Finally, after working on it for the better part of a year, I can hang this on my wall:
NYKS’ Equality Calendar 2022. For which I’ve had the honor to take the portraits and do the interviews, traveling to some of the most beautiful (and in some cases most horsefly- or mosquito-infested) workplaces in Sweden.
If you’re not familiar with NYKS, it stands for The Network for Working Women and Non-binary People in the Forest Industry. And if you don’t know the backstory about why this calendar was made, prepare yourself to hear an inspiring story about doing something constructive out of a scandal. (Interspersed with action shots and power portraits from the calendar.)
Two years ago, it came to public attention (thanks to members of NYKS) that the Finnish forest machine manufacturer Ponsse for years had bestowed their customers with a calendar, produced by a German subcontractor, in which scantily clad models posed on top their forest machines.
The Swedish Forest Agency and several of the largest forest companies in Sweden agreed with NYKS’ criticism and put their foot down against Ponsse, who – despite many laugh-crying and boiling angry faces from men in comment sections – decided that it was time to leave the calendar-making business.
The story could have ended there. With a “what ?? do we live in the 1970s?” at the sight of the calendar, to an “okay, no, maybe it actually is 2020” when the forest industry condemned it. But NYKS was looking ahead.
It was Erika Alm, sustainability specialist at Stora Enso Skog and a member of NYKS, who called Ponsse Sweden’s CEO Carl-Henrik Hammar with an offer: to sponsor the creation of a more modern calendar.
Ponsse said yes without hesitation. As did I, when I was asked to take the pictures for it. I had seen the headlines about the scandal calendar and was very inspired when I heard about the new chapter in the story. That a company that “actually was involved in causing some of the challenges we work with today” – as Carl-Henrik Hammar puts it in his blurb in the calendar – takes the chance to turn things around and do something that could actually contribute to making the forest a more equal and inclusive place to work at.
Gunilla Arnesson, scarification driver from Blekinge. »When I started working in the forest, few people believed in me. But I’m still here, 14 years later. Same industry. I know what I can do, and I’m good at it.«
Hanna Flink, production and timber manager at Skogssällskapet. »The forest industry is not evolving fast enough. And that’s because people in it would rather hire people they’re comfortable with than those who are open and dare to question things.« (Hanna is flanked by Johan, August, Nomi and Saffron. I’ll let you guess who’s who.)
The greatest praise, however, should of course go to NYKS, who hatched such a brilliant idea. To make a new calendar and replace the stereotypes with portraits of 12 super-competent women and non-binary people who work in the forest for real every day, and perhaps succeed in inspiring more people to find their calling in the forest. You can’t be what you can’t see.
Anna Utter: »When I drive a forestry machine, I am one with the machine. It’s me. Like when you pick something up with your hand, that is what it feels like to me when I use the unit. I sense exactly what it will do.«
Thank you Erika Alm, Anna Schyman, Erica Björndotter, Emma Strandberg and Malin Eriksson at NYKS, for incredibly fun project group meetings and photo discussions. Thank you Ponsse, for saying yes to everything and giving us free hands. And a warm thank you to all the participants in the calendar, for the great conversations and for allowing me to intern with you (and your dogs).
Do women and men bathe in hot tubs differently? Why is Dad not needed on the family photo? What is the Estonian equivalent of a Swedish Local Newspaper Disappointment™? And is it possible for an image to undermine a thousand words? These are some of the questions I had to sort out when the Estonian independent feminist publication Feministeerium invited me to review Estonian news magazines. Click here or on the image below to read the results.
When the City of Gävle and I released our guide book and photo exhibition about gender-aware and inclusive communication in Swedish in 2016 we chose the name Images that change the world. Despite the ambitious delimitation “the world” I don’t think we ever actually thought that the project would leave Swedish borders.
Now the photo exhibition exists in a revised, updated form translated to Russian, Chinese, Spanish, English, German, Croatian, Latvian and Italian, and has with the help of the Swedish Institute and Swedish embassies around the world been shown (so far) in Shanghai, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Petrozavodsk, Zagreg, Riga, Rome and Mexico City.
