Having resolved this body of work, I am off in a slightly different direction as the next module begins.
Picking up on comments made when I presented the naked portrait a few weeks ago, that I photographed the subject in the same way as a gay man would have done, I have decided to investigate this further. What truly makes the image take with a gay gaze? Will I feel like a voyeur in my work? I have already booked in a female art nude shoot and several male art nude shoots. I am not interested in body shape, size, age or ethnicity. I am purely interested in how I photograph these images and whether the gaze of my work alters as I become more comfortable shooting the naked body. I will be considering the work of female photographers of this genre -Vivienne Maricevic and Dianora Niccolini, as well as male photographers such as Rankin and Jeffery Silverthorne whose approaches will introduce new dimensions to my work. I will also explore the work of Soraya Doolbaz, an Iranian-Canadian woman who describes herself as a professional penis photographer. Artists such as Duncan Grant will also feed into the contextualisation of this work.
I am also going to revisit the work of Mary Ellen Mark, Ward 81. I am planning to further explain mental health issues and treatment through staged portraits. The work of Julia Fullerton-Batten, amongst others, will form a starting point for my research into staged work.
My final area that I would like to explore further over the next few months builds on my current body of work. I have been pleased that some of my images have an awkwardness and oddness about them. Using contextual research on Justine Kurland, Diane Arbus and Ryan McGinley, I aim to produce images that portray awkwardness and uncomfortable poses.
There are exciting times ahead and although this is my current thinking on the next steps, I am fully aware that things may change as I progress through my research and experimentation.
Why do I run for cover when someone wants to take my photo? Why do I hide at the back in a group shot? Or pull faces and act the fool if a camera is thrust in my face?
Yet, I have taken selfies and posted pictures online (just not very often). There is so much deliberation before I publish a picture that it hardly seems worth the effort. I am generally acting the fool (or dressed up at school) in these pictures. Figure 1 below shows the extent of images I have posted online since 2014.
Figure 1: Sutherst 2014 – 2017
“It’s of me, but it’s not me. Portraiture can be interpreted as a kind of betrayal,but in fact it’s fiction.”
– Katy Grannan (Griffin, 2016)
As part of my exploration of the performance of subjects in front of the camera, I decided it would be a good move to photograph myself. In preparation for the shoot, I shot quite a few selfies with my iPhone. Each one I critique and dislike. At Format 2017, I forced myself to upload one to Facebook and Twitter (figure 2). Even this image I cropped to see less of me and more of the chair I was sat in!
On the day of the studio shoot, my stomach was leaping on the way. A crazy response and totally irrational. Thinking about it I realised there was a fear of the unknown. I have not stepped in front of the camera in the studio for a shoot before. Sure I’ve had my photograph taken, but this was different. I allowed the makeup artist to put a base layer on my face to reduce shine in front of the camera. No other makeup was applied or required due to my plan to wear various of the masks I have.
My stomach was still leaping around. I had told a few people I was having the shoot done and was completely aware that it would be embarrassing to me to have to show (and publish) an unflattering photograph of myself. I am a very confident person but know that my impression of myself is not matched by the way I look in a photograph. I don’t need to see images that show my double chin or chubby cheeks. I know I have those, years of taking replacement steroids for Addison’s Disease have made sure of that.
But of course, the photograph would not tell the whole story of me. It is a mere snapshot in time. It would be nothing more than a 2D flat image of me, and just a representation of me at that. You cannot determine my personality completely from the image.
With help of the makeup artist / studio owner, Alley Stallard, I began the process of capturing a self-portrait that would be used in my portfolio. I wanted to create a strong, intense image that captured my vulnerability and how uncomfortable I felt in front of the lens. The image I chose to include from the shoot is below in figure 3.
There is an honesty and rawness about this image that I like. Surprising eh? I can view the image objectively in terms of my body of work. Doesn’t mean I have to like what I see. The lighting is deliberate to create a 3-dimensional view of myself. I don’t have much of an expression; I am thinking about how much I am disliking the process. I am also concentrating on how my mouth will look in the picture. I am keeping it slightly open to relax my face. I am conscious of keeping my eyes open for the shot. It is these distractions and the distraction of the mask I am wearing that make it easier for me to get through the shoot.
