Industry News

Calling All Alpha Females

October 15, 2018

By Rochelle Wilhelms

Photos © Rochelle Wilhelms

With the recent launch of Sony’s new “Be Alpha” Campaign and its “Alpha Female” initiative, related events have been springing up around the country in the past few months, most recently in Brooklyn and San Francisco (with an upcoming event in L.A. in November). Our intrepid reporter, wedding photographer Rochelle Wilhelms, recently found herself in the heart of San Francisco, at Dogpatch Studios, a space jam-packed with models, sets, gear and lots of inspiration.

What do you get when you combine five world-changing female photographers, one mastermind of marketing (who is passionate about diversity and empowering women in the industry) and a global-leading camera manufacturing company willing to back their employees’ ideas? You get the makings of Sony’s Alpha Female creators-in-residence program, promoted through gatherings and events around the country, including this one.

With three floors at Dogpatch Studios available to mingle, photograph and network in, it was a full day of excitement and learning, and guests had access to lots of shiny new gear to rent and test out, including Sony’s latest a7R III and a9 mirrorless cameras. With hourly photo walks, an abundance of models to photograph (including skateboarders and dancers) and even a color smoke-bomb photo shoot, there were photo ops galore for everyone, including the novice photographer in need of building a portfolio to impress. There were also two sets on the main floor and a trampoline equipped with shirtless gymnasts doing aerial stunts, a raised platform with fashion models getting their poses on, and a “Talent To-Go” option, which allowed a photographer and a model a chance to head on out to the street or up to the second or third floors that came equipped with three video walls and an LED light wall. Photographers could then make their way to a printing booth on the third floor where they could customize their own Sony T-shirt or simply opt for the grab-and-go option at a free vending machine.

Of course, this was all just the icing on the cake leading up to the main focus of the day: a call-to-action seeking candidates to apply for mentorship in Sony’s Alpha Female program, with the company’s aim being to create meaningful change and elevate diversity in thought and creation. The Alpha Female initiative features a Creator-in-Residence program which will award $25,000 grants (and an additional $5,000 product allowance and $5,000 in product loans) to five chosen women. Michaela Ion, Head of Content Marketing & Alpha Universe Platform, emphasized that there are not enough female leaders in the photography and videography industry. Her solution? “To create a program where women who have risen to the top can be mentors and help other women who might be stuck, thereby helping to advance their careers and change the industry as a whole. This is about role models—women helping women,” she said.

Surrounded by Sony staff and their “Be Alpha” community members, Ion brought to the stage the program’s all-female mentor team: Cristina Mittermeier, Brooke Shaden, Me Ra Koh, Caroline Jensen, and Sarah France.

Sony Artisan Me Ra Koh, whose career has been built on empowering women, said she cried when she got the email from Ion to be a mentor. “I’ve been working with women for 20 years and I never thought I’d see this kind of change in my time,” she said, then added that she takes the honor of being a mentor very seriously, noting that she wants a better world for her own daughter. “To be able to help another woman professionally break through the barriers of success is an honor of a lifetime’s work.”

“We see the value of community,” chimed in Sarah France, who runs a multi-location wedding and portrait business that employs six women on her team. “I want the five mentees who are selected to see the value of humility and the value of community as well, because the program itself relies on not only the mentors doing their job of helping, but also having the entire community come together.

Mentor Cristina Mittermeier, whose career has taken her all over the world shooting for National Geographic has been everywhere and seen it all. Her images tell a story of both need and awareness. I asked her who she was looking for to mentor through this program—I wanted to know, “What is that woman like?” We talked of people in her past who she has mentored, filmmaker Jenny Nichols in particular. “Mentorship is a two way street,” Mittermeier told me. “They need to be a good storyteller, a good listener. Jenny was that and then some. I want to create the next warrior. Everything I’ve learned, I want to pass along. It’s time to pass it on. Who is going to take the torch and run with it?”

And so the real question becomes: Are you Alpha?

Click here to learn more about how you can join Sony’s Be Alpha community or follow the Alpha Female Program’s journey.