Opening at Taikoo Hui Mall in Shanghai. In the thumbnail is the transgender guy Jazz and his little sister Bobbo, who says: ”you’re a boy, and you’re also my big sister.”
If you want to take part of the guide book and photo exhibition in English it’s available in it’s entirety as a toolkit at the Swedish Institute’s resource site SharingSweden.se: Images that change the world.
Here are some workshop images from the world!
Images from workshops and exhibitions in Riga, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Shanghai and Mexico City.
In connection to mine and the Swedish institute’s revision and internationalization of the project a movie was also recorded about my work, for those who want to see me in action portraying a boss (the City of Gävle’s then communications director Johan Adolfsson) posing upside down in various beautiful sofas.
Mini-documentary about my work as the Gender Photographer produced by the Swedish Institute.
After working on a couple of photo projects that have taken me years to complete (Images That Change the World, Who Are They?), in January this year I was given the refreshing task of taking all the photos for a photo exhibition in one day.
”Youth. Identity. Diversity.” is a photo exhibition consisting of my pictures of 19 young people from the southern Norwegian city of Kristiansand, taken at a school photography pace on January 17 at the Kristiansand public library, and interviews with the youth about their thoughts on norms, ideals and prejudices tied to gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity.
So far it is unclear if the exhibition will get border-crossing legs, so I thought I would publish some of the pictures here.
The exhibition is a collaboration between Kristiansand public library, Skeiv Ungdom, Senter for likestilling and me.
Victor and Håkon
When Victor and Håkon entered the art hall, I thought: these sporty, popular guys probably won’t want to take too non-macho pictures.
I was completely wrong. Victor and Håkon was enthusiastic about the 19th century photos I showed during my workshops of men who, at that time, had an untroubled relationship with physical proximity and to expressing their love for their friends in pictures (I wrote about it in my blog post Men’s thighs were more used before). I don’t think I could be more satisfied with the result in the photo above, which I think has zero distancing backslapping-vibe.
In itself a bit of “masculine” behavior by Victor and Håkon; how competitively they tried to outdo their 19th century BFF soulmates … in cuteness!
A #womanspread by Line. Inspo for you who will take a seat in public transport or a TV sofa soon.
“I don’t like to smile in the picture,” Motaz said in his interview. That’s why we screened away a whole bunch of pictures where Motaz laughed and smiled at the picture. But this corner of the mouth-smile passed!
Izabella and Amalie
Izabella and Amalie had their posing idea ready when entering the room. Convenient when others do your job for you!
Abdallah, Hussein och Waad
I took a lot of pictures of Abdallah, Hussein and Waad as they stood and looked like this and looked into the camera, but I thought this – when they didn’t – became the most intimate. When they focus completely on each other.
Henrik. Sophisticated and overdressed. I like the combination of the ‘come at me bro’ pose, which, according to Henrik, was ironic, and the semicolon tattoo.
Teodor, Neisse and Nada
This gang. Theodor, Neisse and Nada. Came in and owned the Art Hall. I almost too many good pictures of them. It was hard not to capture their infectious energy and fantastic charisma.
The hands in my pockets were my idea. Nelle’s confident look came with her into the room.
Camilla and Tine / Victoria
Camilla and Tine – demonstrating that no stoneface is needed to radiate authority. And Victoria – who demonstrates that a stoneface always works.
Hanna, who is non-binary. With the upper image we tried to get a masculine expression with the help of movement and lines. I asked them to walk a lap in the room, stop at the same spot and say “GO AWAY” to the camera. A simple trick for a masculine, cheeky look.
The lower picture was actually also thought of as a masculine pose first. Hanna had to pull her hand through the hair reminiscent of a sulky James Dean. But just in this frame I happened to capture Hanna’s hand as it left their hair, and got this softer and gender–norm/body language-wise more ambiguous and interesting image, which also became one of Hanna’s favorites.
For the interview that was done with Aman after the photo shoot, he was asked if he got to pose in any way than he usually doesn’t in photos.
