Photojournalism has gone through a seismic shift over the last three decades. With the decline of print journalism, the rise of the internet, digital cameras and cell phones, photojournalists have been severely impacted by these transformations. In spite of these circumstances, photojournalism continues to be valued and practiced around the world. Photography competitions offer a venue to honor the visual journalists and the photographs they make. Men have dominated the profession and competitions for years.

Pictures of the Year, started in the spring of 1944 by Cliff Edom at the University of Missouri, is one of the oldest photojournalism competitions in the world. The competition was revered as “the Oscars of photojournalism” (Garrett, 1999).

Known today as POYi (Pictures of the Year International)[1], thousands of images are entered by visual journalists from around the world (“A Brief History of POY”, n.d.). From elections to the Olympics, and other major world events, the POYi competition would evolve to reflect transformations in society, including the technological and demographic changes in photojournalism and publishing outlets[2]. In recent years, the profession has become more aware of the need for a greater diversity of voices. So, how does the Pictures of the Year competition reflect the voices of women?

Disclaimer: This is the first phase of a longer-term investigation and visualization of the Pictures of the Year International (POYi) archives. The findings for this phase are limited to the years between 1984 and 2004 and cannot be generalized for the entire competition. Results should be viewed and treated with caution as the data source was found to have numerous errors and inconsistencies in addition to missing or unknown information.

Gender Representation in the Pictures of the Year International Competition 1984-2004

Since its inception, the Competition has had seven directors. Cliff Edom was the founder and the Competition's first director. By the time Cliff Edom retired, the directorships were part of the job description for Director of the University of Missouri’s photojournalism sequence, which Cliff also founded and was the first of its kind in the United States [3, 4].

Directors of the Pictures of the Year Competition

Hover over the directors’ images to learn more.

Cliff founded what is now the Pictures of the Year (POY) competition in 1944. He is credited with making the University of Missouri the “Mecca for photojournalism education” (Garrett, 1999).

Cliff Edom
POY Director, 1944-1972

Angus McDougall
POY Director, 1972-1982

Beloved photojournalist, picture editor, professor, and author. Magazine Photographer of the Year (1955) and Picture Editor of the Year (1965).

Subsequently, San Francisco State Photojournalism professor and author.

Ken Kobre
POY Director, 1982-1986

Bill Kuykendall
POY Director, 1986-2000

Retired. Former photojournalist, newspaper and magazine editor, educator. Newspaper Picture Editor of the Year and Robin F. Garland Teacher of the Year (NPPA) recipient.

Retired. Former professor, photo newspaper director, and high school English teacher. He built a career dedicated to community journalism and teaching.

David Rees
POY Director, 2000-2006

Rick Shaw
POY Director, 2006–2017

Former manager and senior editor at various daily U.S. newspapers. Currently, an instructor at University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.

Previously AME Photography and Picture Editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Former picture editor at The White House and Copley Northern Illinois.

Lynden Steele
Current POYi Director, 2017-Present

The Jury

Well-respected scholars, photographers, editors, and designers have typically been invited to be on the jury. As the competition continues to evolve to reflect the industry, the jury evolves as well. Recruitment and selection of jury members is a subjective process and an art.

Bill Kuykendall:

Every judge must be able to speak authoritatively and convincingly using specifics and not just feelings. My NPPA liaisons and I put a lot of effort into identifying prospective judges who had the right combination of professional experience as [photographers] and editors and the ability to articulate the virtues and shortcomings of entries. Temperament is another quality. The [panel] requires individuals who 'play well' with others[5].

Historically, the POY jury has been predominately male.

Yet, during Bill Kuykendall’s tenure, female representation started to become a higher priority. According to Bill [6], “every effort was made to have at least one jury member from outside the United States” and the voices of female judges were highly valued. Women “had a better sense of proportion and understood how to compromise while remaining steadfast champions of [exceptional] work”.

Gender Representation of POYi Jurors

Only in 2001 were there equal numbers of women and men on the jury. At no point in the years between 1984 and 2004 did women outnumber men.

Jurors: Women versus Men (Total Numbers)

Jurors: Women versus Men (Percent)

Until 1986 the total number of jury members was five per award category. Bill Kuykendall and Randy Miller increased the jury panel to six in an effort to streamline the judging process as POY transitioned from mounted prints to the projection of slides[7].

The Photographers

For many years, photo competitions offered the rare outlet for photographers to have their work rewarded and recognized with the hope their work would be seen by people who hire and/or publish photography. Winning an award in POY tended to be a valuable stepping-stone for photographers’ careers and could be key considerations for pay raises for staff photographers. Newspaper and magazine photographers also saw the Pictures of the Year competition as a way to earn respect from the ‘word people’ [8, 9]. As photography gained more respect, winning awards gave photographers more bragging rights and a type of fame and prestige within and out of the photojournalism community.

