A post by Rob Haggart pointed me to an issue of the jury of this years’s PDN Photography Annual being all white (find another take on this here, plus there is the original post that raised the issue here). With a jury of 24 people a complete lack of diversity does indeed look suspicious. I did not want to write something without having spoken with the party in question, PDN, so I emailed them yesterday. PDN told me this morning that they have looked at the comments and discussions following Rob’s post; should they decide to comment, they will do so on their PDNPulse blog.
The issue of diversity in photography - or, probably more accurately, the lack of diversity one often encounters - is something that needs to be addressed. I lost track of who brought this up first, but someone wrote that the issue at hand was passive racism.
This immediately reminded me of what happened last year, during the Democratic primary and then the presidential campaign. During those campaigns, there were many accusations that various people had engaged in racism of some form while running against Barack Obama. Maybe not surprisingly, all of these accusations resulted in vehement denials. What is more, not everybody agreed with the charges of racism (remember this? now check this out).
A couple of months after the election I found some scientific research that seems to directly address this issue. People overestimate their reactions to racism: “people are very bad at predicting their responses to racism. They may claim to shun hypothetical racists or be upset by their actions but when confronted by such people and events in reality, their predictions turn out to be dramatic overestimates of their actual feelings. This discrepancy may help to explain why racism is such a widely condemned but remarkably prevalent part of modern society.” (this link contains a shorter summary of the study in question) Make sure to read the whole piece, it’s quite the eye opener. This is the realm of passive racism.
Of course, there will be many reasons for the composition of the PDN jury - and I don’t know what they are. While asking PDN about the composition of their jury is something that should happen, I think what is even more important is to discuss the issue of diversity in photography. What can we do to fix this problem? What are possible solutions?
I’d be interested to hear from non-white photographers about their experiences. Have you encountered racism, overt or non-overt? If yes, in what forms? And what do you think has to be or can be done about this? Please email me (jmcolberg at gmail.com). I intend to use parts or all of what you write for a blog post about this; if you do not want to have your name revealed in that post, please let me know.
Update (9 June): There is a blog post on PDNPulse with a reaction to this issue.