The challenges of being a female photographer when out in the field.

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It’s been a little while that I want to start a conversation about what does it mean to be a female photographer in the field, at least what I can share about my experience.

The urge to talk about it came from one evening when I was talking to a new acquired friend, who’s also a photographer, about my experience in the desert in California and how I ended up there.

As a woman born in a 3rd world country, independently of having all the shelter, education and comfort provided by my parents, there were a few things in the book I should not forget and, growing up having to be careful enough to not be robbed, kidnapped, raped or killed ( even though two of those things happened) can be a very paralysing experience.

I chose to not be scared, still trying to be as street smart as possible, but as I’m not a superhero, it came with a price.

The above is just a quick introduction to give you a bit of context about this discussion I want to open, all based in my own experience but I’m sure that many of my sisters out there face the same sort of challenges if not worst.

I don’t have an agent or a structure that allows me to travel with a small team, all my projects are self-funded and moved by the will to make a difference and love and, as we all know love can be blind, deaf and comes with a sense of invincibility convincing us that nothing, nothing will affect us at any point during that journey.

My love story with photography goes way back, it dictates my lifestyle, impacts on my relationships with friends, family and others, it shapes my everyday life and is what genuinely makes me happy and, with all this love comes that amazing sense of being untouchable and this feeling is what convinced me to hop on a stranger’s truck and go all the way to the Sonoran Desert in California.

As an artist, but also as a curious person, I’m constantly looking at other people’s work, it inspires, moves and allow for extremely interesting exchanges leading to more and more learning, which is vital to me.

In one of those social media interactions I bumped into this man who also shoots film.

All I knew about him is that he likes Holga cameras, is a skateboarder and that we’ve had a friend in common.

He approached me and through the conversation I mentioned that I was in LA to shoot so if he wanted to hang out I would be happy to meet him, that’s when he offered to drive me to Bombay Beach, which ironically was on my list for that LA season, I took the offer but before, I asked if he was some sort of maniac and he said no.

You might be thinking: “Duh of course he wouldn’t say it if he was” but still I’ve had to ask.

After everything was agreed, I went to my friend’s house and told him what my plans were for the following day, he was worried, we agreed on staying in touch and if he didn’t hear from me till 8PM he should call the police.

It all sounds like a really cool story but let’s break it down considering all the things that came to my mind till I was finally back home in Venice Beach.

I always like to believe that everyone who approaches me comes with good faith and for the right reasons but unfortunately many times the story is different, which creates conflict in my mind as I don’t want to be that defensive person pushing people away but, where do I stand?

And as a woman, where does the risk ends?

I met him in front of his apartment, he invited me in and that was my first moment of micro-panicking, I remember going in and leaving the front door open in case I needed to run, everything went ok but it was too awkward for me.

We left the building, grabbed a coffee and headed to the desert.

Not sure if you are familiar with the area but from East LA to the desert is minimum a three hour drive and, in many places, after you left the city you will find yourself in the middle of tumbleweed, a train line and nothing else.

He was a very chatty person with many interesting stories to tell, which helped to keep myself focused and calm till a certain extension.

I have this crazy ability of not demonstrating when I’m scared, and still be the same smiley and friendly person I normally am even if there’s a panic attack about to happen.

I guess when we are used to this kind of risk we manage to create coping mechanisms to allow ourselves to keep going, remember what I said in the beginning of this post, about the four things I was thought to be smart about.

In every situation I could I would take distance, still I was focused on making the pictures I was after something I could not ignore was my surroundings, what if he left me there?

What if there was a gun on the back of his truck? I didn’t check anything.

Touching base with my friend and sending quick phone snaps to him were a constants he could keep track in case something happened but remember, there are many areas where I’ve had no connection.

I remember opening the front door around 11pm when I was back home, getting in, making myself a herbal tea and sitting to only breath for a minute.

Everything went fine, and I was lucky enough to bump into someone who was genuinely interested in making a friend and new pictures, nothing bad happened, he’s now my desert buddy and we managed to go back and carry on exploring the Mojave area but not every story ends like that.

Now try to, if you are not a woman, put yourself in that situation, which is what my friend Will (the photographer I mentioned in the beginning of this piece)did.

When I told him the story, he stopped for a minute and said; “As a white British male I never had to consider any of those things, we really take things for granted”.

It was great to hear that from a guy who’s sensible enough to stop and recognise that’s not “just” a gender gap situation that we face, but there are way greater risks we have to deal with on a daily basis and to carry on doing it independently of the harassment and risks is something impressive.

Will the fear stop me? No it won’t.

I’m planning a third trip, would love to rent a motorhome and spend a few weeks out there so I can add more into my project but, doing that on my own, and accessing all the risks is making me think ten times again.

A woman alone in a motorhome in the middle of nowhere.

Hopefully I will find a way to bring a fixer or a friend will be able to join me, but it might not happen and then will be me on my own, remembering to be smart enough to not be robbed, raped, killed or kidnapped when out there documenting freedom trying to make a difference, all in the name of love.

The love for this beautiful art form that keeps me going.

Thank you so much for your time reading this, if you want to support me or any other female photographer please get in touch, share our work, support us, be nice, be respectful, we go through a lot to keep things going and we want to carry on doing it in a safe environement.

See you on my next post.

Love

Marcela

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One Comment

  1. It’s great that you are being brave enough to trust and not letting the past control you. However, and who ever, always good to let a trusted soul follow your whereabouts. I love your photography; The sense of isolation and awe. The sense of a heavy timelessness. I find a sense of melancholia in many of the desert pictures. Maybe that is the past escaping, and you moving on to true independence?

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