASKING FOR A DAMN THING, but why couldn't she answer me with suggestions on where to take great portraits? Or, I don't know - tell me I could even be her assistant? Or, just be chilled and say 'good luck' and keep it moving? The more and more I thought about it, I realised the problem was all hers.
An article I read recently on the Huffington Post discusses the observation that, once women reach a certain level in their career, particularly on the corporate ladder, for some reason they believe that they need to distance themselves from the rest. The article speculates that instead of helping other women, the focus is often switched to 'why don't more men help women on the way up?' I don't think I really considered that the person I was talking to was a woman, and I wasn't actually asking for help, but the fact that she so vehemently didn't want me to offer work for free, really got me thinking. Ultimately, it saddened me. I'm pretty crap at asking people to help me out at the best of times, and I don't mean that in a martyr-like way. I'm used to finding my way through things, even if my initial efforts are dire; I'll get there. I've got the most exciting job of my photographic life coming up in May, and I swear that if anyone actually asks me for help one day, I will give them nothing but positivity back. Because that is what we all need. All of us.