PHOTO: Garrett Grove
This magazine has a lot of work to do.
Every year, the Photo Annual strives to display the very best ski photography in the world, with integrity to composition, light, authenticity, snow, and action. It is the culmination of a year's worth of effort, from the winter when photographers and skiers set out to create their art, to the months of collecting, sorting, curating, and editing photos internally.
Photographers submitted thousands of images to the magazine this year; out of those, we published 24 photos in this issue that represented the top tier of ability in photography and skiing. Only one featured a woman. And only one was taken by a female photographer.
The gender gap has manifested in more than just this single issue of the magazine. In the Shooting Gallery department, which typically consists of around eight photos in every issue, the problem is right before our eyes. Beyond Lucy Sackbauer, a skier from Vail, Colorado, who closes the gallery on page 98, Christina Lustenberger was the only other female skier portrayed in the galleries this year (46.3), and she was not skiing.
This magazine is a record of the sport, but if we are not capturing 49 percent of skiers, the women's demographic, then we are falling short.
Ski photography is a precise craft. Over 46 years, POWDER has developed a bias toward a certain style and aesthetic: body movement is tight, skiers exhibit speed and explosiveness, and they do not give away the camera. This is the root of what determines whether a skier makes it into the magazine or not. There are many women who convey the energy we are looking for, but 95 percent of the photos submitted to the magazine are of men. The odds of getting a photo published are unimaginably low. The odds are even harder for women when so few photos of them are being submitted. Additionally, photography is a male-dominated industry. A recent survey from World Press Photo found that 85 percent of photojournalists are men. There are 87 photographers on our masthead. Five of them are women.
"Me personally, I try to shoot mostly with women because that is my personal mission in life," says Re Wikstrom, one of those five female photographers. After realizing that most of the photos of women were "cheesy, smiley," she decided to try to change the status quo. "I want to portray skiing as fun and enjoyable, but I don't want it to be patronizing. I want it to look real," she says.
Wikstrom says that she felt supported by men in the industry once she took the initiative. She interned at POWDER in 2002. The next winter, Pat Keane and Brant Moles invited her to shoot a South America ski trip with them. Dave Swanwick, the co-founder of Mountain Sports International, gave her photo credentials to shoot freeskiing competitions. She says her ambiguous name worked in her favor. In the rank-and-file of the photographers on our masthead, Wikstrom is a contributing photographer, a step down from the select, elite senior photographers (no women are senior photographers). She boils the gender discrepancy to numbers and a culture game. The bias, she says, is subliminal. She noticed it when she would go on shoots with men and women together.
"If you have a blank canvas, a slope, more often than not, the guy is going to step up first and say cool, I want to do that," says Wikstrom. "Women are not as proactive in that situation. As a result, the photos of the men tend to be better because the women are standing back and taking the leftovers."
Shooting photos of women skiing, however noble, did not provide enough to make a living (not that any photographer makes a realistic income entirely off ski editorial). In 2004, Wikstrom picked up side-work for Backcountry.com. At first it was hourly and gave her the flexibility she needed to pursue ski photography, but that shifted to working full time in their photo department.
"Sometimes I think, What the fuck? I need to quit my job so I can do what I said I was going to do, but I need to pay my mortgage, I need to pay my health insurance," she says. Wikstrom submitted photos to this magazine from last winter, but she did not go on a big trip that would produce a run of photos worthy of publishing. "If I did quit my job, could I become a senior photographer?" she asked. "I don't want affirmative action. I want to take great photos."
Amie Engerbretson is a professional skier who grew up in Truckee, California, with a ski photographer father, Jeff. Last winter, she dedicated 50 days to shooting photos. She has only been published in this magazine in small editorial photos and advertisements, mostly lifestyle shoots and never in the gallery. One time, a photographer on our masthead told her that no photo of a girl skiing powder would be as valuable as a dude hitting a big air. Another time, a magazine (not this one) turned her down for a cover because she was smiling. Many times, she has shot with a photographer and several male athletes together, only to see the photos from that day of the men published in this magazine, and not her.
"It's not like POWDER is in this era of pushing crazy high-action shots. There are a lot of artistic shots, a lot of pow shots, things where there is no reason why it should be a boy or a girl," says Engerbretson. "I know for me, I'm smiley." Smiling is a tough subject. If you smile for the camera, you are revealing that there is, in fact, a camera, and POWDER has a preference for more natural-looking photos. Engerbretson also wears a teal jacket, from her sponsors. POWDER leans toward a muted color palate in design and taste, so if a sponsor puts a man in a navy blue jacket and a woman in a teal jacket, aesthetics will give the man a higher chance of getting published.
"It's hard, but I also have people asking me who are the up-and-coming girls, and there's not a lot," says Engerbretson. "It's really hard to find opportunity when women don't get as much coverage in the magazines and there's only a spot for one in the movies, maybe two. I get so frustrated about that sometimes… but I want to be in POWDER because I worked hard and skied well. I don't want to be a handout."
POWDER has frequently written about the need for greater diversity and representation of gender, race, and sexual orientation in the ski industry. It's time we held ourselves accountable to those same standards. But what does that look like for POWDER? The answer is not obvious. As an editorial staff, we continue to have this discussion. Our priority is to run the best ski photography in the world. We apply the same rigorous standards to every photo, judging them at face value without consideration of the photographer or skier.
But we need more photos of women. We refuse to sacrifice the quality of photography and stories in this magazine to fill an overt quota. But to change an ingrained bias, the pendulum must swing far to the other side before it can settle in the middle. We have to work harder. We can explicitly communicate to the photographers we work with that we want more photos of women. We can mentor young women who aspire to become photographers and provide feedback to athletes. We pay attention to diversity in our photos by including a balance of park and powder, close-ups and landscapes. Photos of and by women should also be considered in that mix for POWDER to accurately document skiing. The only way we can do that is if the best ski photography in the world features women.
Julie Brown is the managing editor for POWDER.