This image sums up and underpins what my body of work is about. Being in front of the camera is a performance. I was having to perform for the camera in order to get the shot. I was totally aware that I needed this shot for my portfolio. This image expresses my intent and is an objective representation of the subjective me. I can see myself as others might see me.
My self-portrait is engaging and shows just one side of me. Technically the image is strong; the choice of the mask for the prop, the plain t-shirt, and dark backdrop ensure that the visual weight of the image is on the subject. I don’t need to like the image to appreciate the place it has in my practice.
The portrait itself has elements of Jo Spence’s work through the honesty in my eyes (figure 4). The image of Spence portrays uncertainty and fear. It a re-staging of her mental state before her operation for breast cancer. Her image is very powerful and full of honesty and sincerity.
Spence’s work is very open and she was an incredibly brave photographer who documented her battle with cancer and leukemia. Her work included a lot of role play and narrative to portray her message. I have the utmost respect for her work and can hope that I can become more open in future self-portraiture work.
Moving forwards, I will keep taking images of myself and I will keep using them in my bodies of work.
Griffin, J. (2016). View from the edge: Katy Grannan’s photographs at Somerset House, London. [online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/7ed7800a-1185-11e6-839f-2922947098f0 [Accessed 22 April 2017].
Figure 4: Spence, J. and Martin,R. Photo Therapy. 1984. From Uncertainstates.com. (2017). Uncertain States / 08. [online] Available at: http://www.uncertainstates.com/broadsheet/uncertain-states-08/ [Accessed 22 April 2017].
My non-photographer friends always ask me why I carry out research into photographic practice? After all, “don’t you just take photos?”.
My explanation is usually quite straightforward. Research helps me to understand what the photographs I look at actually mean. I can then apply this to my work and ensure that I can produce images that have meanings that are understood by others.
But there are other reasons for it. Research also enables me to see what everyone else is up to! I can see what the latest trends are and also draw on historical sources to better information and progress my work. I find it useful to see how others approach subjects and how their work i received by the viewer. I can see what appears to work and what doesn’t so that I can apply that to my practice.
I am beginning to understand, thanks to research, why I like what I like photographically. I am also now in a better place to appreciate work I don’t like and can now verbalise why that is. Since starting the MA, I have looked at more photographs from different genres than I have ever done.
But it doesn’t stop at photographs. My research includes sources that cover a multitude of areas. I study art and sculpture; architecture; film and cinema; theatre; literature; science and so on. I also look at where and how work is presented, whether it be physically, printed or online. My horizons have been widened and I am taking more risks in my work, often working outside my comfort zone. It’s great, if a little scary at times.
During this module, I have been able (thanks to research) to start to make sense of the craziness in my head when I think about what my photographs may look like. I am learning to interpret the ideas and make them work as images. I find that in a session, I will take several images that on first glance all look the same. But one will stand out. It could be the eyes are wider or closed or a hand is slightly differently placed. The research I have carried out so far is helping me make the editing choices I need to.
So, in answer to the question ‘why do I carry out contextual research?’, my answer is ‘because I want to be a better photographer than one who just takes photos’.
‘My job as a portrait photographer is to seduce, amuse and entertain.’
– Helmut Newton
(Portrait magazine, 2017)
As I have progressed through this MA course so far, I have drawn inspiration from various photographers. One is Helmut Newton. Like Newton, I believe my photographic raison d’être is to “seduce, amuse and entertain” my audience.
I have prodded at gender roles in my images. However, I have reversed the gender roles often seen in other practitioners work. Unlike Newton, my female subjects are not objectified and is a playful campness with my male subjects. Newton’s image (figure 2) is cold and voyeuristic whilst my gaze in figure 1 looks much deeper. I have created a connection with my subjects to give a more intimate gaze, whilst Newton’s image is distant and misogynistic in my view. I am uncomfortable when viewing Newton’s image as there are dark connotations implied through the lack of eye contact and that makes the viewer feel like a ‘peeping Tom’. I shot my image to have a playfulness, with direct eye contact to reassure the viewer that the image does not have a darker undertone or meaning. I have developed a distinct collaboration between me and my subjects, creating an intimate scenario that enables them to feel comfortable and confident.
