My artwork is a short video clip consisting of a series of portraits of young women in a private environment and items in that environment, with a recording of a male voice reading a passage from Laura Mulvey’s essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. For this project, I aimed to have the photos be snapshots of my experience of female youth culture as a way of portraying women from the female gaze, as opposed to the male gaze. To achieve this, I tried to keep the photos as candid as possible, for them to be intimate pictures of women “being themselves” in an all-girls environment.
Upon discussion about my work and the photos I had taken, I found the complexities in trying to create a series of photos where the concept of the male gaze is being averted. While seeing the photos and taking the photos as a woman, I felt I had achieved scenes which represented woman in a natural state without being objectified, an audience projecting their own thoughts from the photos may see it differently, such as associating a photo with the history of smoking of being relatively sexualised in cinema. Due to this I thought that perhaps, rather than taking photos mainly to avert the male gaze, I would take these private glimpses into young women’s lives as a way to stimulate an awareness of the influence of the male gaze. I tried to achieve this with the voice recording, having a man reading a crucial part of the essay – focused on the display of woman in film – over the photos of women.
The essay recording in the video was my main starting influence for this project, where upon reading it found an awareness of a concept that I never realized was inherent in works and the media around me, but also at times the way I approach my work. I felt this project could be a start on trying to create work that challenges this issue. As I feel like the male gaze in works and the media subconsciously perpetuates larger issues in gender inequality and rape culture. Other influences in this project were Sarah Bahbah, who takes photographs of women which she describes as glimpses into her own life, and explores emotional freedom and the power of embracing indulgence. Petra Collins photo series The Teenage Gaze exploring the experience of youth, particularly young girls through their eyes, was also an influence. I was drawn to these photo series as I found that while being aesthetically pleasing, they felt like genuine and intimate reflections of modern millennial women portrayed outside expected social conventions, finding beauty in the private and at times taboo aspects of life.
I found this project very stimulating as a process and feel that with more time and research could develop into more work. With the time constraints, I felt a bit limited in exploring this complex and vast concept, so perhaps may continue to explore it in further projects.
Below is my finished video and the password to access it is: gaze
This project has been a really interesting experience for me, as it’s the first time I’ve had an art project where the work I was doing was more heavily based on the researching the concept, rather than making the piece.
The concept of the male gaze proved to be far more complex to interpret than I anticipated. Especially in terms of having to step away from the work and see that my interpretation isn’t necessarily how it’ll be seen by an audience. Linking the photographs with the concept of trying to portray woman without the influence of the male gaze proved to be quite difficult to make clear.
Although I had taken photos which I felt achieved this, I failed to consider whether I have subconsciously taken photos based on how I’ve been influenced by media so heavily focused on the male gaze, such as the smoking photo.
So while I was initially I was going to present my photos in printed pairs of the indulgence and the person, I think I will make it into a short video, with slides of the photos and a sound linking back to the male gaze over it.
So I went back to my initial inspiration for this idea, which was Laura Mulvey’s essay. I thought I would have a male reading out the main part of the essay which inspired this project. What I hope to achieve with this is to allow the viewer to consider whether these photos are taken within the male gaze.
Another influence for my photo series was the themes in the illustrations of Polly Nor.
Polly Nor is an illustrator who is best known for her dark and satirical drawings of women and their demons. Her drawings explore themes of identity, female sexuality and emotional turmoil throughout her work, Nor is inspired by her own female experience of life in the internet-age. Her Illustrations often tell stories of anxiety, self doubt, and the struggle for self-love.
Below are the first couple of photos I’ve taken for the start of my project:
Taking them I aimed to have the photos be snapshots of my experience of female youth culture. I tried to keep the photos as candid as possible, which did prove difficult at times with friends tensing up as I brought the camera out. After a couple of days taking pictures I was more satisfied that the photos were more natural and capture the essence I was trying to get.
I played around with editing the photos as well to have them have a more analog look.
I wanted them to have an analog effect because I think that film photos have that sense of intimacy and immediacy where you can’t linger on the pictures as you do with digital photos.
During our class on Thursday, I presented these photos with the idea that I took them as a view of women from the female gaze, as opposed to the male gaze. Where I took intimate pictures of women “being themselves” in an all girls environment.
The discussion with the group brought to light a lot of questions about femininity and the male gaze that I did hadn’t really considered in my project. Some of the points brought up were:
- Just because work is taken from a female perspective, doesn’t necessarily mean it is free from the “male gaze”. It’s at times subconscious and inherent due to the mass media we are exposed to.
- What we would consider as doing things such as wearing make-up as something we do for “ourselves”, isn’t wanted to wear make-up rooted in society’s expectations for women. Waves of feminist averting the male gaze have in some instances shifted from going against societies expectations, to taking ownership of it
- Someone mentioned the photograph of my friend smoking as still having elements of sexualisation – as it has a history in film in particular of being a phallic symbol and a male symbol power.
- While I consider some of the photographs to represent indulgence, would they be considered indulgence if males were doing it?
