Dublin-born Photographer and Friends with Vision Holly McGlynn’s is a leading UK fashion photographer. Based in London, Holly’s work has been featured in magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Grazia, and Glamour. She has also worked on pro-jects for leading brands such as Faberge, Chanel, Playboy and Levi’s. Color plays a huge role in how she represents femininity and challenges perceptions of how women can be represented in the fashion industry. In this blog, she talks about her journey into fashion photography and issues of representation in the industry.
Why is representation in the photography industry is so important?
Representation behind and in front of the lens is so important. If there is only one type of person taking the photos then we are only ever going to see the same images and stories repeated over and over again.
For so long in my industry especially, fashion photography, a ‘mono-culture’ behind and in front of the lens has dominated and has created such a blinkered view of what beauty is supposed to look like. Not only is this bad story-telling but constant exposure to these images infiltrates the public psyche and creates unconscious bias. Everyone has a right to be represented in the mainstream media and if your gender/race/age/size/sexual orientation/ability level isn’t represented then you feel like you don’t matter. Repetition breeds normalisation, if we see something repeatedly, we accept it and this is why it’s so important to see more diversity on both sides of the lens. The fashion industry has a social responsibility to be part of this change but not only that, there is a clear business case for embracing diversity. Studies show that when an audience makes a connection with the model wearing the clothes, desire to buy that item increases by 300%.
What do you think the main challenges are for women wanting to get into the profession?
It’s hard to be what you can’t see. Only 2% of the photographers on agency books are female and only 5% of the photos published in magazines are taken by women. Fashion photography and photography as a whole, are overwhelmingly male dominated. Even though more women study photography, there is a drop off somewhere along the way and with reference to the previous question, I have no doubt that unconscious bias plays a part in this, alongside a whole host of other reasons. I’ve been in photography pits and they are aggressive spaces. There is a lot of elbowing, pushing, shouting, jostling and almost no women. I’ve spoken to other female photographers who have even said they’ve been overlooked for assisting jobs because being a woman it was assumed they weren’t able to carry the equipment required for shoots.
Are there any challenges that are particular to the fashion industry?
As well as the singular beauty standard we have seen up until recently, there is the imbalance that most fashion photographs are of young women and girls but taken by older men. Systemic abuse has also been uncovered as part of fashion’s own #MeToo movement. More diversity across the board can help in starting to solve these problems.
How did you get into photography? What inspired you? Did you face any of these challenges?
I got into photography while living abroad after my degree and as soon as I found it, knew I wanted to make this my life’s work. Initially, I encountered the rhetoric all people pursuing creative careers hear at one point or another, that it’s so competitive and difficult to make a career from. I doggedly pursued my ambition though and earned my stripes through studying photography, relentlessly taking photos and putting in the hours building my skills, confidence, and network. It took years and I still work on these things to break through to the next level. When I started out and would show up to a shoot, people wouldn’t believe I was the photographer, they always expected a man. I would often get comments like ‘I’ve never seen a photographer that looks like you before’. Really?! I’ve already overcome the challenges of being in the industry and getting booked for the shoot and finally I arrive on set and doubt is cast as to whether or not I should be there. It shouldn’t be that difficult for women to claim their space.
In particular, fashion photography is criticised for the prevalence of the ‘male gaze’. What do you think is being done to combat that?
This is precisely why we need more female photographers. Only hiring more women to tell their stories through photography will combat that.
What do you do in your work to present women in new, better ways?
I always share the mood board for the shoot with everyone on set, including the model, and explain the concept so that they bring their own interpretation to the story and give their own ideas on how things should be presented. I always endeavour to create an environment where someone can speak up if they’re uncomfortable with an element of the shoot, so I hope that empowers the model to speak up if they are uneasy with how they are being presented.
Where I have a choice of the model, I always book, or push to book, a model that is underrepresented in the fashion industry.
What changes do you think there need to be in the industry? Are you seeing any changes now? Who is leading change?
Since Edward Enninful was appointed editor-in-chief of British Vogue there has been more diversity on the front cover and within its pages than the magazine, over 100 years old, has known before. I really believe his appointment has been key to a slow filtration of diversity within the magazine industry as a whole. Over in the U.S.A. The Model Alliance is doing incredible work. The Talent Protection Act, which requires a talent agency to provide educational materials on sexual harassment prevention, retaliation, and reporting resources to their clients, was recently signed into law in California after their hard campaigning. Their RESPECT programme offers an enforceable Code of Conduct for the fashion industry, with mandatory consequences for brands, modelling agencies, photographers, and others who violate the terms of this Code.
What role does color play in representing the feminine? Do you ever play with this, or push boundaries of what is typical or expected?
Colour is a hugely important part of my work. It’s fun, bold, playful and makes an impact, just like the women I photograph!
What women photographers inspire you? Who should we follow on social media?
I’m obsessed with Jamie Nelson (@jamienelson6), she’s an incredible photographer. Ellen von Unwerth (ellenvonunwerth) is a massive inspiration to me as well and has been throughout my career for her use of colour and flash.