My image in figure 1 is seductive and amusing. The viewer is drawn into the image in order to interpret the meaning. The bright colours of the extreme styling, especially that used on the male subject, make the image eye-catching and are in complete contrast to the stark black and white used in Newton’s image.
Newton’s image “Here they come II” (figure 4) is one of my all-time favourite images. The main criticism I have of Newton’s image is the sterile background. This is an obviously staged image shot against a plain backdrop. Compositionally though, I find the image interesting and pleasing to look at. The styling of the women is in stark contrast to his other version of this image where the women are all naked. I decided to use an outdoor location and extreme styling to create a fun take on the original image (figure 3). I also used male and female subjects of all shapes and sizes in my image to give it a different dynamic than Newton’s. Once again, I am not objectifying the females within my image.
The lighting in my image is harsher than that used by Newton. I used a combination of bright sunlight with a flash that lifted some of the shadows in each person’s face. As a stand-alone image, I feel I was successful creating something that would amuse and entertain my audience. The extreme styling and mismatch of subjects draws the viewer in as thee engage with the image to determine the message that everyone is beautiful and should be photographed.
Newton’s image has been the inspiration for many other photographers since it was published. Jemima Stehli explores the objectification of the female body in Newton’s original image by placing herself into copies of his images. Figure 5 is from her series ‘After Helmut Newton’s ‘Here They Come’ 1999‘. By choosing to be both the object and subject in the image, Stehli is able to critique the original work. As a feminist, her practice focuses on the concept of objectification and power in the photographic work of male photographers.
Leonard Nimoy also replicated the image as part of his series ‘The Full Body Project‘ (figure 6).
His subjects were all artistes from a burlesque group in San Francisco called the Fat Bottom Revue. When the photographs were first published, many people clicked past them and overlooked the message that Nimoy was trying to send out with his version of Newton’s image. As a columnist for the Guardian, Lindy West (West: 2105) recalled “It was the first time in my life – I realise in retrospect – that I’d seen bodies like mine honoured instead of lampooned, presented with dignity instead of scorn, displayed as objects of beauty instead of as punchlines.” She goes on to state “looking at Nimoy’s photographs was my very first exposure to the concept that my body was just as deserving of autonomy and respect as any thin body. Not only that, but my bigness is powerful.” Nimoy’s work went someway to challenge the women portrayed as merely objects in Newton’s work and to make us all proud of who were are, no matter what our size.
So, does my work “seduce, amuse and entertain” my audience? I portray everyone as equal and everyone as beautiful regardless of age, size, gender or ethnicity. I produce images that are a bit off kilter and that make people look for the meaning. I introduce humour and narrative into my images. By forcing my audience to engage with my work in order to interpret it, then I would say that I do seduce, amuse and entertain them.
West, L. (2015). Leonard Nimoy’s photographs of fat, naked women changed my life. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/commentisfree/2015/mar/03/leonard-nimoy-full-body-project [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Figure 2: Newton, H. Unknown title. From The Labels Couturier. 2017. Helmut Newton. The Story Behind The White Paper Background. The Labels Couturier. [online] Available at: https://thelabelscouturier.com/2014/09/05/helmut-newton-the- story-behind-the-white-paper-background/. [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Figure 4: Newton, H. 1981. Here they come II. From PDN Photo of the Day. 2017. Helmut Newton: White Women/Sleepless Nights/Big Nudes | PDN Photo of the Day. [online] Available at: http://potd.pdnonline.com/2013/06/20968/. [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Figure 5: Stehli, J.. After Helmut Newton’s ‘Here They Come’ .1999.From IL Juanrie Strydom. (2017). Artist profile – Jemima Stehli. [online] Available at: https://iljuanriestrydom.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/artist-profile-jemima-stehli/ [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Figure 6: Nimoy, L. ………. From Rmichelson.com. (2017). 273-59 ∙ The Full Body Project ∙ R. MICHELSON GALLERIES. [online] Available at: http://www.rmichelson.com/artists/leonard-nimoy/the-full-body-project/zz273-59/ [Accessed 01 April 2017].