- Does this kind of voyeuristic photo, in privacy not objectify women to an extent?
Having all this feedback made me wonder more about the “female gaze” and how this would effectively be achieved. It is hard to define but the clearest “definition” I could find was by Jill Soloway (creator of shows Transparent and I Love Dick) who suggested it is an aim to reclaim the body to evoke feeling, to use a camera to show how it feels to be the object of the gaze and to return the gaze on cis males. She said “Art is propaganda for the self” and encourages more women to tell their own stories.
I think the issue with my photographs on their own is that there is not enough context to kind of trigger these questions of gaze. So I thought to include an element of text or sound alongside the photos.
Zoe Buckman is an artist who works in sculpture, installation and photography, exploring the themes of feminism, mortality and equality. I was really attracted to her pieces where she will embroider sexist and violent rap lyrics onto lingerie. Buckman is relatively aware of how the male gaze affects her work as she states that she finds herself trying to counter it by “[focusing on] what grows inside our bodies (placentas), to what goes on our bodies (lingerie), to what goes inside our bodies (gynecological instruments)..” saying that “Women are present everywhere in my studio, yet the body and face itself is distinctly absent. It’s my way of avoiding fetishizing or objectifying women. I don’t want to see women hanging on walls or on pedestals anymore.”
For Week 6, I signed up for a trip to the Barbican which was unfortunately cancelled. Having found time in London I managed to go to the Basquiat Boom for Real exhibition at the Barbican. The exhibition brought together a selection of more ehan 100 works from international museums and private collections – with rare film, photography and archive material as well as his reknown art.
I’ve always been a big fan of Basquiat’s work and having written an essay about his work and how jazz and the blues influenced his work in sixth form was really looking forward to seeing his work in person. I was not only impressed by the work and a lot of the times it’s size, but also by all the aspects of his life that he brought into his work and how he made his work accessible beyond the art world through starting as a street artist (similarly to Keith Haring).
After doing some photography research on works that inspired me, I’ve decided to focus my theme for a photography series and possibly a film to be on women and particularly their representation from the female gaze as opposed to the male gaze. Most of the photography portraits that I was drawn to were photos by Petra Collins and Sarah Bahbah (under artist influences) which while being aesthetically pleasing, I felt were a genuine and intimate reflection of modern millennial woman outside of expected social conventions.
Upon further research, a main text which discusses this topic of the male gaze is Laura Mulvey’s text on the Male Gaze theory. Her essay on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema helped identify issues with gender in film and sexual objection on women in the media. On filminquiry.com, an article notes that “Mulvey states that “the gender power asymmetry is a controlling force in cinema and constructed for the pleasure of the male viewer, which is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideologies and discourses.” This means that the male viewer is the target audience, therefore their needs are met first and that this problem stems from an old fashioned, male-driven society. Her theory on how women are portrayed in film and the media is just as prevalent today as it was in 1975 when her text was first published.” This being still prevalent today is clear and I think we particularly more exposed to it with the use of social media. A particularly big issue with this overwhelming representation of women as a desire stimulus to males is how it perpetuates issues in rape culture and sexism.
I was drawn to this art which creates a view on women through the female eye, creating a sense of realness as opposed to objectification. They are portraits of women in their environment. I feel that their being represented in art makes these scenes that would generally be seen conventionally as unglamourous, glamourous. I think this is particularly achieved through the aesthetics of the photography which find beauty in these private aspects of female life.
Currently I want to start taking photos which reflect this, and I plan on working in both film and digital photography. I may experiment with create short clips alongside these photos as well.
Film Theory 101 – Laura Mulvey: The Male Gaze Theory
6 Female Artists on What the Male Gaze Means to Them
A photography series I was also influenced by was Petra Collins’ The Teenage Gaze. Where she explores the experience of youth, particularly young girls through their eyes. Bring attention to a not so glamourous, intimate view of experiences like waiting for a lift, waiting for your friends to get ready, waiting to be legally allowed to buy alcohol, waiting for someone to have a crush on you.
Her work has been described as a “dreamy, hyper-feminine approach that sometimes appears under the headline “the female gaze.” With mainly portraits of young women that “seem to allude to the fact that they were created by a young woman. The subjects are seen in moody, inward moments that emphasize their interiority and hint at a larger narrative. ”
As we begin to start thinking about our own practice this term, I initially considered working in plaster, but over the past few weeks after some research I’m leaning towards maybe more photography/film projects. This is particularly because I’ve really liked the work of Sarah Bahbah, a photographer who heavily uses social media like Instagram as a platform for her work.
Her work particularly is known for being an explicit transparent exploration of the internal voices of young females. She especially explores emotional freedom and the power of embracing indulgence. Her work has an aspect of making the private – public with her colourful 90’s inspired episodes. Her aim for her art is to empower women to abandon self-censorship and take ownership over indulgences.
Bahbah described these episodes as glimpses into her own life. With characters with taboo thoughts for women, which at times are things she wished she had said in past moments. With the dialogue on the photos Bahbah aims to change the expectations from women, showing them as unfiltered.