An Actress's Thoughts

Camera: Through their Eyes

When people speak of the Female Gaze they very often refer to women directors. I find this a bit strange as my first association with gaze would be the camera. This often neglected team position – director of photography – should be regarded as part of a creative triumvirate, alongside the director and writer/s. More so than the producers. But strangely enough, often only the director, writer and producer will be included. There is a type of film we casually call “Bügelfilme” in German (and I don‘t know the English expression for that. It‘s films that don‘t need to be seen in order to be understood, so you can do your ironing while you listen to the dialogue and the music, which will tell you everything that you need to know. If there is an English expression for these types of films, please tell me in the comments section, tnx.). So aside from these Bügelfilme, the vast majority of films will be characterized by their visual side and thus by the camera department quite considerably. Who is with me on this? The ARD (German public broadcaster / channel one)! On their TATORT pages (CRIME SCENE, the German top cop drama, 90 min. films on most Sunday nights) they name the TRIUMVIRAT and the composer – in the same ordcer as in the end titles of a film: music / composer, DoP, writer, director. The German TV awards Grimme-Preis list the author, director, DoP and head of sound for the nominated films.
We see this phenomenon internationally as well. There are these really remarkable, profound statistics from the British Film Institue BFI for roughly 200 UK films per year from 2003 to 2013, they publish information on the involved countries, production companies, directors, writers, list up to 7 actiers per film – but no word on the DoP. Sehr bedauerlich!

Make That Three

In Germany there are two unions for camera people, the German Society of Cinematographers BVK Berufsverband Kamera and the Berufsverband der Fernsehkameraleute / Union of Television Camera Operators.

  • The German Society of Cinematographers (BVK) is the official reprensentation of Directors of Photography in germany and other members of camera-crews. (taken from the English version of their website)
  • The Union of Television Camera Operators – BVFK – is an independent organization of TV cameramen and -women, promoting the interests of camera related professions such as directors of photography, camera assistants, panning assistants and camera remote operators among TV channels, production companies and politicians. (translated by SchspIN)

And recently, a network of German camera women has emerged. It started in April with their frist meeting, half a year later they dedided to call themselves CinematographersXX Germany (short: CXXG) and set up a website showcasing female directors of photography from German speaking countries. So complaints like “Oh but there hardly are any female DoP‘s!“ should soon become a thing of the past.
In addition to this, a third association has recently been emerging, a network of German camera women. It started with their frist meeting in April, half a year they dedided to call themselves CinematographersXX Germany and set up a website showcasing female directors of photography from German speaking countries. So complaints like „“Oh but there hardly are any female DoP‘s!“ should soon become a thing of the past.

CINEMATOGRAPHERSXX GERMANY is a group of women Directors of Photography working internationally across all genres: narrative, documentary, commercials as well as music videos. We are based in Germany and have a minimum of five years professional industry experience, many of us considerably more.
CINEMATOGRAPHERSXX RISING highlights upcoming cinematographers at the beginning of their careers.

That was a quote from their bilingual website (yes! it’s in German and English), I like the idea that the more experienced DoP want to encourage and inspire the aspiring younger camerawomen, which is a lovely promise of networking and possibly even mentoring.

At present the website showcases 63 DoPs (19 of them in the RISING section), with short CVs and contact details. More will follow, some 120 female cinematographers from all ages are subscribed to the network, the majority coming from the 30 to 40-years age slot. Every camerawoman who has worked professionally for at least five years can get herself be added to the main section of the database.

Pro Quote Film/Kamera can be seen as the political arm of the organized female cinematographers‘ network. More on this a little later.

