On being a female street photographer - Iwona Pinkowicz

When I got into street photography I quickly realised that it was a very male dominated arena. Knowing nothing about street photography I first looked for everything I could possibly find about the genre online and, to my surprise, I’d say about 90% of the articles and interviews I read were about male street photographers.  A list of the 20 most influential street photographers published in April 2015 further reinforced this observation as it had no women on it. This got me thinking about the potential underlying reasons for an apparent lack of female street photographers.


In this article I would like to share with you my experiences of being a female street photographer and the challenges I have encountered along the way. I’d also like to cover what I see as the positive aspects of being a female street photographer and the advantages it can bring.  


My biggest challenge in shooting street photography is the fear of upsetting the subject I photograph. The majority of people we shoot in public don’t know much about the genre, if anything at all. As a result, when we get noticed, we can sometimes be on the receiving end of a negative reaction because people don’t understand why they’ve been photographed. The problem for me isn’t dealing with these situations on the spot; the challenge often comes in how I feel about it afterwards. It may be an over generalisation but, in my opinion, women tend to react more emotionally than men and, as a result, often take things more to heart.


On a few occasions I have felt quite upset and ended some of my photo walks feeling frustrated because I didn’t understand why people reacted so negatively to having their photograph taken. As a street photographer I naturally feel like I haven’t done anything wrong, I’m doing something I love and never intend to upset anyone. I’m working on trying not to over-analyse every negative reaction I receive as there can be many reasons for them. These can be as simple as the person having a bad day at work or running late. Perhaps, more importantly, people often fear the unknown.


Turning to the positives, one advantage of being a female street photographer I have found is shooting females, teenagers or children doesn’t tend to lead to negative reactions or strange looks. I often think about how I would react if I was photographed by a stranger on the street and didn’t know anything about street photography. If it was a woman I think I would be a little bit surprised but not overly worried. If it was a guy, I wouldn’t mind either but probably wouldn’t be able to stop myself thinking about his motives for taking the picture. Rightly or wrongly this would probably be the same if my child was photographed by a woman or a man in public given the negative stereotypes that can so often be associated with men out on their own with a camera. I can imagine this is a challenge that male street photographers need to overcome at times.


Unfortunately, I get the impression that being a street photographer today, if you’re a man or a woman, is much harder than say 20 years ago. People are increasingly sensitive about being photographed in public in fear of where their picture might end up. This could be because we feel like we’re being watched more than ever.


Overall, I feel privileged to be part of a small community of female street photographers. I hope that my work will inspire other female photographers to shoot life on the streets around us. I believe we can kick ass as much as men do in street photography, so get out there and show us what you can do! 


Please visit my website and follow me on Twitter!

Read my interview by SPL: I've Been Shooting Street Photography for a Year

All photos © Iwona Pinkowicz