Gender Representation of POYi Winners

Between 1984 and 2004, men won between 60 to 90 percent of awards.

Winners: Women versus Men (Total Numbers)

Winners: Women versus Men (Percent)

Gender Representation in the
Newspaper Photographer of the Year Category

19 First Place, Newspaper Photographer of the Year awards were given between 1985 and 2004. Three women were given the honor during this period. Three photographers won the NPOY award twice: Bill Greene (1988, 1998), Carol Guzy (1992 and 1996) and Rob Finch (1999 and 2002).

A premier award, Newspaper Photographer of the Year honors a portfolio of images by a single newspaper photographer. Hover over each thumbnail for a larger view. *Due to discrepancies in the data, the years awarded may be off by one year.

Female

Male

1986

Steve Ringman

1987

Bradley Clift

1988

Bill Greene

1989

John Kaplan

1990

Paul Kuroda

1991

Randy Olson

1992

Carol Guzy

1993

Lucien Perkins

1994

Michael Williamson

1995

Torsten Kjellstrand

1996

Carol Guzy

1997

Nancy Andrews

1998

Bill Greene

1999

Rob Finch

2000

Scott Strazzante

2001

Brian Plonka

2002

Rob Finch

2003

Carolyn Cole

2004

Michael Macor

The Awards

Pictures of the Year changed dramatically between 1984 and 2004. The number of entries increased steadily to tens of thousands and in 1987, the judging process shifted from viewing prints mounted on boards to viewing slides. It was a period of immense growth and change for the competition [10]. Submissions moved to digital and online in 2001 [11].

Winning an award from the Pictures of the Year competition offered fuel for marketing and brand value for organizations. According to Bill Kuykendall, “publishers saw contests as a way to burnish their publications’ reputation. Picture editors saw them as a way to develop and motivate their staff[12]”. The awards offered a concrete metric for directors of photography and editors to justify budgets and for some, increase the diversity of hiring[13]. Howard Chapnick of Black Star and Bob Gilka of National Geographic recognized the value of entering POY and other photo competitions, encouraging their photographers to enter and providing the time and resources to do so[14]. Winning gave organizations promotional capital: Their staffs were among the best visual storytellers in the world.

A total of 3,803 awards were given to photographers between 1984 and 2004.

Below are the top 25 award-winning publishing outlets. National Geographic, The Washington Post, and The Associated Press won the most awards.

Still, even as photojournalism’s value gained prominence in newsrooms and was a highly sought-after career for young photographers, the sustainability of photojournalism was already showing signs of weakness. Newspapers — one of the primary employers for photojournalists — saw increasing mergers, ad revenue decline and the shedding of thousands of jobs, conditions that only accelerated during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and beyond (Littau, 2019).

Of the top 25 publishing outlets, awards were given to 198 women and 755 men.

Below is the gender representation of award winners per outlet. The Washington Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Boston Globe, The Dallas Morning News, The Virginian-Pilot, and The Hartford Courant show near parity between women and men awardees.

Several of the newspapers represented in the top 25 were also some of the largest metropolitan newspapers during the early 90s. Their photography staffs were also some of the largest and where women had made significant strides (Chapnick, 2006).

Missing, unknown, or team data is not included.

As women were busting stereotypes and prejudice, there were signals that photographers and especially staff photographers, those employed full-time at newspapers, magazines, broadcast outlets, and some photo agencies would soon become an endangered species.

Authors Jennifer Good and Paul Lowe (2017) make a compelling case in their book, Understanding Photojournalism for the dramatic shift in the economics and ethics of photojournalism between 1990 and 2000. Using the Yugoslav Wars as the backdrop, Good and Lowe share how within ten years, film shifted to digital and auto-focus cameras. Independent photo agencies such as Sipa, Sygma, and Gamma disappeared. Corbis and Getty ate up agencies such as SABA, Katz IPG and Rapho, significantly discounting stock photography and migrating images online, while also distributing contracts impinging on photographers’ livelihood. Similar to newspaper publishers creating publishing monopolies, Corbis and Getty created market conditions where the medium-sized photo agencies could not compete. Dirk Halstead penned an article mourning the end of photojournalism.

Freelance Photographers

Naturally, as the more traditional model and markets for photojournalism showed signs of collapse, the traditional outlets for publishing photojournalism also diminished. Newspaper jobs have declined dramatically since the 1990s. Not surprisingly, there has been a steady increase of freelance photographers over time. Given these conditions, it would be natural to assume freelancers would be winning a greater percentage of awards each year.

Percent of Award Winners
Who are Freelance Photographers

Between 1984 and 2004, a total of 477 awards were given to freelance photojournalists with a significant percentage peak in the mid-to-late 90s.

