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One Model, Two Photographers: Gender Debate or Just Artisitic Differences

This past summer I dove deep into an article on the long time debate: does a photographer's gender alter the way in which he or she photographs a subject. Is there really a difference in how one gender sees the final image, or is it just artistic preference? Two artists decided to test this theory during a creative shootout to see if all the variables stayed the same, would the image turn out differently. Does the gender of the photographer really influence the final image, or simply the approach in which is taken during the shoot?

In a loft studio located in Redbank NJ, two artists, Cate Scaglione and Neil van Niekerk, were discussing the power behind such claims of gender specific imagery. How would the outcomes look from different perspectives and approaches if factors stayed the same such as model, location and the wardrobe?

"We were talking about the gender debate always surfacing in boudoir, specifically to when it comes to shooting women. While we are both of the belief that being a great boudoir photographer is not assigned to a specific gender, we did wonder how it feels to reverse the situation and see what happens when It is a man being photographed," wrote Scaglione, Owner of Life As Fine Art. She feels gender differences do in fact play a role in how we interact or how we see the subject through our own eyes. Scaglione wrote that she shot Nick Matthews, male model and actor, more subjectively in a way a lover might see him intimately, whereas van Niekerk shot the way an objective viewer might look at him.

"My take on this is that there is such a diverse range in styles and skill levels, that it would be impossible to make any clear grouping on styles depending on the photographer’s gender. Cate believes this does have an influence. And from that, the idea for this shoot originated," wrote van Niekerk. On his blog post, Tangents, he wrote more about the technical side of his approach.

With Nick going shirtless, the soft flattering light we had with the large light source of the bounce flash, would not have shown his physique to the best. Therefore I went with one of my go-to light modifiers when working in the studio – the massive Profoto RFi 1’×6’ softbox, with that egg-crate grid on it.

In the video you can hear how each photographer directs Matthews during their progression and flow of poses. Scaglione works more in the emotional aspect of the facial expressions, whereas van Niekerk tackles the technical side of lighting the physique. Each of course have their own artistic styles, but is it driven by gender or purely by taste?

It is impossible to state that only women are more drawn to the emotion and story behind photography, because there are plenty of men driven by this same style. While it is said that more men are stereotypically action-centered and technical in their approach, the same can be said about countess female artists as well. For each accusation about gender specific styles, you will always find a photographer who will de-myth this theory. As a scientist, the debate could stem also from the slight difference in the variables such as strobe versus natural light, or not being confined to only one particle shooting space as the bed. However this is a common topic among photographers and writers so the fun and lighthearted approach by these two artists was a creative way to test these theories. Scaglione had a final thought on the matter when she wrote

Our outcomes and interactions with the client were so different, but we concluded it's not a gender based exercise at all. It is a stylistic, interpersonal, and experiential one. The client was thrilled with the results from each, even though he recognized they were vastly different. This wasn't a contest but rather an experiment and we had a blast doing it.

The Perspectives


Image Courtesy of Cate Scaglione
Image Courtesy of Cate Scaglione
Image Courtesy of Cate Scaglione

van Niekerk

Image Courtesy of Niel van Niekerk
Image Courtesy of Niel van Niekerk
Image Courtesy of Niel van Niekerk

Video credit to documentary videographer Erik Colonese.

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Tyler B's picture

I think this is a great discussion and one that I have constantly with my peers. I shoot both male and female (and They). I try and maintain a style, but it will flex quite a bit.

While on the subject of FLEX though, I find it really interesting is this article brings to memory "Why You May Not Be A Boudoir Photographer Even Though You Think You Are
By Nino Batista"

The subject model and after effects are reallly riding that line between what "Glam" is for the male form in Neils where the emotional aspect seems to be more aparent and thus more intimate in Cate's images.

Lenn Long's picture

Great concept. To be fair I think both photographers should have shot at a consistent time of day so that all things would have been equal as far as the opportunity to use available light vs strobe. Also seems to be more post production in Cate's shots than in Niel's. It took me a second to figure out that was a softbox still in the shot on the last image. Obviously that could be removed/cloned out in post easily if it was meant to be removed.

Jennifer Tallerico's picture

That was a pull back to help show how he was shooting ( it accompanied the video)

Andy Shrestha's picture

100% agree. her images are great. if had shot either in natural light or strobe...

Cate Scaglione's picture

Hi Len, it's a great point. However, having the client on a movie filming break for one day only .... and knowing that Neil shoots with strobes majority of the time I decided to give him a nighttime slot in my studio because I knew there was little chance he'd be using available light. Even if it was available to him! He does love those Profoto B1s! Thanks for participating in the discussion, friend.

Anonymous's picture

"Our outcomes and interactions with the client were so different, but we concluded it's not a gender based exercise at all."
Maybe I missed it but how did they come to that conclusion?
I read a lot of novels and definitely notice a difference between male and female authors treating any subject. I don't think it's carved in stone or exceptions don't exist but it's there.

stir photos's picture

Absolutely, just ask James Ellroy.

Cate Scaglione's picture

Hi. Thanks for the follow up comment... maybe I misstated myself in an attempt to be succinct. To be honest, the conversation started over "does it make a difference how man vs. woman photographs dudoir". However when a real assignment came in with real outputs needed by the actor's agent , we really let that gender debate play less of a role ....and functioned more our own experience. The game shifted.