Take a Look at: Female Cinematographers

Making female DoP‘s visible can and should of course also happen on another level – I refer to the statistical side of the industry. Here, as afore mentioned and not really comprehensible, the camera position is rarely included. So I collected some data to at least present a rough picture of the situation as it is.
The next galery shows share of women and mean for the directors of photography for ZDF Kleines Fernsehspiel (this is a TV slot on ZDF German public broadcasting channel, where they show films of newcomers, sometimes the final film at film school, as well as first and second films of young directors), for the nominated films to all categories of the German TV awards Grimme Preis, for the already mentioned TATORTE (TV cop drama CRIME SCENE) as well as for the Top 20 and Top 100 German films at the box office. Before that I show a general overview of the shares of women for the various camera jobs in the union BVK and the data base of crew united.

The share of women among film school graduates in Germany (camera dept.) is 25 % (taken from FFA Studie Gender und Film – research commissioned by German Federal Film Board). The films in the ZDF Kleines Fernsehspiel section (remember these are basically beginners‘ films) show the highest female figures following the graduates. But then the numbers really decrease. Why? Because female cinematographers aren‘t capable of filming crime drama, buddy movies or high budget productions?
When we look at the sad number of only 20 female DoP‘s for the TATORT films in comparison to the 201 male DoP‘s you‘d think it can‘t get worse than that. But it can, because actually only 9 individual women were entrusted with a TATORT camera, some of them more than once. But not in 2015 by the way, then only 0 female DoP worked for the TATORTE. In words: none.
46 women and 500 men worked as DoP for the Top 100 German films from 2012 to 2016. Again, it were only 26 different camerawomen. When we look at the Top 20 films it gets a bit more manageable: only one (1) a camerawoman was hired – Sonja Rom for SAPHIRBLAU, in 20th position in 2014, as opposed to 97 times men got the jobs.
I want to add another number to describe the situation of female cinematographers in Germany, which I took from a study from 2015 on the situation of people working in film and TV productions (Jörg Langer: Die Situation der Film- und Fernsehschaffenden in Deutschland 2015). It‘s 43 %. That is the share of the average annual gross income cameramen the women earned on average in the same year. To put it in Euro: the women had 19,667 € and the men 45,558 €. Many reasons, like always when women earn less then men. Two aspects have to be taken into account here: camerawomen possibly are hired for less film projects per year and they get paid less per project. This pay gap is much bigger than for the other film professions Langer mentioned in his report – sound engineers, authors, editors, set designers – and at the other end of the line: direrctors with annual average incomes of 46,316 € and 40,875 €, i.e. the female directors get 88 % of the men‘s earnings. (And yes, 88 is more than twice as much as 43).

Together They are Strong

There is something that probably most camerawomen have heard regularly – at least all the ones I know, and that is “But isn‘t the equipment rather heavy for you?“ Sometimes even turned into a statement: “Camera equipment is too heavy for women. That‘s why there are so few doing this job.“ Accordingly, all female cinematographers that are adequately busy should be above average in height, frame and strength. But somehow the photos on the CinematographersXX‘s website don’t really support this theory.
However, something else is quite remarkable in this context, which I just learned from DoP Birgit Gudjonsdottir of CinematographersXX / Pro Quote Film/Kamera:

Alexa as a 3-year old child weighs about 14 kg, Alexa as a camera weighs around 15 to 16 kg. But it‘s not the DoP who have to carry the latter, for that they have their 2nd assistants, who carry optical equipment, batteries and more, who change lenses, set up the camera on the tripod and so on.

Looking back at the data from the gallery: the share of women for 2nd camera assistants was 31,4 % in the crew united data base and 36,4 % among the BVK union members. So apparently there‘s less to this “too heavy for them“ story than meets the eye.

I briefly mentioned Pro Quote Kamera earlier on. As can be deduced from the name – knowing similar German organizations like Pro Quote Medien (journalists), Pro Quote Medizin, Pro Quote Regie (directors) and Pro Quote Bühne (Stage) – Pro Quote Kamera are also campaigning for a quota, a proportional balance, for a set target for the employment of female DoP in film and television. Once more, here’s what Birgit Gudjonsdottir had to say:

Even if female camera students win awards, they have a far lesser chance of shooting after graduation, it is more difficult for them to successfully enter the market. They just get fewer chances and obviously don‘t earn enough money with No or Low Budget Projecs. This is what we want to draw everybody‘s attention to. Using our Pro Quote Film/Kamera as a political and CinematographersXX as a networking instrument. With Pro Quote Film/ Kamera as our mouthpiece, our lobby group, we want to promote more structural equality and a just distribution of public money.

