In celebration of International Women’s Day, we’re putting together a series that shines a spotlight on female photographers, illustrators and designers in the Alamy library. There was a time when women weren’t allowed to pursue such passions let alone make a living from them. Fortunately, we’ve moved on a great deal since then but that doesn’t mean progress can’t still be made; many women still face discrimination in their fields.
In this edition, we spoke to Travel Photographers Kertu Saarits and Doris Lee about their experience as creatives.
Hi Kertu, hi Doris. Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you got into photography?
KS: I’m originally from Estonia, although I’ve now lived half of my life in different countries due to my studies, work and an endless sense of adventure. My home currently is located in Dubai and it serves as a great base for my travels across the world – to date I have visited 75 countries which I love to mark on a wall-sized map on my living room wall.
Nowadays, I work in financial planning and analysis but cannot imagine life without the creative outlet that photography provides. Capturing moments and interpreting the world is something I’ve been interested in ever since I can remember – it started off small with my parent’s film camera, moving to a point-and-shoot later and then to a DSLR as soon as I could afford one.
DL: I’m a storyteller, and a street and travel photographer born and raised in Hong Kong. I’m a very curious person and I dedicate my life to traveling because understanding the world is very important to my soul. I have travelled to over 60 countries. My global-trekking adventures have provided me life-changing experiences exploring and understanding cultures and humanity.
I’ve developed my passion for photography since I was 16 as it’s a perfect combination of art and science. The ‘art’ part of photography allows me to train my eyes on aesthetics, pushes my creativity to storytelling, and empowers me to find details which would otherwise be overlooked.
My passion and photographic work focus on capturing faces, emotions and lives around the world. Currently living in Lisbon, I’m working on things that could help make a good impact on Earth while traveling around the world.
Wow, your globetrotting lifestyles will make a few people envious – I certainly am! Besides the travel, what is it about travel photography that appeals to you?
DL: Taking photos while traveling enables me to travel slower, pay more attention to details and spend more time people watching to understand nuisances of culture, lifestyle, and history in different countries.
KS: Travel photography was a natural progression for me once I left Estonia – everyone was asking to see pictures of places where I lived or visited. And the more I travelled, the more photos I took. I found myself positively challenged by new subjects, settings, compositions and light conditions. Soon enough, I started to plan my trips purely because of my photographic interest in them. The world is full of amazing places and people, and I find it exciting to learn about them and try to capture them in the way I see them in that moment.
In such a fast-paced world, how do you keep your finger on the pulse?
KS: While at times, the modern information overflow can be tiring; at others, it presents uncountable opportunities to discover and learn. From the photographic point of view, I follow stock photography blogs, keep my eye on Instagram and love to do workshops with inspiring photographers. Besides that, I’m a passionate reader of National Geographic, Harvard Business Review and The Economist – they provide masterfully written insights to human and world related topics.
DL: I don’t actively keep my finger on the pulse as most of the daily news or posts on social media are just unimportant noises that mess with our emotions. I like investing my time on meaningful topics through deep conversations, books and podcasts.
Who are your photography influences?
DL: I love how masters like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliot Erwitt captured details of life. I love the drama and power of images by Steve McCurry, Jimmy Nelson and Sebastian Salgado. Martin Parr’s works are fantastic in conveying humour in everyday details.
KS: In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I will highlight only female photographers who continue to awe and inspire me with their images: Cristina Mittermeier, Daisy Gilardini and Ami Vitale.
What has been your favourite project or shoot to work on?
KS: With a very long list of amazing trips behind me, I always struggle to pick favourites. The first that comes to mind is Greenland. I had the opportunity to join a workshop during the midnight sun season and spent a week sailing, photographing stunning scenery and meeting the locals. Their culture is still very interlinked with tradition so it provides plenty of excellent first-hand accounts of experiences that most people would have never even thought about – for example the unwritten rules of shared whale hunting trips.
DL: I worked on a project to document African immigrants in Barcelona while I lived there in 2017. The task was challenging as some of the immigrants on the street were “sin papeles” (without papers) and were therefore reluctant to be photographed. It took me a lot of courage to go up to strangers on the street who didn’t speak a common language to ask for permission. The experience turned out to be very delightful – some even told me they were drug dealers: they were nice to talk to and were very friendly to me. You’re welcome to check out this project on my website.
Recent studies have shown that 69% of female photographers have faced discrimination in the workplace? Have you experienced or witnessed any inequality or limitations in the industry?
DL: I find it very challenging as a female photographer, especially traveling in developing countries. For one, a solo female traveller is an easy target for harassment and crime. On top of that, carrying expensive gear around poses a lot of risks. I’ve had situations where I got harassed so much on the streets of Cuba every time I stopped to take a photo, I simply had to abort my mission and retreat.
KS: Living as a white woman in the Middle East certainly has its challenges. So does travelling around the world as a solo female. Over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of differences in treatment of women versus men – most of these differences being negative towards women, but also a few cases where it is the opposite. There’s no denying though that the inequality is restricting women from reaching their full potential, and as a result, everybody loses out.
Only 18% of The Association of Photographers’ accredited members are women. What more could the industry do to ensure aspiring female photographers get the same opportunities as male photographers?
KS: I was just recently looking for a new camera bag: something that can fit two camera bodies, three lenses, a tripod and a drone while being comfortable on a petite female body. I tried on every single bag I could get my hands on and came out disappointed – either the straps cut my chest, or the back support was too long or something else. So that would be the starting point. The industry should start approaching product development with separate male and female models as a default.
Some great companies do provide a few female options, but in most cases I find myself with equipment that doesn’t have the optimal fit. I truly believe lowering this barrier of entry would encourage aspiring female photographers to continue to invest in the field and enable them to grow at the same pace and extent as male photographers.
DL: I believe education is really the key to change – to help women stand up for themselves, and for men to be more respectful to women. It will be a slow progress, but I am hopeful there will be progress. As for the industry, I hope there are more female-only awards and grants to help female photographers be seen on the international stage.