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Supporting female photogs

Origin founder said systematic issues underlay gender disparity in Uprising slideshow contest
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Origin business partners Danielle Kristamnson (left) and MJ Legault are addressing an experience gap in action sports photography through a $3,000 contract that will be awarded to Cristina Gareau this year. PHOTO SUBMITTED

Of the 10 photographers who took part in the photography slideshow contest Uprising last month, only one was a woman.

That gender imbalance was underlined by Danielle Kristmanson-creative director of Origin (the agency that organized the event)-during her speech to a crowd of more than 1,000 people who packed into the Chateau Fairmont Whistler ballroom Feb.22 for an evening of high-octane visual bliss.

In her speech, Kristmanson relayed that despite the organizers' efforts, they were unable to balance out the roster.

"In the case of Uprising, we delayed the announcement of our photographer teams as a result of a drawn-out effort to recruit a balanced slate that included females from a long list of qualified, talented, bad-ass women," said Kristmanson. "In the end, we failed in that recruiting effort. We wanted to make everyone aware of this, partly to address the inevitable blow-back we know we'll hear about tonight's participants, but also to shine a light on the challenges our sports present to raising up the careers of women."

In an interview with Pique, Kristmanson said she attempted to convince nine women to take part in the contest.

And while some declined due to competing commitments, others weren't comfortable being under such a large microscope.

"For some of them, it was their comfort level [of] being a woman that would have [potentially] a fraction of the professional experience that her peers would," she said.

As a way to help close the experience gap, Kristmanson announced that Origin would be providing a bursary for women creators in outdoor sport, announcing that it will award a $3,000 contract to Cristina Gareau, an up and coming outdoor sports who splits her time between Tofino and Squamish, in 2020.

The goal of the contract is to provide Gareau with an opportunity to work on a major project, and gain more skills and knowledge to thrive in the field.

Kristmanson isn't the first person to openly discuss gender inequality in outdoor photography in recent years.

In 2018, the editor of Powder magazine lamented that of the 24 photographs published in the magazine's photo annual issue, only one was taken by a woman.

"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," wrote Julie Brown.

According to Abby Cooper-an in-demand photographer who now edits Snowboard Canada (the first woman to do so)-the disparity is not as stark in the Canadian print context.

"The quality of photography isn't determined by gender, it's about quality photos, and with that mindset, there seems to be closer to a natural 50/50 representation in publications, especially Mountain Life and Snowboard Canada," she said by email.

Cooper added that there are a number of well-established female photographers already working in the corridor-including Hailey Elise, Robin O'Neill, Angela Percival, Justa Jeskova, and Erin Hogue-and that there are also plenty of female lifestyle phographers who dabble in action sports as well.

Cooper said she sees active mentorship as key to growing their ranks.

"As an established photographer, I try to connect with photographers of all disciplines as both a mentor and mentee," she said.

"The photographers in Whistler have a strong community. We gather multiple times a year to network and talk shop at designated nights hosted by Mitch Winton-it doesn't matter if you're a hobbyist, aspiring photographer or OG, all are welcome and all gain something from each other."

Photographer Justa Jeskova, who placed third in the Deep Summer photo contest back in 2012, agreed that the situation in the corridor is better than elsewhere.

"There are so many great female photographers in this town, who are getting big jobs and I feel like they're established and in Sea to Sky corridor," she said.

That said, Jeskova added that she was once paid less than her male counterparts on a photography job-an experience that left her questioning herself. "You never know, is it because you're female? Or is it because of personality? Or is it because of your skills?"

For Gareau, who has been doing photography for the past three and a half years, the Origin contract represents a "huge opportunity," allowing her to work with a bigger team on a major contract.

Breaking into agencies has been a real challenge, she said.

"It's difficult because you have to do so many contracts just to survive," she said. "But the bigger contracts are often through agencies."

In the end, Erin Hogue-the lone woman to take part in Uprising-ended up winning the People's Choice Award (along with her mentee Vince Emond).

Their touching slideshow depicted female snowboarders who are also raising young children-on and off the hill.

"We would never see a show like the one that won [the People's Choice Award at Uprising]," said Kristmanson, when asked what's lost when there isn't gender equity. "There's 50 per cent of the population out there that would never be represented in the stories that get told. That's what gets sacrificed."