They will probably also be dealing the the infamous “lists of proposals“, that are handed to directors early on in the projects with propositions for heads of departments, something not unusual for German TV productions, but done in various ways. It might be helpful to set up a standard of. always having to include both women and men for each department on the list. And keeping the idea of quotas or targets in mind: there certainly the number 25 sticks out quite prominently as the percentage of women graduating in the camera department. So how about setting up a not too long-term target of 25 % for public TV projects such as the TATORTE, the TV movie of the week (ZDF) and other slots and productions. Pro Quote Kamera even goes one stop further:

Our aim is to give the German and international film industry an easier access a great number of talented cinematographers, and thus to rebalance the social and industry perception that there are hardly any around.
In the long run we want to reach a situation where the share of women studying cinematography and afterwards work as DoP‘s is raised to 50 %.

Of course when we look at what‘s going on in the camera department we should not isolate that from other departments, and naturally also not from the positive or negative role models and stereotypes that are being produced and reproduced in front of the camera. Did I ever mention NEROPA in this context? Well, when it comes natural to see women in films and on television also in technical creative professions, young and older women handling camera and sound, as well as seeing more female technicans or inventors, more female nerds and scientists, so when we get to see more positive female role models, and when the job & career counselling at secondary schools gets to be more open in this diection, then I am sure the ratio and relationship among camera students will change. At the same time hiring camerawomen – no matter what height – for high budget movies will become less of a (subjectively felt) risk for decison makers. We already see young women and girls using cameras / camera phones on a daily basis, I wonder why interested girls are so rarely stimulated and supported to pursue things further. Here‘s a lot do be done by schools and other educational and recreational facilities. It should not be a permanet situation that girls and women on youtube only get famous on youtube with channels about make-up tips etc. By the way, I just a new camera, and briefly searching the internet, I only found blogs and videos on cameras by men.

So my dear female cinematographers, let me suggest something for your next break between projects: Introduce your favourite camera on the internet, maybe compare different models, shoot a video about your work or your professional background, share tips ad ideas, blog about camera lenses and focal lengths. Not for the film industry but for society as a whole!

At the moment a website for Pro Quote Film/Kamera is being constructed. As soon as it goes online I will put a link to it in ths article. The bilingual (GE-EN) website of CinematographersXX Germany can be found here: click!

Update Feb. 2: Here’s the Link to the German website of Pro Quote Film/Kamera, which is now the official name of the group  (when I published this text in December it was talked of as Pro Quote Kamera, I’ve replaced it with the new name in the text).

Update April 23: I forgot to mention the National Competition for Women Directors of Photography, which is organized by the the International Women’s Film Festival Dortmund / Köln IFFF. Since 2001 the award and the 5,000 € prize money have been presented in Cologne every two years, graduation films and those of the first two years after that are eligible., all genres and lengths can be submitted. From 2012 on the competition is held in the even years, so April 2018 will see the next DoP competition. The Festival IFFF states:

The Dortmund | Cologne International Women’s Film Festival has opted for an award aimed squarely at picture designers. For working with a camera and with light is not just a image recording routine but an active co-design process which demands interaction with the other jobs of set decor, costumes, make-up and location management. Even the actual decision as to specific film material, the use of filters or a special digital technique can substantially influence the final look of a film. Close-up size, image section, camera position and camera movement are all essential factors for the narrative discourse.
It is in this way that, following consultation between the director of photograph and the film director, the moving pictures can take on the quality of a narrative instance their own right.

Comments are closed.