Amy Scott (they/them) is an advertising photographer based in Houston, TX specializing in food, lifestyle and agricultural storytelling. Queer the Lens is their brainchild.
Join the APA Diversity Committee March 21st as we welcome the creator of the recent Queer The Lens survey, Amy Scott to moderate a conversation highlighting the work and perspectives of photographers from the LGBTQIA+ community. In this 60min SCOPE episode, we’ll explore experiences around queer inclusion in the photo industry, how far we’ve come and where we need to go. Register here.
Can you tell us about your background?
I didn’t go to school for photography and came to this profession as a 3rd or 4th career! I majored in Global Studies in college and afterwards worked in social services- managing a food pantry in Pasadena, CA before I decided I wanted to learn how to grow food. I moved to Northern California to work on a small-scale farm and got hooked for the next 7 years- later managing a 25-acre farm in central New Jersey. Then, I moved to Houston, TX and began to pursue my photography career in earnest- I had done some photography work for friends over the years but finally left farming and committed to starting my commercial/advertising photography business about 6 years ago. It’s been a wild ride! Each type of work I’ve done has helped me better understand myself and the world around me, and I think that my experiences give me a unique perspective on storytelling in food and agriculture.
What experiences have you had in the photo industry that inspired you to create this survey?
When I started my photography business in Houston, I didn’t know of a single “out” photographer in the city. When I didn’t see anyone like me in the business, and didn’t hear anyone talking about queer folks, it didn’t feel safe to put myself out there, on the off-chance it just gave people one more reason not to call me. Trying to get assisting jobs, I had been told I wouldn’t get hired because I wasn’t a man by a few folks, and that made it clear that I was already at a disadvantage.
I wrestled with the decision to be “out” as a photographer for years. When I finally made the decision, it was because I decided I had a responsibility to show up for the other queer photographers to make it easier for others. For so long I was navel-gazing and trying to figure out how to be myself in our industry, and now that I feel comfortable in who I am and being out, I want to support the rest of the community in their process, whoever they are, wherever they are in their process.
I had the idea for the survey because I can only know what I want from my queer community- but I can’t have any idea what other folks’ needs are. It seemed logical that the next step would be to connect with the wider LGBTQIA+ community and figure out what it is they need before we make any assumptions. If we get the results back and the community says “we’re fine!” well, I’ll be pleased as punch. But I’m assuming that there are some areas that we can work on as an industry.
What does the term "queer" mean to you?
Queer has so many definitions, but to me- it is the fearlessness to claim all of who I am, despite potential rejection from others. Sure, it often has to do with difference, with sexuality, with gender, but at its very root it is choosing to love myself fully because I believe that this act changes me and the world around me. Queerness is radical honesty that gives others the freedom to be honest too.
What is your opinion of the use of the word "queer" and do you feel it is a suitable replacement for LGTBQIA+?
Not all people who are in the LGBTQIA+ community connect with the term queer, so I recognize it isn’t perfect, but for me it is a beautiful stand-in, that can be as inclusive as we dare to make it.
How did your own understanding of the term "queer" change or evolve while working on this survey?
Working on this survey has challenged me to inquire into my own biases. As a white, genderqueer AFAB (assigned female at birth) person married to a cis-gender man, I can’t assume that my experience of queerness is the same as anyone else’s and I have and continue to need to practice deep listening and collaborative leadership including people with a variety of experiences so that I’m not centering my experience above others. If anything, I am grateful for this experience because it is teaching me to a better ally for the broader queer community, humbling me, and teaching me how to advocate for others in our community who have far more obstacles in their way than I have.
In what ways do you feel photography, as a medium is an important outlet for queer culture?
I think that photography is an essential outlet for all cultures. Like other visual art forms, it gives us the tools to represent ourselves and how we see and experience the world. I think that some people assume that queer creativity only looks like portraits of queer people or that it exclusively focuses on bold sexual or gender statements, but I think it’s important for people to understand that every queer person is an individual, and our work is all wildly different. Queer creators show themselves, and their view of the world through every possible type of imagery, whether that is portraiture, architectural, still life, lifestyle, sports, celebrity, documentary or any other style of photography.
What are your goals with the survey and how do you feel this information can be utilized to better the photo industry?
We will use the data that we collect to help us approach the industry and say, “this is how we need to do better.” We ask questions about what type of support people have access to, what needs that are and aren’t getting met, among other things.
Up until now, without data that says otherwise, it seems like everyone can assume that things are going just fine. But from our initial responses it looks like things are not all peachy, and we need change to be more inclusive and supportive to LGBTQIA people in the industry.
While I’m not sure exactly how it will look, Queer the Lens may become something of an industry educator, sharing what we learn with professional organizations, directory sites, agencies, and brands about the changes that need to take place to make our industry safer, more inclusive, and actively supportive of queer creatives.
In 5 years, we want there to be profound inclusion and support of LGBTQIA+ creators. We would love to see pronouns on every call sheet and hiring practices that actively consider the importance of building diverse teams. We want the conversations we have today to have a hugely positive impact on the career trajectories of the young queer photographers who are just entering the profession now.
Is there anything else you'd like to share in the interest of promoting participation in the survey or uplifting queer creatives?
We want Queer the Lens to be a catalyst for the change that we need to see in our industry. Whether it is through creating a space where LGBTQIA+ people in our industry can connect and voice their needs, or through educating industry players on changes we need to make together. We want our survey to just be the beginning of a conversation that sparks reflection and change that makes the creative process better for everyone on set.