I was in Portland last week (and my, what a beautiful state you Oregonians have) and happened to catch a spectacular lighted photography display set up on the streets of the downtown. It was the roving Illumé photo exhibit, the result of a (Red Bull-sponsored) photography competition designed to interest people in action/adventure sports and photography.
Besides thinking “Pretty!” and “If this were set up in my hometown it would already be graffitied!” I hadn’t wandered too far up the row of lighted displays before I noticed a theme: chiseled male torsos. Now, I can appreciate these on an aesthetic level, but with each new display I wondered, with increasing crankiness, where are the ladies? Surfing was a favored subject, so I was really hoping to see, say, Peruvian Sofia Mulanovich or Australian Stephanie Gilmore illuminated across an eight-foot cube.
But it was not to be. The vast majority of photographers and athlete subjects were men. And by vast, I mean there were not even a handful of female names credited to either side of the camera. I do give the competition full marks for attempting to be gender-inclusive, at least in theory — they dedicated their display to the “women and men” involved in adventure sports. So why the lack of featured women? It’s not like female athletes involved in action/adventure sports are scarce or shy creatures these days. To name a few:
Jill Kintner, biking.
Angela Eiter, climbing.
Kristi Leskinen, freestyle skiing.
Stefanie Thomas, skateboarding.
It’s true that female athletes have had to fight for respect in these sports, just as in other venues, and even articles like “Girls Change our Surf Culture” still feature condescending sentences such as, “No longer the towel minders on the beach, girls have hit the boards.” (Why, oh why does such a preface always get its little dig?) Or like this amazing snowboarding run from Australian Torah Bright back in 2005, where one commentator’s biggest compliment is that she looks like “one of the guys”:
There’s really no excuse for this, or for the lack of female representation in Illumé 2007.
I’d put my hand up to take pictures of any of these (or other) athletes if I had a quality camera, not to mention the ability to photograph the human form without cutting off a body part. But any actual photographers around here should go forth and shoot. The submission window for next year’s competition is February through April 2008, so there’s time. Unfortunately, the website doesn’t offer up any info about how many women actually submitted photos or were subjects in this year’s competition, so we can’t judge statistically what happened with female participants this year. But surely, the more women who enter, the better the chance we’ll see more female forms shine at next year’s exhibits.
In the sporting spirit, let’s end with some women in action.