These percentages were derived from award winners designated as freelance or independent. This may or may not include freelancers who were contracted by wire services or photo agencies. Awards associated with an agency, wire service, newspaper or magazine, were counted with the publishing outlets.

Yet, beginning in 1999, the number of awards given to freelancers shows a decline. Why? A few possibilities:

After a split with the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) in 2001 and for the first time in its history, POY charged entry fees for all entries [15, 16].

2000 to 2004 brought major world events including the dot com bubble, Enron, 9/11 terrorist attacks, the War on Terror, the War in Afghanistan, and several coups, conflicts and civil wars around the world (Barnicoat & Woolf, 2009). Events considered “news” for U.S. publishing outlets meant sending photographers overseas to cover them. Resources and safety were concerns. Most freelance photographers did not have such resources unless contracted by major publishing outlets. It could be that during this time, publishing titles were devoting greater amounts of staff resources to major news events[17]>.

By the end of 2004, newspaper photography staffs were still relatively robust. Many could still count on the benefits of full-time employment while also having the resources and time to publish meaningful work[18, 19]. So even though 2004 also marked the beginning of a sizeable decline in local newspapers and the appearance of news deserts, the most catastrophic shedding of staff photographer jobs was yet to occur.

In 2013, the Middletown (NY) Times Herald-Record laid off its entire photography staff (Winslow, 2013). Professors Tara Mortensen and Peter Gade (2018) provide research that "shows professional photojournalists matter, even in the age of smartphones. When newsrooms eliminate their photojournalism staff, it seems, they also eliminate a compelling component of news". Read more about their findings.

Gender Representation of Award Winning Freelancers

Only 17% of the 477 awards were won by women photographers.

Women versus Men (Numbers)

Women versus Men (Percent)

Yet greater numbers of freelance photojournalists are women (Hadland & Barnett, 2018). If more women are freelance photographers, what are the possible reasons for the lower number of awards? Do fewer women photographers enter contests? If so, why? How does the definition and categorization of news impact who gets coveted assignments and potentially the top-tier awards that tend to recognize the iconic, the “news of the year”? What is the impact for women photojournalists and public discourse?

Why Are Women Still A Minority?

This glimpse into the Pictures of the Year competition reinforces what many of us already know: photojournalism is a male-dominated profession but it has never been all male. Women have and continue to confront circumstances, rise up to meet challenges and address societal expectations unique to their gender. Still, many women have defied stereotypes, challenges, and expectations to produce some of the most compelling photographs of our time.

Women have endured, they continue to have a voice in the profession. So, why are women still a minority and “still grossly under-represented in photojournalism" (Westcott Campbell & Critcher, 2018)?

These visualizations present marginal increases in women jurors and women photojournalist winners over time. One obvious question had to be explored: What type of relationship exists between women jurors and women winners? Does the increase in women jurors correlate to an increase in women award winners? Surprisingly, between 1984 and 2004, a significant interaction was not found.

This suggests more complex and nuanced factors are at play and what researchers have sought to answer. At a theoretical level, what is the relationship between gender and how photographs are encoded and decoded (Westcott Campbell & Critcher, 2018)? Given the noticeably dominant male perspective of the world through pictures, it is natural to wonder how this nearly singular perspective impacts our perceptions of the world.

When “the male gaze (Mulvey, 1975, p.837 para.3)” is so entrenched and woven into the fabric of how even women see and interpret the world (Vitova, 2019), what impact do award-winning photographs have on how photographers continue to interpret and translate the world, how publishers and editors select images to be seen and ultimately, how communities see themselves and the world through photographs?

In Truth Needs No Ally: Inside Photojournalism, Tom Hardin states, “news isn’t male or female” (Chapnick, 2006, p.87, para.1); however, the experiences a photographer brings to the making of the picture is a significant factor that must be considered. The totality of a photographer’s experiences is a legitimate aspect that influences the choices made—framing, composition, light, color, moment, and more—in the making of an image. A photographer’s gender is part of that equation.

Do women see differently from men? According to researchers, a definitive answer is yet to be determined (Hadland & Barnett, 2018); however, they found that systemic obstacles for women photojournalists significantly diminish “the opportunity to influence the ways in which women are perceived and view themselves” (p.2013, para.3).

Here’s How You Can Support Women Photographers

Through a combination of partnerhips, grants, workshops, portfolio reviews, public events and more, the following organizations were created to help promote women photographers around the world:

It is vital that we do not see the world only through the eyes of men. A woman photojournalist needs to be herself, not one of the boys, needs to bring her own special eye to readers.

Beverly Bethune, University of Georgia, School of Journalism, in Truth Needs No Ally