Women predominate in paintings of people reading. This reflects reading as a gendered activity: women read more than men, though whether this has always been consistently the case is unclear. The choice of women as subjects historically is not surprising when the majority of artists were men. Moreover, men were much more likely to be the buyers of paintings and would to be attracted by the female figures. In posed, painted pictures women are the chosen subject, they dominate through the constructed nature of the art form and in doing so may distort the picture of who reads.
What of photography? Leaving aside posed portraiture, Informal documentary and street photography catching a moment of reality may not show the same gender bias. In On Reading by Andre Kertesz, 54% of the subjects are men or boys. In my Take a Seat – Take a Moment book, the bias is in favour of women, but not by a wide margin; 36% of the female subjects are reading compared with 31% of males. These small samples hardly provide conclusive evidence, but it’s reasonable to hypothesise that photography, as a democratic medium, reflects more closely who reads.