“Yes, I got to sit with my leg up and things like that. Like a boss, right?”
Comfortably sitting with leg folded in the lap like a boss. Warmy smiling with his head tilted to the side, like a boss. (If it happened to be a woman.)
Youth. Identity. Diversity. will be touring in southern Norway (Agder), then the rest of Norway, then maybe in the rest of Scandinavia. The photo exhibition’s itinerary can be followed via Kristiansand Folkebibliotek’s facebook.
Warning: If you have or have had eating disorders this post might be triggering.
I, or rather a forum of wedding photographers, have stumbled upon the gender find of the year. A masterpiece – in gender incompetence.
It’s a manual, with very specific, practical advice for how to re-create every thinkable gender stereotype when you take portraits. A Photographer’s Guide to gender discrimination.
This is what it looks like:
It’s a posing guide, available free via Training Zone – “Sweden’s resource for wedding photographers”. It’s created by wedding and portrait photographer Benny Ottosson, who also holds workshops in the whole of Scandinavia. (I’m sorry Benny, but humanity will gain from this.)
The guide starts with what should be quite sufficient as far as gender fails go:
Separate categories for Posing Women and Posing Men. From here on out it can only come gender fails. It doesn’t matter which brush you use. Now you’re in the corner, shitpants.
But let’s hear. What poses are appropriate and inappropriate respectively for these two genders in particular?
The chapter about Poses For Her consists of nine pages and is divided into headlines for each individual body part: the Head, the Face, the Bedchamber Gaze, Down With the Chin, Open Mouth, Smile or No Smile – That’s the Question, Shoulder and Chest Area, Arms, Hands, Waist and Abdomen, Legs, Hips and Feet.
The chapter about poses for Him is quite thinner. Only three pages.
The headlines in this chapter reads Your Placement of the Camera, the Mans Body Parts, Lean Forward Always Works, His Arms, and Male Poses – Inspiration.
The arms are the only one of the man’s body parts that get their own headline, the rest is clumped together as the Mans Body Parts (to which I’ll get back to).
Shall we see if you notice the common thread in Benny’s recommendations for how to pose women?
Tips about the face:
A face looks wider if it’s directed straight forwards towards the camera. A good rule of thumb is to photograph it at an 45 degree angle.
Tips about the shoulders:
The shoulders should be turned obliquely towards the camera. If the woman is standing straight towards the camera she looks wider. That’s something she most often don’t want to. It also gives a more static and boring composition. On the other hand it can look nice on a thin woman. Experiment.
Tips about the hips:
Try to avoid turning the hips straight towards the camera. Then they look wider. So a little crooked and preferably with the light coming from the side.
Tips about the posture:
The body weight on the back leg. If she then leans lightly forward it means the body will automatically turn a little to the side, which gives a thinner impression.
Tips about the arms:
The arms should be held out from the body. Then you can see the waist and she looks thinner. If the arms just hang along the side of the body without that gap, the body looks compact and big.
Tips about the waist and belly:
It’s important as I’ve said before, to separate the waist and arms to look thinner. If the woman sits it’s very important that she archs her back to not collapse and risk that the belly looks bigger.
Tips about the legs:
If the woman isn’t wearing a long dress, and you photograph her in profile, it’s usually good to get a small gap between the legs, for the legs to look thinner.
Tips about leaning:
Often a standing pose works better. I usually ask the woman to arch her hip back and lean slightly forward. This because what’s closest to the camera appears largest.
Tips when walking:
When walking: walk slowly, looks more beautiful and you even look thinner, it’s easier to focus as well.
DO YOU GET IT YET?
Women should be thin.
You should do everything in power, use every mean – angle, light, center of gravity, gaps and bending – to get the absolutely thinnest possible out of the human you have in front of you. If it’s a woman.
TIPS! If a body part can be bent. Bend it.
And as if the thin-mindedness doesn’t run like a theme throughout the whole posing guide, there’s this special chapter:
Here the level of gender incompetence reaches ironic heights.