My Twisted Tinkerbell project started when I spotted a Facebook post by an American photographer, Heather Lickliter Larkin. In 2016, Larkin produced a body of work called ‘Hairyography’. Initially intended as an April Fool’s joke, the hairy guys dressed as mythical fairies resonated with me.
My initial approach was to copy Larkin’s images. The resultant image in figure 2 is somewhat uncomfortable to look at. The image is too literal a copy of figure 1 and the subject looks uncomfortable in what he was being asked to do.
The subject applied to take part in the shoot after I had sent him a link to a moodboard. His motive was to get a wider variety of shoots under his belt and said that this was so far detached from his normal style that it really excited him.
Makeup was applied by a good friend of mine and was purposely feminine in nature, including purple contact lenses and false eyelashes.
The top that the subject is wearing is his own; butterflies were added to it for effect. The subject was asked to pout and look directly at the camera. This is the resultant image. The gaps in the top and his nipple showing through have added a layer of fetishism to the image that was not intentional when the shoot was planned. This does, however, add another layer of narrative.
Viewers of this image either love it or hate it. My blog post (link below) records comments that various viewers made about the image.
Figure 4 is a better copy of figure 3 and the woodland background is preferable to the studio background of figure 2. It adds context and a layer of narrative to the image.
Both of my shots used high key lighting against a blue background. I chose a blue backdrop because blue is often associated with masculinity. Using this colour would be in direct contrast to the feminine styling of the shoot. Blue is often used behind men in portraits and can be seen to demonstrate and emphasise the power and seriousness of the subject.
Within this body of work, I wanted to put a modern twist on the subject through the use of extreme styling and props used. The literal translation of Larkin’s images did not have enough individuality and enough of my own or my subject’s personalities in them.
Since these early images in figures 2 and 4, my approach and confidence in my intent have evolved. Throughout the project I have aimed to challenge gender stereotypes through my use of both male and female subjects depicting Tinkerbell. Barrie depicted his character Tinkerbell as a tiny fairy companion to Peter Pan. Barrie (2015: 24) describes her as “exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage”. Throughout Peter Pan, women are conveyed as objects and Neverland is dominated by men. The male characters are in control and have, what appears to be, full authority over the female characters.
I wanted to produce images that challenged this view and that are different to those that were expected and anticipated. My intent was to produce images of female fairies that did not objectify the women in them, and I also wanted to portray men in a similar way. As Barrie (2015: 36) said, “no one can fly unless the fairy dust has been blown on him”.
Figure 5 is the male Tinkerbell ‘Mark’. Mark is a photographer friend who approached me about becoming a fairy. I decided, along with the makeup artist, that he should have a Pop Art feel to his makeup (figure 6).
Mark was happy to wear anything and be styled however I felt would work. I decided on pink as the main colour scheme as this is commonly thought of as a female colour. To give him a modern twist, I gave him 2 Nerf guns as props and asked him to be a ‘gangsta’ fairy. Despite the extreme styling, Mark was able to pull this off really well (figure 5). The shoot was great fun and as the voice recording clips below show, Mark along with myself and the makeup artist really had a great time during the shoot.
When I was photographing Mel in figure 7, I wanted to make her into a strong, rebellious Fairy. In deciding on the theme, I was conscious of making sure that she was not objectified in the way that Barrie portrayed fairies. In Peter Pan, he commented (2015: 74) “After a time he fell asleep, and some unsteady fairies had to climb over him on their way home from an orgy.” If we take this at face value, we believe that Barrie implies that fairies are involved in drunken expressions of sexual appetite. This was directly opposite to what I wanted to portray in this project.