This said, I would say I absolutely I had a more "feminine" approach in how I coached him the shoot. My goal is always to capture emotion (which is non gender specific) but the way a woman may interact could differ from a man. In any rate, I appreciate your perspective and participation in this discussion. 😊

Anonymous's picture

When I travel to other countries, it makes me sad to see a McDonald's or hear perfect English. The differences make life more interesting and give me the opportunity to see the world in ways that would never occur to me. In the same way, the world would be a poorer place if men and women brought the same things to the table and took away the same impressions.

Andy Shrestha's picture

She wins. :D She is really good with posing which is much needed.

Cate Scaglione's picture

I appreciate the compliment. My goal was to pose him the way a lover (female or male nondescript) would like to see him intimately. This was my intention for casting roles. Thanks for the kind words ...but honestly we had no intention of contest .

Percy Ortiz's picture

I would've love to see their approach when presented with a specific brief and see how both tackle it from different perspectives... for the record i found his images a bit boring really. Almost predictable.

Cate Scaglione's picture

Hi Percy, I was given a specific brief by the actor's agency requesting a variety of poses, wardrobe types and "roles" to convey (example... young corrupt executive).

We took the list and split the two dozen descriptions for headshot purposes (perhaps another post!)

However, for the intimate or body study shots, that's where Neil and I focused this video. I would say Neil dominated figure study whereas maybe I captured who nick is in his expression perhaps

In any rate, thank you for your comment and respectful participation. 😊

Percy Ortiz's picture

Ok. Now i understad a bit more. By just watching the video it seemed to me you both were just given the indication that the talent needed images for his portfolio and you focused more on the "actor" side and Neil focused more on the "model" side of his career. If he came to me for headshot and portfolio for his Model book I would've approached like Neil did but if he came and said to me he wanted headshot and portfolio images for his Actor book I would've taken your approach.

To me not so much a "gender" approach or issue but more of a "what do you need the photos to say" issue if you know what i mean... and I do still think your images were more engaging and interesting :) Tnx for taking the time to reply Cate :)

Studio 403's picture

Gender what!!! a debate, please, give me a gender break. Eat some ginger not gender. Gee folks, its a red herring. Let do wonderful work, regardless of gender. I must say, good move of this business to wedge in the gender stuff, bet they got some good business from this ploy...well done....Why did I not know think of this????? Ken

Cate Scaglione's picture

Hi, definitely not a ploy. It started as a discussion over dinner about "dudoir" and I asked Neil if he'd shoot it. Our gender debate quickly shifted to a more "experience is individual" approach when the assignment came up. I love the debate and observations in fstoppers... so thanks for reading and commenting Ken. No red herring intended. But client does look red hot, yes? ;)

Studio 403's picture

Well said, I acquiescence

stir photos's picture

A little off topic and definitely not jumping into any debates or opinions, but...

I met Neil Van Niekerk at WPPi. He was funny (at times damn funny) and I liked his straight forward approach to speaking and photography.

Susan Brown's picture

I have a different opinion of him. I paid to attend his workshop at WPPI last year. He talked down to the attendees as though everyone was a first year photographer. I learned absolutely nothing from his workshop. He is very old school, don't see him doing anything innovative.

Kim Smith's picture

Thus the phallic t shirt reveal at the end. Thanks. You just confirmed my instincts.

Cate Scaglione's picture

I agree with David. Neil is a master of lighting methods, has several well-authored books and is regarded as a respected educator overall. On a personal level, he is a helpful and kind collaborator with many of us.

I'm sorry this wasn't your experience. The good news is wppi has lots of teachers to suit our individuality. "A lid for every pot".

Robert Price's picture

While the gender of a given photographer may come into play, i dont think that it would be a major factor in how a shoot is developed. With out knowing who took what photos, i would not be able to say what the gender of the photographers are. What i do see is different approaches to photographing a subject based on the preferred style of shooting and equipment selection of the respective photographers. Now we could go out on a limb and say that there very well may be a gender difference in personal and mental approach, but then we would need a larger cross section of photographers to make a more scientific study on that. As well we would need to set a criteria on what is man centric and female centric when it comes to "art" While i appreciate the effort that went into this project, the inherent value of the gender issue is mute, only because we know the gender of each photographer as it has unfolded before us.

jon snow's picture

Seems to me that Niel has a bit of overkill on pushing that shutter. How many pics in one session 1000+

Kim Smith's picture

Without being dogmatic, I feel gender definitely influenced the shots, the male photographer revealing his phallic t shirt at the end says alot. My take away was male ideal self image influenced the male tog. Maybe it's just personal taste or perhaps gender influences again, but i much prefer the female's shots. They're intimate and playful, inviting. whereas the other looks more like glam male posturing and self absorbtion/indulgence. Perhaps it's better as a fitness shoot rather than boudoir. Just my two cents. Im sure i have change coming. Btw, Ways of Seeing is a fascinating book. Thanks for this article. extremely interseting

Brad Barton's picture

I think for a true test of gender bias, you should both have

A) shot in similar times of day/conditions
B) each shot both a male and female subject

Valent Lau's picture

Interesting how styles differ for sure. When given a blank slate each person will inject their own style. However I wonder what it would be like if both were given the same detailed brief? If the brief included details on who/what/why/audience, would the difference still be so large?