Do Better Than a Non-Apology, Canon
The creatives industry is in uproar. A few days ago, Canon Philippines uploaded its sausage fest of a lineup for its Canon Brand Ambassadors 2021. The lack of female photographers in the lineup was a disgrace for a brand that supposedly boasts diversity and inclusion. The mansplaining that followed from a few in defense of Canon was just as mind-boggling. And then there was the public statement that reeked of aversion to accountability.
The 114-word statement never once said, “we apologize,” “we acknowledge,” or “we understand,” and that told us much more than the flowery prose of this non-apology. The condescending phrasing of this sentence—”Members are evaluated through their professional expertise and consistent brand support”—was wholly unnecessary to boot. It doesn’t take a writer or an English major to understand what was left unsaid: None of the female photographers made the cut.
That argument was made by one ambassador who said, “let photography speak” instead of appealing to younger demographics who have not yet “proven themselves.” He went on to criticize color grading and compositions, but that’s an argument on the evolution of art that we won’t get into.
However, the point here is that it’s not a competition where this argument can be used—it’s an ambassadorship, which in the very sense of the word, requires representation as its most basic function. And last we checked, Canon users are not made up of only men.
The only attempt at diversity and inclusion in the campaign was the different categories the all-male lineup fell into. There are ambassadors for everything from filmmaking and photojournalism to fine art and fashion. If they can create diversity in the categories, was it so hard to consider it when choosing the ambassadors?
The misogyny is strong here, and you’d have to be blind not to see it. Perhaps it was not blatantly intended, but the subtle insinuation that female photographers weren’t worthy speaks of the underlying machismo culture that continues to prevail in the creative industry. On a personal level, I’ve known female photographers who’ve opted to leave the industry than remain and deal in its toxic masculinity. In photojournalism, female photographers are relegated to the sidelines, forced to fight twice as hard to be respected in a largely all-male environment. One highly respected and talented female photographer, Hannah Reyes Morales, publicly talked about dealing with uncomfortable talks about gang bangs, her sexual orientation, and even her libido, while she was in the news circuit. It’s just one of the many scenarios women have to deal with in this industry, so yes, representation matters. And we’re honestly dismayed to even have to point this out.
The attempt to “make up” for the disastrous campaign only made it worse when texts were sent to female photographers for an alleged new campaign titled, “Canon Professional Lady Shooters,” which is all sorts of wrong. Again, on a personal note, I don't think we should ever use the phrase “lady” anything, because this isn’t Bridgerton and it's a little patronizing. Aside from the slightly offending campaign title, there was a disclaimer that the new campaign would have no monetary deal, and instead of their portfolios, “lady shooters” were asked to send just their profile photos.
One ambassador has since stepped down after this entire debacle. Jilson Tiu, a photojournalist who we’ve often worked with here at Esquire, recently posted a statement that he was dropping his ambassadorship with Canon Philippines, explaining that, “I don’t want to be an ambassador to a brand that doesn’t align with my principles.”
Canon as a whole prides itself for its core value of “kyosei,” or simply put, cooperation, which contradicts the unintended message this campaign is putting out. We have no hate toward any of the talented photographers in the lineup, all of whom have a portfolio worthy to contend with the best. It’s the thought that went behind it all that we take issue with, and how it was conceived that this would be a good way to represent the brand, and by extension, the industry.
The fact of the matter is, Canon is used by many, but perhaps loved by less now. And to avoid lumping this in with the other victims of the equally toxic cancel culture, we can only hope that the company does better next time. The industry needs to change from the inside out, starting with enlightening the minds of the old guard, the gatekeepers, and the people and brands with influence.
With an ambassadorship like this, we wonder, what exactly are these ambassadors supposed to represent?