Mel was styled as a goth fairy, with a flash of black and purple glitter across her face (figure 9). This was inspired by Brian Duffy’s photograph of David Bowie (figure 8). The use of her own boots really helped with the styling and added a rocky vibe to the shoot.
Mel also wore horns during the shoot so that she had an edgier look. During the shoot, Mel was asked to show her rebellious side, which she did very well by biting my artificial sunflowers and generally rocking the shoot with her antics. She made sure that she always gave a variety of expressions and body shapes.
Many of my Twisted Tinkerbell shots have been taken in a studio with a white or black background, in much the same way as Spencer Murphy shoots many of his portraits. The intention for these images was to allow the viewer no distractions away from the subject so that their eye has nowhere else to go. I wanted my subjects to be saying ‘focus entirely on me as there is nothing else to look at’.
The downside to this is that the image can appear cold and sterile. Murphy’s portrait of the jockey Katie Walsh (Figure 9) was awarded the 2013 Taylor Wessing photography prize, and has been taken against a plain background to ensure that all the focus is on the subject and the strength Murphy was aiming to portray.
Murphy’s work is in demand. In 2013, Congo Natty AKA Rebel MC (a pioneer of the UK jungle scene) commissioned Murphy to photograph him for his new album.
The result is a beautifully shot portrait that really captures the essence of the artist. The plain background, once again, makes sure that all the viewer’s attention is focused on Congo Natty.
Barrie, J. M. 2015. Peter Pan (Word Cloud Classics). Reprint Edition. Canterbury Classics.
Figure 1: Lickliter Larkin, H. 2016. Faun. From Hairyography. (2017). The Photos. [online] Available at: http://www.hairyography.com/the_photos/ [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Figure 3: Lickliter Larkin, H. 2016. Legs. From Hairyography. (2017). The Photos. [online] Available at: http://www.hairyography.com/the_photos/ [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Figure 8: Duffy, B. 1973. Aladdin Sane Album Cover From Vam.ac.uk. (2017). David Bowie is: About the Exhibition – Victoria and Albert Museum. [online] Available at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/david-bowie-is/about-the-exhibition/ [Accessed 01 Apr. 2017].
Figure 10: Murphy, S. 2013. Katie Walsh. From Spencer Murphy. 2017. Portraits – Spencer Murphy. [online] Available at: http://spencermurphy.co.uk/project/portraits/#3. [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Figure 11: Murphy, S. 2013. Congo Natty AKA Rebel MC. From Spencer Murphy. 2017. Portraits – Spencer Murphy. [online] Available at: http://spencermurphy.co.uk/project/portraits/#18. [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Visiting Format 2017 in Derby with members of my cohort exposed me to contexts of displaying work and a photographer( Julia Fullerton-Batten) that I was previously unaware of.
Contexts of Display
Published on thick card-like paper, this catalogue is beautifully bound and left so that you can view the stitched binding. The pages lie flat when opened, allowing you to view the images and not feel concerned that you may break the spine when doing so.
A sans serif font is used through out and this aids the reading of the text.
The images are presented on white pages and the text section detailing the open call texts is printed on red pages. The feel of the pages and colour scheme make this a great way to record the festival.
Figure 4: Sutherst 2017
Figure 4 is a montage of images I took in Quad. I was fascinated how within the gallery space, each body of work had it’s own identity. The only demarcation between each one was space. Work was presented in many ways:
printed on self adhesive sheets and stuck directly to the walls, showing up all defects in the wall surface
in frames, the pictures held in place with nails or tacks
Mounted in frames with no visible fixings
The work was displayed on walls that were painted white, wallpapered with brightly covered images, displayed on large screens or mounted on plywood boards.
This really opened my eyes to how work could be displayed in a gallery context. I had not considered sticking work directly to the wall or using a fixing that would damage the surface of the print.
Figure 5: Sutherst 2017
Figure 5 shows a montage of images I took at the Pearson exhibit. This a a property that appears a bit run down on approach, and once you get inside that impression is increased. There is peeling paint and signs of neglect all around. Yet in amongst all the decay is a stunning exhibition of work. Like at Quad, the work is mounted in different ways.
