The Image Of Women In Ads For Photographic Gear
I was recently looking through a pile of old advertising for photo gear. It was much stranger than you'd think. On the one hand you think of the stereotype of tech hobbies like shooting photos and home movies being the province of dad. There's no good reason for that, of course. Anyone can load film and take nice pictures.
Yet if you look at some of the earliest photo ads, you see a very different image of women. Kodak actively courted women photographers in their earliest ads. They're not just shown as the subject of photography - they're out there snapping pictures, sometimes going so far as to depicted femme photogs as adventurers. Thumbing through the ads I found plenty of early Kodak ads and how-to books that prominently featured women taking photos.
Even after this early start of photography being for everyone, for a long time we still ended up with this idea of photography being a guy thing. When did advertisers chose to appeal mostly to a male audience? Let's take a look at a couple of advertisers advertising their cameras by accessorizing with ladies.
No real problem with the Bolex projector ad, just a glamorous lady sitting between a couple of movie projectors. No sleaziness or goony puns in the text of the ad either. Put aside the use of a woman as a sort of prop, I don't see any egregious problems here.
Yashica's Electro 35 tells a different story. A voluptuous nude lady (except for her highly trained scarf) stands astride a giant camera. A lot of the writing in the ad is rather breathless in the description of the Electronic Brain - what we'd today called Auto-Exposure. The other copy in the ad is okay (though they make the point of referring to the camera as "her" as well as use the word "naked"), but it gets extra weird at the bottom: "There's a little red light... that says, "Stop, man!" when you're over. Electro 35 lets you take her when you want her and never over-expose her." You don't have to be Felini to figure that out - especially with visual aids like Ms. 70s Custom Van art over there...
Finally, even though the lady in our final example is fully clothed, Sabrina's jutting out over the Bell & Howell slide projector is just as bad as the Yashica ad - possibly worse.
I don't know if it bugs me more that we're talking about her "projection equipment" (check the possessive pronoun in the copy), or that the product is called "headliner". Everyone I've show this ad to so far has looked twice in disbelief. Also, most of them helpfully pointed out that she may not even know there's a projector down there. I've got some really great friends, you know...
We've long since looped back around, women and men are both happily snapping off pictures - have been for years. Photography as a hobby for everyone is healthier than ever. I just find it amazingly progressive that Kodak's early ads promoted photography to both men and women. I guess it just took the rest of the industry us a few more decades to finally figure that out.