In the 13 years that I have been modeling, I could probably count on two hands the number of female photographers I’ve worked with. If I were being generous, I’d throw in a few extra fingers (and a raised eyebrow). And an all female (or majority female) team? Forget it. I only need one hand for that one. Although if you asked me the number of times I’ve worked with a big group of guys, it would be much more difficult to catalog. I’ll just stick with nearly every shoot for the past 13 years.
It is somewhat incomprehensible that there aren’t more women behind the camera, more women running the show, as the focus of all these shoots has generally been to market to women (Sports Illustrated excluded, which markets to both genders). It’s something, as a photographer myself, I have always thought about. Women are consuming the images, women are buying the products, and yet we are living in a world shaped by the male gaze. Here’s a challenge for you — check any of the major photography agency’s websites. Can you find any that represent more than two women? How about more than three women? A couple agencies take this seriously, and the scale tips a bit more towards balance, but for the majority we see things heavily skewed to one side. Carry this into photo assistants (men usually staff their teams with more men), and we very easily have a set that is mostly male. This isn’t even taking into account all the other people on set — production (I have only worked with a dozen or so female producers in my life, and almost all production staff is male), art directors, etc. In the end, it’s quite easy to end up in a situation where there are 50 people on set, and only five of them are women. This number isn’t actually an exaggeration — a friend told me she experienced this just the other day on a major advertising job. And those five women on set? Assistants. Not a single woman in a position of power.
Why does it matter? Well, there are many reasons, the easiest and most obvious being that women deserve equal job opportunities. Another is that when imagery is created with a more balanced point of view, it can be interpreted in a more balanced way. And, of course, it is just a different feeling on set when it is not only men. Don’t get me wrong, there are many male photographers that I love, respect, and enjoy working with for any job (my prior SI photographers are in this lovable camp), but there is just something different about shooting with a woman. It’s a different level of respect and understanding. There is a sensitivity there, a deeper connection, a stronger feeling of trust. When I am shooting something risky or daring with the female photographers that I know, I don’t have to worry about being represented in a way I don’t like or don’t want. I have the space to try things and challenge myself in ways that I haven’t before.
Over the past year and a half, I have been working with Prima Donna lingerie to design, shoot, and sell a capsule collection. From the very beginning I knew I wanted to staff the team from top to bottom with as many women as possible. The core group I worked with within the company was all women. The shoot? The same. We worked hard to ensure that all the major roles were filled by women. Photographer, videographer, stylist, hair, makeup, production — women, women, women. And it only makes sense, because when we released the collection in April, it’s women that we’re appealing to. It’s women that I want to see these images, and I want them to feel represented. It’s women that I want to own these pieces and to feel empowered by them. I want women to feel all the love and respect that we put into it, because that’s why we did it!
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit has a deep understanding of this commitment to women. They show it every year, as their promise to increase diverse representation continues to manifest in greater and greater ways. Women of all shapes, sizes and ages? Got it. Women of many varied ethnicities and religions? That too. Sisters, daughters, friends, paralympians, and breast-feeding mothers walking the runway? Check. Every year there is something new that impresses and delights me in the way that Sports Illustrated continues to shatter perceptions. Some say they’re publicity stunts, meaningless grabs for attention. How can this be so, when year after year the story continues to grow. Their cast continues to return, and things that once felt daring (like including plus-size models in the issue), become more and more commonplace. That only happens when a brand makes a commitment to something and sticks with it. That doesn’t come from a publicity stunt.
They are changing things behind the scenes, too. I was absolutely delighted when I found out that I would be shooting with Josie Clough for my third year of SI Swimsuit. The all-female editorial team is always a strong force on the SI set, but there is just something special about shooting a job as spectacular as Sports Illustrated with a female photographer. When you are doing something as sensitive as lingerie or swim (or even more so, nudes), working with a woman can produce a whole different product. Working with Josie, I felt more in tune than I ever have with my body during a shoot, and she pushed me to create some of my favorite photographs ever taken. Being on a set that was staffed more equally, working with a team so respectful, it can feel like magic. And when I got to wear one of the suits from my collection? A suit designed by women, for women, shot by a woman? That’s a real dream come true. Now let’s keep the cycle going.
See all of Myla's gorgeous photos from SI Swimsuit 2019: