Photographer Alana Paterson on why it’s so important to shine a strong light on female athletes.
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In Alana Paterson’s photographs of young basketball players, swimmers and hockey players, athletes often stare back at the camera steadily, even defiantly. When Paterson cites a study of 2014 sports coverage, she may be explaining the reason why: out of about 35,000 hours of sports programming, only four percent exclusively featured women’s sports. Beginning with a project shooting young women in hockey, Paterson has worked with female athletes across many sports – she’s photographed the first women’s team in any sport to come out of Tibet, she’s worked with the women’s basketball team from Squamish Nation and now, she’s shooting with Emily Overholt, Erika Seltenreich-Hodgson and Haley Black from the Canadian swim team.
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My girls. My name is Alana Paterson and I am a photographer I wrote if this works… and then I wrote questionable because I don't think it does. My project on women in sports has become sort of multi-tiered. It started with a single project on women's hockey. I was invited to shoot with an all Indigenous girls basketball team by this sports coordinator at Squamish Nation. She was really just looking for a way to keep her team engaged. Having a photographer come down and sort of show them back of themselves as athletes would be a great way to do that. As I was shooting with them there was such obvious benefits to the girls. Younger players would show up and watching their confidence grow from the first couple practices to half a year in was it was astronomical. What we know is that girls react really positively to images of their mentors. So if you can show a girl on a regular basis images of a female athlete like her doing what she wants to do she has an incredibly good reaction to that. Boys have the same reaction, but it's just taken for granted because they always have access to their heroes and mentors. It's always it's everywhere. It has a benefit for anybody but girls just don't receive that benefit enough. I chose to shoot with a direct flash on a film because I wanted to mirror 80s and 90s sports imagery. I wanted people to think about classic sports imagery and how there is was a direct lack of female representation. This was the first type of flash I used when I was shooting with the women's hockey. And I've busted so many they're super old school, but they flash like really poppy, really strong. I like them, but I can't shoot with them anymore. It's too slow because they take a long time to reload and stuff. But, this was the beginning. Shooting film brings a very different intention to a project. People read it differently people, people think about it more…. Historically more seriously, they reference the past. In the photography industry we have this thing when you're shooting digital it's called spray-and-pray. If you take enough photos there's gonna be a good one, but you cannot do that on film that's just not feasible. You have to be very intentional, you have to make your choices. Camera's getting wet today, for sure. The latest project I've shot on women in sports is on Canada's swimming team. I always think it's really important to show portraits which I love and which people really connect with but I always want to also show them actually doing their sport because that's what they work so hard towards that is their thing. I always want to make sure I have action stuff — But it was a bit…It's always gonna be difficult in a pool. You only have the one line you can follow them. So I knew whatever athlete was in the one closest to the wall, that was going to be the one I got to work with the most. I really like the direction of the project. I'm really happy with it. But it definitely is sort of a beginning point having just shot with them once. I think aesthetically it works really great. The water it looks so awesome and the girls — they're incredible athletes. They're like those are the Olympic athletes. So you know, they're at the pool twice a day six days a week — it's incredible and it shows in their dedication, in their athleticism, in their relationship with the camera, in their confidence. They are like are the pinnacle of a female athlete. They blew my mind. Ready? Good. I asked to have the sort of you know, really impromptu quick portrait session after the practice because I wanted them to have gotten into that space where they've been engaged in their sport. You know they may be a little bit tired, but they they have the the presence of an athlete after they've worked really hard. Okay, thank you! That was beautiful. The portraits that I select are often confrontational they're looking at the camera, I mean, "Hey, I'm here! I've been here this whole time playing my sport that I love that nobody supports. I've been here the whole time and you're looking at me now, and I'm a little bit pissed." Those are the images that kind of speak to me and show their essence as female athletes. You know, sometimes I walk into a room and I'll see a person and I'll know immediately how they're gonna behave in front of a camera and it's like it's just sort of it's almost an innocence. They stand in front of the camera and they just don't put a mask on like it's just this is this is it this is all I have to show you. This is the deal. This is it. Because the camera creates a lot of walls for people. It's a very very strong tool that people react to It is a barrier for people but there's just a certain type of person they stand in front of the camera and and they're just – they're just there. I see them standing there and I know that I have to take their photo if they'll let me if they'll have me. I don't think I've ever been wrong about that one.