Prints stuck onto foam board that slots together like a giant jigsaw
Work printed onto acrylic and then fastened to chipboard sheets with roofing bolts
Work printed on acrylic, held by thick pine frames and mounted in a window so that the image is backlit
Work mounted in incomplete frames that are manufactured from chipboard but painted to look like stone
Translucent images (printed on polypropylene?) hung in the windows like curtains
Prints stuck to the walls
Like Quad, this exhibition has really given me food of thought about how my work could be displayed in the future.
Cathedral Green Display
Figure 6: Sutherst 2017
The outdoor display really captured my imagination. Figure 6 shows a montage of images from the exhibit. I have often mused that my work could displayed outside in cubes. I have the vision that my cubes could be suspended somehow, unlike this exhibit which allows you to walk on some of the photography. I felt part of the work, completely immersed in the exhibition.
Pickford’s House Display
Figure 7: Sutherst 2017
Figure 7 shows two of the photographs featured on the top floor of Pickford’s House. These photographs are printed onto cotton fabric and suspended from hollow tubes placed in a hem section at the top of the image. The rest of the exhibit is placed around these images, stuck to the walls. The fabric moves as you walk around it. This is a really effective way of displaying key pieces of work in a gallery space.
Photographer – Julia Fullerton-Batten – Feral Children 2015
A series of photographs that form part of Fullerton-Batten’s series of 15 photographs that portray documented cases from around the world. Her staged images take a dark look at how some children are forced to grow up in unusual circumstances.
As Fullerton-Batten explains (Juliafullerton-batten.com, 2017) “My idea was not to replicate the exact scenes, but to interpret and duplicate the feelings and actions of each feral child living their experience.” Her intent with the images is clear to me. She has managed to beautifully stage and produce images that are detailed and full of colour.
Figure 8 was the image that caught my eye and stood out for me in the exhibit. Prava was found as a 7 year old in Russia. He lived with his mother who kept him confined in a room with all her pet birds. There were bird droppings and feed all over the floor. To the mother, Prava was treated like one of her pets
His only communication was to chirp like a bird. He had had no communication with humans until he was placed into a centre for psychological care in Russia. Fullerton-Batten’s use of a model with a lazy eye adds to the image in my opinion. Figure 9 shows an image I took of the work to show the detail in the work. I did have quite a few discussions with members of my cohort about this image and the series in general. Others felt that Fullerton-Batten’s choice of model here was disturbing as the message she portraying in their opinion is that the subject of the photograph is one who has learning difficulties and is unable to do anything of themselves. I see it differently. Prava was raised with birds alone, without communication with humans. I think that what Fullerton-Batten is portraying here is a young boy who is (in his mind) a bird. His tilted head and squinting eyes remind me of birdlike behaviour.
Many of my peers found the work too contrived and sensationalist. I enjoyed looking at this work and can appreciate the skill of the photographer in constructing each image to tell a story.
Prior to Format, I had been unaware of Fullerton-Batten. She is definitely on my list to research further.
Juliafullerton-batten.com. (2017). FERAL CHILDREN, 2015 PHOTOGRAPHY FROM JULIA FULLERTON-BATTEN. [online] Available at: http://www.juliafullerton-batten.com/projecttext.php?catNo=1&gallNo=1 [Accessed 10 April 2017].
Figure 8: Fullerton-Batten, J. Prava (The Bird Boy), Russia, 2008. 2015. From Kail, E. (2017). Dark and Disturbing Photos Illustrate Stories of ‘Feral Children’ – Feature Shoot. [online] Feature Shoot. Available at: http://www.featureshoot.com/2015/10/dark-and-disturbing-stories-of-feral-children-are-brought-to-life-by-photographer-julia-fullerton-batten/ [Accessed 10 April 2017].
The intent of my current work is to explore the act of performance in front of a camera. Not everyone likes having their picture taken, including me and this interests me. I enjoy photographing people on their terms as well as mine. Often they will choose what they wear or will be collaborative in the process of styling the shoot.
