In March 2020 the Women’s Work photography exhibition was held at the Ellen Melville Centre in Auckland to celebrate International Women’s Day. The concept behind the show stemmed from the fact that the vast majority of commercial photographers are men. So, Women’s Work encouraged people to take a break from the male perspective and see the world through the female gaze. Sony New Zealand was a major sponsor of the exhibition, which featured the work of 21 female photographers from the Advertising Illustrative Photographers Association (AIPA). We spoke with Victoria Baldwin who was the creative director of the exhibition and whose work was featured.
As the Auckland Vice President of the AIPA, Victoria wanted to create an opportunity to engage and promote AIPA’s female members and shine a light on the inequality in the photography industry. “The photography industry is quite male-dominated. Today there are still groups of camera brand ambassadors, photography panels, industry advisory boards, and photography agency rosters composed entirely of men,” Victoria says.
The series Victoria showcased in the exhibition is titled A Woman’s Place. In an interesting twist, Victoria acknowledges the phrase “A woman’s place is in the kitchen” has been well used throughout history to repress women, but then also reflects on how rarely professional kitchens and top-chef lists would feature women. This is changing, Victoria says. “Flicking through Instagram and the pages of food magazines, I see innovative female chefs rewriting the restaurant game, using their feminine appeal to reach new audiences. I see bloggers creating cooking revolutions from their home kitchens. What was once a place of oppression, has been subverted by many women to bring them success and personal agency.”
Months worth of energy was poured into conceptualising the series, from creating an artist statement to refining visual references. In late 2019, Victoria started working closely with Art Director Noumi O’Flaherty for this series. In 2020, when she had fleshed out the concepts further, the rest of the team was brought on board and the series was created at White Studios. Victoria’s team included prop stylist Sharyn Buckley, wardrobe stylist Jacqui Watts from The Wardrobe Department, assistant Josh Szeto, and production assistant Kate Moses.
“This project examines the changing role of modern women in the domestic and commercial kitchen. Each subject is a forerunner in their field, helping to defy preconceived notions of gender bias. By showcasing the women in a hyper-feminised manner, I hope to evoke reflection within the viewer, on how much has changed in this industry over the past half-century, and what we still have yet to achieve,” Victoria explains.
To capture the images Victoria used her Sony Alpha 7R IV and Sony 90mm F2.8 G macro lens. She says switching to Sony made sense as she can still use her lenses from other brands, but now also gets fantastic high-resolution images with 15 stops of dynamic range, plus improved focusing capabilities and a raft of other features not available on DSLR cameras. “I can shoot on film sets silently, I have much more dynamic range and latitude in my files, and can shoot one large image that allows for many crops in post. Sony has been developing CMOS sensors for 20 years, and creating them for many other brands. This legacy explains how they have created the best full-frame camera I have used.”
The 61MP sensor in the Alpha 7R IV meant Victoria could capture images that gave her plenty of options in post-production. As the prints were going to be large, she was able to include a lot of detail in her images to invite the viewer to keep searching.
Working collaboratively with other women is something that many of the photographers involved with Women’s Work had never done before, and it really shone a light on the importance of community. “It’s been great to work with a team of women photographers. Lots of us have only seen each other’s work online before, but now we have a strong community that supports each other. We’ve let down a lot of the barriers that small businesses in competition with one another often experience, and instead used our energy to build something beautiful together,” Victoria explains.
Due to its success and the enjoyment Women’s Work brought to those involved, it’s gearing up to be an annual show. Another exhibition is planned for March 2021. “This exhibition has been a big wake-up call for me. There are so many people who will wave the flag for you and cheer you on, but you have to take that first step. I was worried at the start of this project that it wouldn’t catch on, that people wouldn’t submit anything, and that we wouldn’t be able to secure funding. I was blown away on all accounts. This project has shown me that if you have something you care about, and you put it out there, people will join you on that journey and help it to succeed.”