FEMALE PHOTOGRAPHERS (AND THEIR SPOUSES)

While doing some quick research on female photographers I consulted Wikipedia, the go to for quick reference. To be specific, I was searching for Hungarian female photographers for an upcoming photobook review and was reminded of Sylvia Plachy, the Hungarian/American photographer and former staff photographer for the Village Voice. Plachy was one of the first photographers of which I had taken interest but in recent years she had slipped out of my readily available mental list of photographers. She was listed on Wikipedia in a conveniently populated list of female photographers. A bonus fact about Sylvia Plachy (if you did not know) she is the mother of actor Adrien Brody. Which begins to get at why I felt compelled to dig a little further into this list of female photographers. Included in Plachy’s Wikipedia entry is not only her Academy Award-winning actor son, it could be argued that due to his own notoriety he is worth inclusion in her entry, but also the name of her husband who at least by the standards of Wikipedia, is not noteworthy enough an individual to have his own Wikipedia entry. And so my question was, why is her spouse included and how is he relevant to Sylvia Plachy the photographer? After all, Plachy as a photographer is why she has a Wikipedia entry.

For the sake of time and convenience I narrowed the rest of my search to American female photographers who have a Wikipedia entry, which totals 231 by my count, give or take a few. There were a few anomalies on the list that linked to their entries as female photographers for another country and so I excluded those photographers. I also excluded from the list spouses who were listed because of their direct involvement in the photographer’s work. So for example, Sally Mann’s husband although mentioned, was not included because it was clearly in the context of him being a subject of her photography. I did however count mentions of individuals who were suggested as a partner rather than explicitly included by name, as was the case with photographers like Berenice Abbott. The list by no means is comprehensive and is only representative of whom Wikipedia has deemed noteworthy female photographers. There are of course many female photographers not included, and their significance within photography varied. A comprehensive representation was not the intent of my search. Finally to be accurate, there is of course the question of who created the entry. Many I imagine, were done by the photographer, a family member, or fan and the reason as to why a spouse was mentioned is not clear. However, regardless of why, a mention is a mention all the same. Ultimately I was interested in the frequency at which spouses and/or partners were listed on individual female photographer Wikipedia entries. And so to conduct my search, from the 231 American female photographers I placed each in the following three categories:

1. Spouse or Partner mentioned in the photographer’s Wikipedia bio blurb (the brief bio that sits on the right hand side of an entry and also the content returned on Google searches by photographer’s name).
2. Spouse or Partner (or lack thereof) mentioned elsewhere in the photographer’s Wikipedia entry (i.e. Biography, Early life, Personal life)
3. Spouse or Partner with their own Wikipedia entry
In order to conduct the search efficiently and without missing a possible mention of a spouse or partner I searched each page for the following three terms:

Married
Partner
Divorced

And these are the results: Of the 231 American Female photographers listed on Wikipedia that I used for these statistics, 97 of those entries mention a spouse or partner or lack thereof. 38 of the 97 were mentioned in the bio blurb and 38 of the spouse/partners had his or her own Wikipedia entry. (A side note: oddly enough although the number of spouses and/or partners mentioned in the bio blurb was the same number of spouses and/or partners with his or her own Wikipedia entry, not every spouse/partner listed in the bio blurb has his/her own Wikipedia entry.)

At approximately 42%, this is not all that staggering a number. Not even half of the 231 American female photographers have included in their Wikipedia entry a mention of a spouse/partner. I didn’t find this all that satisfying. So I expanded my search to include American male photographers. Wikipedia does not have such a list. The closest thing it has is an exhausting list of over 2000 American photographers both male and female. Instead of trudging through such a long list, sorting male from female, I created a sample representation by searching criteria including movements in photographic history, photography agency/collectives, and narrower categories of photographers that Wikipedia has created such as “documentary photographers.” That list of criteria (again not meant to be comprehensive) was: Magnum Photo, VII Photo Agency, Documentary Photographers, Street Photographers, Group f/64, New Topographics, Photosecessionists, Pictoralists, Farm Security Administration, and Notable Photographers that have been included in Aperture Magazine. Within each of those groupings I then removed the female photographers (most of which were also in the American female photographers list) and was left with 79 American male photographers. The list is not as long as the females but enough to establish percentages and ratios that a full list of American male photographers would stick to without much variation.

I placed the male photographers into the same three categories as I did the female:

1. Spouse or Partner mentioned in the photographer’s Wikipedia bio blurb (the brief bio that sits on the right hand side of an entry and also the content returned on Google searches by photographer’s name).
2. Spouse or Partner (or lack thereof) mentioned elsewhere in the photographer’s Wikipedia entry (i.e. Biography, Early life, Personal life)
3. Spouse or Partner with their own Wikipedia entry
And conducted the search using the same three terms on each photographer’s entry:

Married
Partner
Divorced

And these are the results: Of the 79 American male photographers on Wikipedia that I used for these statistics, 22 of those entries mention a spouse or partner or lack thereof. 4 of the 97 were mentioned in the bio blurb and 4 of the spouse/partners had his or her own Wikipedia entry. Again, the results are not all that staggering. At 28% just over a quarter of the American male photographers had Wikipedia entries in which a spouse/partner was mentioned or a ratio of approximately 1:4. However, that is a significant difference from the list of American female photographers at a ratio of approximately 1:2 which means that for every American male photographer’s spouse/partner mentioned on Wikipedia, two American female photographer’s spouses are mentioned.

The question which I originally posited still remains. Why are spouses/partners mentioned on individual American female photographer Wikipedia entries? And do we really qualify female photographers by spousal relationships? The research I conducted did not provide an answer. What did come to light however was that first, disproportionately to American male photographers, American female photographer Wikipedia entries list a spouse/partner. And given Wikipedia’s popularity I would argue that it is a fairly accurate reflection of opinion regarding informational, cultural, and historical significance. But most unsatisfying of all, I don’t know why that information, with regard to these women as photographers is important.

<< BACK