A little before Fashion Week madness started, earlier in February I came across an article that immideatly echoed in me. Written by one of few working female fashion catwalk and backstage photographers Megan Cencula it tells her personal story of daily battles. It honestly made me sad. I can not believe we are talking about same things as if it’s 2010! On the other hand, this talk is definitely a necessity. Jokes aside, it is horrifying to recognize your agressors in someone elses text.
My story on fashion week coverage isn’t too long, however I worked at least 8 seasons straight and few more shows by occasion until I decided to divorce from Fashion Weeks. Looking at the female survival rates in fashion photography today, it still seems to be quite a long journey.
So what is behind all that glam and why this heaven too often feels like hell?
It is no secret how desperately huge the gender gap in the fashion industry is. Despite 79 to 85% fashion students being female, the numbers of women succeeding professionally in the industry barely goes over 30%, and in photography this number hits just as little as 2%. And women of color? I bet it will be enough fingers on one hand to count all that saw recognition. Pay gap? We are not even starting.
I made my first steps as a catwalk photographer in January 2012 at Moncler A/W12 Mens show. I was already living and working in Milan for about a year, although THIS was totally surreal. “We are going to Fashion Week. I need pictures.” I heard my friend saying. Wait, what? At that point I didn’t know how you actually “going to Fashion Week” and if I can do that. Before any realisation, there I was standing in Palazzo Clerici infront of catwalk and snapping pictures of the show on my friend’s camera, as mine was not well set for the occasion. I was so overwhelmed! The show was inspired by Ayrton Senna and Formula 1, which was a pure honey to my soul as to an old F1 fan. A dream coming true, right there at the tips of my fingers.
There were many other “first times” that season, lots of joy and holy fuckups. Although, there was also something, that disturbed me from the day 1.
I couldn’t believe my eyes for how the photobox actually looked like. A fish-can sized space filled with tens of men, the most bossy ones dressed in dusty cargo pants and yesterdays t-shirts. For over a hundred people maybe 5 were women, including myself. This situation wasn’t exclusive to just one show or one city. And that’s definitely not how I imagined behind the scenes to be. Those “eye-catching” individuals in cargos were constantly booing, whistling and cursing all alive at every single show I’ve been to. Guests at the front row moving their legs, models not walking last 2 steps to the end of runway, designers and organisers for starting with a delay, for the lighting design, late photographers for trying to squeeze in 5 min before the show start, you name it. The pre-show situation is always very intense and bids getting even higher once the show started, you have very little time to get your perfect shot and no second chances given, I get that. Pretty quick I felt on my own skin how hard this job is, although it doesn’t excuse the fact that being an ass is not a part of profession.
From the day one, I can not count all the yelling, pushes, pokes and shoves I went through. Guess I took it as a part of the game and ignored it as much as I could. I thought it happens to everyone, until I noticed it’s not. My absolute fav – one of those guys deciding to change position middle show so his head, shoulder, elbow or the arm covering my lens fully or start actively pushing my body parts in a way that I just can’t frame a picture and take a still. And don’t you dare to quietly ask for a little space, you gonna be cursed for 5 generations and fucked off in the most inventive ways with tons of epitets coming out of red sweating face. Happened quite a few times. It soon became a new norm to me, being belitteled or treated like a piece of furniture. At that point I did not realise why I had less and less joy shooting the runway to the point I just didn’t want to go to the shows at all. The joy became just stress, as if I was going to the battlefield, not a fashion show.
One day I woke up knowing I dont wan’t to do this anymore.
Despite how much I love fashion and all the beauty and crazyness around the fashion shows, despite all the excitement of being inside the kitchen and being a witness to so much talent, art and creativity – I couldn’t help but stop. It is frustrating that you can’t just come and do your job that you are already hired for. You have to prove your belonging day to day, and not even to the client!
Do I miss it?
Of course I think sometimes maybe I should have been tougher. Maybe I should have stayed and fought for it, as Megan does until this day. But how do you actually fight this inadequacy? I don’t believe yelling or pushing back will teach respect and dialogue doesn’t seem a working strategy either. I don’t have an answer today. Maybe some time later I will figure it out and give it another shot. What is clear today, I am way happier and healthier doing other types of fashion photography. However, of course I miss it. The energy and feeling of creation, seeing newborn designs for the very first time, the exquisite makeups and hair, the nerve, the music and vibe, focus and admiration of the moment here and now – they are one of a kind. I truly love it, for life.
It is no secret that Fashion Weeks in the format we know it is a dying horse. There will be many significant changes in the closest future I can’t wait to see and with all my heart I hope there will be more space for equality and diversity in fashion, on and off the catwalk.I also know the old cast will be holding on strong till the very last drop. Although,..
Nothing is forever, and in this case, it’s a damn good thing.