Tamara Penniket is “the only female cameraman in the Press Gallery”
This year, Tamara Penniket was made a permanent full-time employee of the ABC as a camera operator and sound recordist – “the only female cameraman in the Press Gallery”. Tamara works predominately in news and current affairs in the Australia Press Gallery in Parliament House and in the ACT bureau. She has also worked on National Press Club, Australian Story, Four Corners, Landline and Gardening Australia
You were selected as a participant of the Create NSW She Shoots Initiative in 2016, an initiative for existing female industry practitioners in camera and sound. What did you get out of the program?
I was one of eight women selected to participate in the She Shoots Initiative. I thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks of training at AFTRS. It consisted of discussions, technical theory, hands-on use of equipment on set and location, as well as visiting various reality television sets and post-production facilities. Industry professionals in sound recording, cinematography, lighting, directing, producing and editing shared their expertise and experiences, giving insight into how they achieved their best work and how they dealt with the most challenging aspects of their jobs.
Through the initiative I worked as a location sound recordist with FremantleMedia Australia on The-X-Factor for four weeks in a paid internship.
It has been wonderful to stay in contact with the people I met during this initiative. I have spent quite a lot of my career working in regional and remote areas, which can be isolating. It is really important to be a part of a strong network of people to develop with and to celebrate successes and milestones. It is one of the reasons I subsequently pursued work with the ABC in Parliament House in Canberra. I really wanted to work in a large and dynamic newsroom. I have definitely found that here!
Has it helped your career?
Oh, yes. It was a great opportunity. If I walked away with anything, it was increased confidence in my abilities and skills. I walked into the ABC standing on a firmer foundation. I spoke knowledgeably, knowing I could demonstrate my skills. You know, having the confidence to back yourself and step up to do the job gives you credibility. You have to make people believe in you, and trust you. You build a good reputation by consistently delivering the goods.
You are the only woman shooting video and sound recording in the entire Press Gallery. What is it like working there, what are the challenges and what have you learnt?
At the ABC we work as a team. I love having this opportunity to learn from some of the best journalists, producers, camera operators, sound recordists and editors in the business. Dead set, it blows my mind!
The Press Gallery is a unique workplace, and I love it. I thrive on the pressure and challenges of working on national lead stories, breaking news, and live crosses. It requires me to be quick thinking, versatile, organised and to problem solve often on the move. I am also a huge advocate for in-the-public-interest journalism, which covering politics is all about. I have a genuine interest in politics and how it affects people's lives.
From the inside, the Press Gallery is an intensely competitive environment and in equal measure, it is incredibly collaborative. More than I ever thought. All the national television networks have an office and studios within a corridor of this building. As a result, you have to work together, and on occasion, I am literally negotiating pooling arrangements with camera operators from competing networks as politicians are stepping up to the microphone.
As the only woman shooting or sound recording here, I am a rarity. As I understand, I am the first woman in 18-years to have a permanent full-time position as a camera operator and sound recordist within the ABC in Canberra. In the last 30-years across the entire Press Gallery, you could probably count the number of women who have worked as a camera operator, certainly in a permanent full-time capacity, on one hand. I am really pleased that's changing.
Directors, editors, producers, journalists, photographers as titles are all gender neutral. The official title is camera operator but the term 'cameraman' because everyone is used to seeing men do the job, is deeply embedded in the vernacular. I was literately introduced to the Prime Minister as "the only female cameraman in the Press Gallery" by a journalist, which I think is hilarious. It wasn't said on purpose, and the journalist was deeply embarrassed and apologised to me. It is great to be changing perceptions of who can do this role.
What do you see as some of the barriers for women in this line of work?
Camera operators in the Press Gallery talk about working in Europe or the U.S. on international summits or world leaders’ events where they see many women working as camera operators and sound recordists, more than they have ever seen in Australia. A big barrier for women is literately getting paid opportunities to shoot and sound record or assist; to develop skills and a collective body of work to be competitive in the marketplace. I feel incredibly grateful to have this opportunity to work for the ABC in Canberra.
Albeit in years gone by, I know women who have tried, but faced with barriers give up or move into amenable roles within the industry, such as production co-ordinating or being a director’s assistant. The number of women in film school, who aspire to be camera operators, cinematographers and sound recordists but give up once in the industry, is alarming to me. Women and particularly young women, need to know that if they really want to work hard and develop their skills in cinematography and sound recording, we as an industry will support them and provide opportunities for them to work.
This is a competitive industry, if you want to work in it, you have to educate yourself, seek out opportunities and network. Being resilient is vital. But, to strengthen equal opportunity there has to be a resolve, from established technicians to be willing to mentor keen and capable women to achieve the necessary experience to do the job of a high standard to become competitive.
Alongside this, employers and producers also need to take responsible action, and actively create opportunities for women working in these roles. In this way, I appreciate participating in the She Shoots Initiative, along with industry organisations like the ABC, actively identifying female talent and providing opportunities to progress in this industry.
What advice would you offer to other female camera operators/sound recordists wanting to work in the industry?
The key to that is to understand your strengths, know what you are good at, and seek advice and collaborate with others in areas where you are not as skilled or confident. Acquiring knowledge and experience is a process. Be critical of your work, but not too harsh. Women are often toughest on themselves, be kind and value any small or large steps forward you make.
Everyone started somewhere, the difference lies in those that do, and keep doing it, and those that just talk about doing it. Sometimes you have to step backwards to go forwards. Even with industry experience, I went back to university to gain formal qualifications and develop new skills, which opened up new opportunities.
Do your best to immerse yourself with the best people as you progress. If you are keen to learn and work hard, doors will open; embrace those opportunities, big and small. The other vital key is to find people you trust; listen to them and learn fast.
Can you share with us a woman who inspires you in the industry and why?
I am inspired by the life and work of New Zealand camerawoman, Margaret Moth. She was a powerful force, carving her way in a male-dominated environment, first shooting film and then video to reach the very top of her field. She was New Zealand’s first female news camera operator, she started in the 1970s and ended her career working for CNN in world’s hot spots, covering wars, natural disasters and everything in between.
She was most notably shot in the face and severely wounded while working in Sniper Alley in Sarajevo in 1992. With sheer determination and resilience, she recovered to return to work for CNN again in the world’s hot spots. Although I never met her, I have worked with many cameramen who remember her early career and her determination to be the best she could be. Awards are wonderful, but knowing your work has the potential to inform, educate, create change and depending on the event, be archived forever, is a big motivating factor. While most people do not know her name, Margaret Moth’s work will live on.
What are your upcoming projects?
I am preparing to cover my first federal election, which is due at some point in the next 16-months. It is truly the most gruelling event members of Press Gallery endure. It involves traveling around the country following the Prime Minister or Opposition Leader, often going to three cities in one day for weeks on end. You have to cover events as they unfold, do interviews, press conferences, vox pops, live crosses, look lives, and compile and feed footage back to the editors.
While my colleagues say it is exciting and interesting, endurance and keeping a level head while facing technical challenges and stressful datelines are crucial, as well as keeping tabs on equipment at all times. Doing that on and off buses and planes, day in and day out would test anyone’s patience. It is also one of the most competitive environments I am likely to be amongst in this job, with other national networks and photographers, and local crews vying for the same shot.
Covering any federal campaign will be a challenge but I am up for it, I will certainly give it my best shot. In the meantime, I shall continue to develop my skills. Whatever I am doing, I will be forever learning.
Tamara working - Andrew Kennedy