Canon Under Fire for All-Male Brand Ambassador List

The campaign in the Philippines prompted demands to rethink what one critic called a “sausage fest.”
July 20, 2021, 11:19am
canon camera
The Canon logo is seen Jan. 8, 2020 at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. PHOTO: Robyn Beck / AFP

One of the world’s most recognizable camera makers is under fire after unveiling a list of brand ambassadors in the Philippines that featured only men, prompting calls for more diversity to change the status quo.

Canon, which is based in Japan but has operations all over the world, unveiled the list for its Philippine division last week, highlighting the profiles of photographers working in the advertising, wedding and fashion industries or as photojournalists, among other fields.

But anger spread on social media in the country as it became evident that the group of mostly local photographers included only men.

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Non-binary photographer Pau Villanueva told VICE World News that the campaign was a reminder of male-dominated norms and how “women and non-binary photographers are not given enough opportunities and have no place in the industry.”

“Canon as a brand has a huge influence and impact, but I think they did not use their influence the right way. It affects the industry, especially the photographers who are just starting out,” Villanueva said.

Filipina music photographer Niña Sandejas told VICE World News that giving women more representation will positively impact their work and job security.

“There has always been a stigma that hiring women is a disadvantage because of stereotypes built by the old school macho society Filipinos have been accustomed to,” she said.

“Giving women representation to work in these conditions can create a ripple effect elsewhere, making our presence a norm in places where we feel unsafe, that we can walk into it with a sense of security and be able to show our unique perspective and just worry about making great work.”

“There has always been a stigma that hiring women is a disadvantage because of stereotypes built by the old school macho society Filipinos have been accustomed to.”

It was not immediately clear what benefits come with the brand ambassadorship. But a local photojournalist said similar partnerships usually involve an honorarium and equipment loan in exchange for presentations or advertising benefits for camera makers.

The backlash started on July 14, when Canon Philippines first published the portraits of the 11 male brand ambassadors. It has only escalated since then, moving beyond the tight-knit world of professional photographers.

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On Tuesday, Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach used her Instagram account where 12 million people follow her to call out the lack of inclusivity in the lineup.

“No hate to the chosen ambassadors but why is there no room for inclusivity? How were the ambassadors chosen? Based on what? Not hating on the ambassadors but the marketing team should fix this asap,” she said in a comment under Canon’s Instagram post. 

“I’m sure (and hope) not all of them agree with this kind of narrative,” she added.

In a viral Facebook post, Ezra Acayan, an award-winning photojournalist in the Philippines who works with Getty Images, said he respected those who were appointed but called Canon’s lineup a “sausage fest.”

He also posted a screenshot of a supposed callout from a Canon representative for “lady shooters” that was widely shared on social media in what appeared to be an attempt at damage control. Acayan said it was shared with him by a woman photographer who had been invited to join the new group.

“Canon is a top camera brand and their response was really disappointing,” Acayan told VICE World News. “They were scrambling to come up with a list of ‘lady shooters.’ It is so insensitive, and they show that they don’t really take diversity seriously.” 

“They should really listen and think about what really happened,” Acayan added. “Their band-aid solution will not work.”

A photographer who was mentioned in the “lady shooters” screenshots declined to comment. 

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Canon Philippines released a statement early Wednesday on its social media accounts saying it “supports camera enthusiasts and content creators regardless of gender, culture, customs, language, or race.”

“Our Brand Ambassadorship is continuously growing and always welcomes more members who are interested and committed. Members are evaluated through their professional expertise and consistent brand support,” it said, highlighting the “valuable feedback.”

Many expressed disappointment in the statement, with some characterizing it as a non-apology apology.

But Edwin Martinez, one of this year’s ambassadors, brushed off the criticisms and said people were jumping to conclusions. 

“And these ‘younger demographics’ clamor for attention and yet they have not proven themselves in this craft, but they become the judges and jurors,” he said in an Instagram post.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect a statement from Canon Philippines.

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