Dennis Walker wanted to do something but didn’t know how.
In the 25 years since he founded Photo Mechanic, the indispensable photo software used all over the world, Walker says he had only one person of color apply for a job with his company Camera Bits. He wants that to change. The company, run only by Walker for many years, now has 14 employees. They are based in Portland, Oregon, with a few employees working remotely elsewhere.
“With all the Black Lives Matter protests after the George Floyd killing, we were trying to think about what we could do, like maybe a statement,” Walker says during a phone interview in early August. “I thought of having metadata fields for gender and race, but how do we do it effectively?”
Walker reached out to an expert voice of diversity in journalism — Kenny Irby, the former director of diversity programs and visual journalism at the Poynter Institute. Irby is now the community intervention and juvenile outreach director for the St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida.
“Kenny suggested we have a conversation about how to approach inclusivity,” Walker says. “He pointed out that it is also about cultures, so having a checkbox with options forces people to make choices and put themselves in a box, which doesn’t help.”
With Irby’s guidance, Walker added “creator identity” in the image rights section of metadata just below “photographer'' and “job title.” Users can fill that in however they want.
“For example, people may change their gender identity,” he says. “I do have some concerns, like a reluctance to use this field, but my hope is maybe if someone declares an identity, it can help hire from a more diverse photographer pool.”
“This tag allows users to self-select their identity, for a researcher or editor to offer context for the photograph, like who took the photo in a certain news situation,” he says. “As a former photo editor, looking at a certain context or classification of pictures, sometimes photos are informed by a certain group of photographers. From a pure journalistic research tool, it makes a lot of sense from a historical perspective to track diversity. There is a benefit for people to understand who is in the field working, and from a metadata standpoint, it’s a no-brainer.”
Walker admits he still had some questions about the actual practicality of the entries, but trusts that the issues will work themselves out via the users.
“We are caught in a limbo between wanting this to be freely self-identifying, but at the same time
somewhat conformal for the goal of data collection and accountability,” he says.
Irby, on the other hand, is more confident to see the new software used by the industry.
“This field authenticates the humanity of the photographer, and that affirmation for people about who they are is important,” Irby says. “With steps like this, Dennis is elevating the consciousness around photojournalism. With this bold step he is taking, it makes him an accomplice for positive impact beyond just wanting to be an ally.”
The new update for Photo Mechanic was released Aug. 26.
Walker wrote a blog post about the software update where he says, “I pledge to help drive this conversation with our contacts in the photojournalism industry.”
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Nic Coury is an independent photojournalist and writer based in Monterey County, California. They can be reached at [email protected]. Website: photographNic.com; Instagram: @photographnic