PHOTO: Re Wikstrom
PHOTO: Re Wikstrom

Solving the Gender Problem in Action Sports Photography

A workshop aims to equip more women with the skills and tools to solve the gender problem in action sports

As an action sports photographer, Lisa Slagle has grown impatient with the hand-wringing of debates focused on why there aren't as many women behind the lens as there are men. Whatever the culprit, Slagle is zeroed in on the actual project of increasing female representation through grassroots solutions. As the owner of a creative agency in Whitefish, Montana, she's starting with what she knows: the creative process.

This winter, Slagle launched Wheelhouse Workshops, a series of action sports workshops that aim to teach women photographers the on-snow and post-production skills they will need to master this creative work. The first of many workshops is a three-day seminar next week at Snowbird in Utah. Attendees will learn the ropes from photographers like Re Wickstom and Abby Cooper, and will also have the opportunity to shoot with professional athletes. I sat down with Slagle to discuss the role she hopes the workshops will play in empowering a new generation of women photographers. Here's what she said.

I don't know if [the disparity is] because cameras are very technical pieces of equipment. I don't know if it's because they're heavy. I don't know if it's because women are intimidated by standing there and getting cold and miserable while your athlete hikes over and over again, or whatever--I don't know. I've called every research company I could think of that would possibly have stats on that. There's no evidence.

As a Creative Director, I always talk about how creativity has to come from conflict. There has to be some sort of force happening to need a creative solution. It's OK if there's a problem, but now we have something to solve. Let's get creative and solve it.

It's not asking publications to do 50 percent [of their photos] from females and 50 percent from males. That puts too much emphasis on labeling people, and at the end of the day, that's what people don't want… [With Wheelhouse Workshops,] we're breeding a mindset where it's about the work, not about the person, and how your work can get better.

We're going to get down in the trenches. You have to get on the snow and do it. The lighting will be the way it is that day, and you can either see it, and capture it, or not. But it's not sitting around and talking about it. I get asked to speak on women's panels all the time. Fine. I'm happy to do it. But let's actually go out in the field and produce. Bring in pro athletes, the pro photographers, and help the ladies produce. Let's get some good work for the portfolio, let's teach how to work with athletes. Let's enable these human beings.

Women notice different things. All humans notice different things… Women are going to show what they see. I don't know if we can generalize and say, ‘All women are going to see this and all men are going to see this.’ But a woman is going to say, 'Hey, this is what I see in this moment.'

Fresh eyes provide a bigger perspective... Bringing in more perspectives and more creatives is going to tell a bigger, newer, fresher story.

The workshops are just for women right now. Maybe eventually we can have it for dudes. But for now, we're trying to elevate women... We want women to thrive--That's all we want.

With the most badass ladies, hopefully that training [from the workshops] can produce great work. Not just sub-par shit to throw into the world, but great work.