Bell Collective is a community of professional photographers and explorers who are willing to change the stereotypes surrounding female travel and creative choices.
For centuries exploration and adventure were associated with men. Even far into the 20th century, women were stereotypically cast as “domestic” while men were portrayed as discoverers, living the exciting life of adventure. Nowadays, more and more women choose a career, which doesn’t fit the stereotype, but many of them are punished for it with skepticism, mockery or condescension.
A nod to the pioneers
Throughout centuries women didn’t have the privilege of being world-explorers, adventurers, and professionals in almost any field. There were a few exceptions, but surviving as a woman in the world which belonged entirely to men was not an easy task. Freya Stark, Isabella Bird or Gertrude Bell—to whom the Bell Collective references in its name, were pioneers of female exploration, but suffered discrimination and condescendence from male peers just because they were women.
That started slowly changing in the second half of the 20th century, but even nowadays women are far from the ideal gender equality they deserve. Women photographed war, like Lee Miller, went to space like Valentina Tereshkova and climbed Everest like Junko Tabei, but the general stereotype women are still facing each day on social and mainstream media stays the same—they are either homebound housewives or pretty models, posing for their Instagram boyfriend on an edge of a pool. Nothing wrong with being domestic or enjoying a relaxed holiday, but this should not be the only representation of women out there.
Changing the female stereotype
Bell Collective has the aim to change the stereotype, which female explorers and professional photographers are facing in day to day life as well as online. Alina Rudya, who came up with the idea of forming a collective explains: “I’ve never thought of myself as a “woman-photographer.” I was and always will be a photographer, who happened to be a woman.
For many years I tried to ignore the fact, that women are treated differently in the industry. I’ve ignored constant mansplaining stereotypes surrounding female artists and travelers. I thought I was above them. But after meeting more and more like-minded women, I realized that if we don’t raise awareness to the problem, we won’t change these stereotypes: that women prefer to sit home, rather than go out; that they prefer to be photographed than taking pictures themselves; that they are not as adventurous, technically knowledgeable or simply capable of carrying heavy gear as men.”
Iceland, the perfect starting point
The Bell Collective chose Iceland for their first trip not by accident: this tiny Nordic country of only 330K inhabitants continues to top the list of best countries to be a working woman as well as topped the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index for the past seven years in a row. Moreover, Iceland was also the first country in the whole world to elect a female president—Vigdis Finnbogadottir, who became a state leader in 1980.
The idea which Asa Steinars, Sarah Pour, Saskia Bauermeister, Holly-Marie Cato and Alina Rudya had before planning their trip was not to “prove” that they are better or as capable as their male counterparts. “The idea was to challenge ourselves, first of all, as well as inspire other women and girls to follow in our footsteps, dream outside the box they are put in by the society, explore career choices their mothers and grandmothers didn’t have, and not get discouraged by other’s negative comments or expectations.”
Iceland proved to be a perfect starting point for the collective—beautiful landscapes, harsh and challenging weather, awe-inspiring moments and a great company to begin with. The Bell Collective also managed to meet with female pilots of WOW air who shared their story of breaking the stereotypes in the predominantly male world of aviation.
Women are underrepresented in most professions. The ignorant explanations that women are not capable of, or not interested in being a pilot, a politician or an IT-expert, doesn’t hold credit in most cases. The main problem is that most girls since a young age are not encouraged enough to even start dreaming of succeeding in roles which are traditionally connected to men. The stereotypical division of female and male roles and preference starts in kindergarten (barbies vs. cars, pink vs. blue, princess vs. astronaut) and follows all the way into the adult life. It has to be changed—and visual storytelling and social media play an important role in it. That’s why the collective chose Instagram as their main platform. Check out the Bell Collective on their Instagram account: instagram.com/bellcollective.
You can also check out each photographer’s profile on their individual Instagram accounts:
Photos: Courtesy of the members of @bellcollective
Header photo: Asa Steinarsdottir/@asasteinars