Unlike other high school students who had to sit through physics classes, Brooklyn based photographer Erica Reade swapped her physics class for a darkroom film class. A few years later, after working with various organizations and having traveled around the globe, she is now the founder and co-director of the Camera of the Month Club, a monthly gathering where photographers showcase and critique each other’s work. The collective is comprised of over 30 members and is open to all. Photographers meet on a monthly basis to share their work and give feedback to each other, but for Erica, the most important aspect of the Camera of the Month Club is “make a space accessible to people. We want to be an open, safe community for people to share their work."
From photographer to entrepreneur, Erica didn’t shy away from the challenges she faced while navigating the industry. “I’ve always shot polaroid and instant film,” she says, “on and off shot 35 mm, but also digitally for my work, so I thought it would be fun to continue to challenge each other. So I put it up on meetup.com, and a few people came to the meeting.” Today, the collective is composed of 17 members and holds exhibitions on a yearly basis.
Women have always been present in photography, but they are most historically known as muses, rarely as photographers, and even less as entrepreneurs. “When you look at statistics of who are getting those bylines photos,” Erica explains, “it’s all under thirty percent women, and some of them are in the teens. There’s still no gender equality in photography, so take up space!” Challenging this discourse in her own vision and work, Erica encourages dialogue around this issue, even though it's still an uncomfortable conversation to have for some.
"Women have not been taught to ask their worth: struggling with getting comfortable and firm talking about money, and knowing what I'm worth."
In her series Beach Lovers she portrays the intimacy couples share in a natural and human way, stirring away from the sexualization of bodies, and highlighting those fleeting moments of affection.
We talked to Erica about the growing role of women in photography, and what can be done to close that still present gender gap.
Since the early days of photography history, women have had an active role in pioneering the medium. However, despite this, it is no secret that it is still a male-dominated world in the arts and photography. Have you ever experienced gender inequality in your respective field?
The obvious answer is yes, but when people hear that, they picture something very obvious, and what happens is really small microaggressions, subtleties. One piece of that pie would be undercharging myself. Women have not been taught to ask their worth: struggling with getting comfortable and firm talking about money, and knowing what I’m worth. An obvious one is being sexually harassed when shooting events. It’s not always someone grabbing you, but sometimes it’s a question about your gear – talking down to you.
In previous years, there has already been a rise of prominent women and feminist movements not only in photography but in the art world, in general. In what ways do you think we could continue moving forward and away from gender inequality within the art world?
Being comfortable with having those conversations. At the Camera of the Month, we're starting, and we're being comfortable in having those conversations. I think that’s a starting point, to be having those really uncomfortable conversations, so that’s one thing, we talk about issues. We’ve had really deep debates, about whether a project is exploitive, something we didn’t set out to do. They're good conversations that could be difficult or taken the wrong way, but we do it with a lot of integrity and respect. Both in professional and personal aspects, I'm trying to constantly remind myself, that if there’s no seat at the table, or if it feels like you’re not being represented, not to stay quiet anymore.
Among your creative endeavors, which one is the most meaningful to you?
An easy answer, as a teacher, is all the work I encouraged my students to do around telling their stories, or looking around and highlighting issues, such as girls are being slut-shamed. I have been using photography as an outlet for photography rather than activism but now that I have taken a step back, I’m ready to use my camera for that.
What message do you want your photography/art/work leave the younger generation of female artists/photographers/creatives
The most basic way I can say it is that it’s okay, and get comfortable with taking up space. I realized how long I had made myself smaller, and listened to the messages others had said about my work and personality. Sometimes even seemingly progressive men do get threatened by successful women. I’m trying to embody, especially this year, that it’s okay to take up that space, even if people are saying things to you, to kind of use them as fuel as a photographer, whether it has to do with gender, sexuality, or race.
Don’t think you necessarily have to make feminist work to be a woman photographer and a feminist. The fact that you’re making work that matters to you, and showing it to the world when you’re a minority in the field, that hasn’t been more represented, that alone is in act of putting your work out there and bravery and demanding attention space, asking to be paid and asking for space on a gallery wall.