Here I think us photographers have a lot to gain from thinking. Of course a little round people are aware that they’re round. But with a few tricks you can get them to appear thinner and then they will probably love the photos. The most important thing, in any case, is that we don’t pronounce the big parts, like for example arms.
The most important thing is that we pronounce damaging ideals. That’s what we earn most money on.
And here’s how you photograph a fat person without it becoming awkward:
Hide her a little in the pose with the groom
“Hide” her arms in the pose
She can stand leaning towards for example a door post or tree, and partly stand hidden behind
Hide her behind a tree??
Are you fucking kidding me?
At the same time… This is so revealing. Because none of these tips are really – of course – about weight. But about gender.
And the puzzle piece (there’s only two) falls in place if we look at Benny’s tips for how to photograph men:
Men many times work best to photograph from below. If you photograph from below eye-level it gives a pespective that’s more manly. If one is to be traditional. Men usually wants to appear big and powerful. Yes, such are we. :-)
Men should be big. Want to get bigger. Take up more space. As soon as boys approach puberty, they should get bigger, build muscle. Girls should get smaller, starve, take up less space physically and make body language smaller and shrinking and soft; feminine. Women should take less mental space by restricting the brain’s energy supply (calories) and by putting all the focus on controlling and observing their body, “fixing” everything that is “wrong” – and which this guide to wedding photographers does an excellent job of pointing out.
But making yourself small, thin and totally non-space grabbing isn’t the only criterion you must meet to be a viable woman, right? (Otherwise we would simply have been able to place all women behind trees?)
No, you should also please.
I often think it gives a softer, more romantic impression with the mouth open.
Or rather, it’s perhaps most important to not displease.
Usually it’s better to photograph a woman slightly from abbove. Over eye-level. It gives a softer and more feminine perspective. And it makes the women get better facial features and you avoid for example double chins.
Yeah yeah, enough with the double chins now.
The chin should not be too high, then she can look haughty. If her chin is too low, there is a risk of a double chin.
OKEY, FUCK the double chins and say what you really want to say.
It’s also important to encourage a nervous woman who’s not used to standing in front of the camera. Tell her she is very good and beautiful (which she is, of course). It can also make her shine up.
It’s not only a criterion to please – to be beautiful, part the lips, not look to big, hard or proud, preferably not have any arms – that’s a condition. Of cooooouuurse you are very good and beautiful for me. Otherwise you… aren’t a woman?
Standing a little crooked towards the camera also emphasizes the feminine forms in a nice way.
Tell me, Benny. If the “feminine forms” are so womanly in themselves. Why do we need 38 different adjustments to make the woman look right?
The Man’s Body Parts
Yes, we will not go through all of them :-) Many of the things you should have in mind for not making a woman look bigger, the opposite applies to men.
Yeah. It’s that simple. Manly = not womanly. Womanly = not manly.
This is how gender is constructed. We must see the difference between women and men, we think. And we create that difference, to a large extent, in pictures. Images have the magical quality that through prolonged, constant repetition, they can get certain ideas – for example, stereotypical notions of how women and men are or how they should be to be attractive, normal and comprehensible women and men – to be cemented and felt “natural”. All pictures are really posing guides. Or to quote Judith Butler: “gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original“.
Usually the posing guides around us aren’t provided with extremely revealing, detailed text about exactly how that construction happens.
For that, Benny, I thank you. This will come in handy.
And to be fair: You are not the only one who follows a bunch of old rules for which origin you cannot place.
Avoid making your arms look “amputated”. “Avoid cutting at the joints” there was an old rule that said.
Finally, some advice for how to pose opposite sex couples and make them look natural and relaxed:
The Kissing Game (stand opposite each other, they can’t move their legs, he should try to kiss her and she should try to avoid it)
A little rape culture on top of everything, also. Romantic.
One last tips from me and Benny in dialogue:
OK, you have placed the woman, but where should you and the camera be?
This post was originally posted 20 October 2014, in Swedish. The covered free posing guide for wedding photographers has since been discontinued.