I control the lighting, the props, and the shooting position. The subject controls how they act in front of the camera. Some know how to pose, some choose to take on a part and act their way through a session. The resulting photographs tend to reveal something about the subject that they did not expect. There is often a mismatch between how someone thinks they look in front of a camera and how they actually do. The camera not only objectifies the subject but makes them worthy of being looked at, even when the subject feels they are not photogenic.
“I’m not trying to make it all about their fantasy, although it might begin there. I’ve noticed that I tend to feminise a lot of men – they’re usually reclining or photographed from above – although I don’t know how conscious that is.”
– Katy Grannan (Denes, 2005)
Although my process is collaborative in the main, there is always an underlying narrative that I have planned for a shot. Like Katy Grannan, my work is about creating a fantasy – both mine and the subject’s
My strategies for achieving this are humour, lots of coffee, cakes and often extreme props or styling. I like things that do not go together (or haven’t done before anyway). Both myself and the subject enjoy the success of the shoots. It is really great to see someone who thought they weren’t photogenic genuinely smile at a photograph of themselves. Maybe that is my intent.
Denes, M. (2005). Interview: Melissa Denes meets photographer Katy Grannan. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2005/nov/05/photography [Accessed 02 April 2017].
I went to see the film Ghost in the Shell at the suggestion of my module leader, Steph Cosgrove.
The film has stunning imagery and depicts the use of masks, geishas and other influences from Japan. Set in the future, scientists have developed a way to integrate a human brain into a mechanical body, or “shell”. By just looking, we are unable to tell the difference between those inside a shell and those who are still human.
The main character played by Scarlett Johansson, has had her brain placed inside one of these shells. Some of her memories have been suppressed and she is unable to recall her earliest memories.
What struck me during the film was how hiding behind masks, we can never truly reveal ourselves. A photograph taken of us wearing the mask produces a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional person. The image is taken in an instant and so is only representative of us in that instant.
How can I apply this to my practice? Using masks in my shoots gives me the opportunity to explore visually the clues that tell us who we are looking at. This will be particularly interesting when I take my self-portraits. Will I be able to communicate the real me in a single photograph?
Figure 1: Film Still. From Khaw, C. (2017). How Ghost in the Shell got its main characters wrong—and why it matters. [online] Ars Technica. Available at: https://arstechnica.com/the-multiverse/2017/04/how-ghost-in-the-shell-got-its-main-characters-wrong-and-why-it-matters/ [Accessed 02 April 2017].
Whilst considering the topic of gaze during this module, I have been studying advertisements to understand what is commonly used to sell products. I came across this advertisement for BMW. I am quite surprised that they actually considered this a suitable representation of their brand. It makes me question the values of BMW. The advertisement is from 2002 and did receive widespread condemnation for gender stereotyping and their blatant objectification of the female body.
This advertisement shows a man and woman having sex. The woman’s face is covered with a magazine open at a page showing an advertisement for a BMW car. The text “the ultimate attraction” implies that the man is more attracted to the car than he is to the woman and that the attraction the viewer feels towards this car will be so intense they simply need to buy one. The man is portrayed in the dominant role in the image, he is positioned above the woman. The view is very stereotypical in that it portrays men linking sexual prowess with a model of car, and with women as an ornament.
The advertisement is aimed at promoting the brand rather than the car. There are no details about the car’s performance, safety or efficiency. The message is, drive this car and get noticed. The brand is portrayed as sexy and powerful. Covering the woman’s face is powerful, she doesn’t matter but the car does. This is intended to make you feel that you would be in control in this car.
The advertisement is shot in such a way that you feel that you are watching an intimate moment between the attractive man and what we assume will be an attractive woman. Both of the models have slim, toned bodies which sends out a message to both genders about what is seen as normal and ‘beautiful’. The choice of these models is very important as it symbolises to the viewer that this is how people looking at you in the car will perceive you. There is also the message to men that if you have this car the driving experience will be better than being with a woman with a body like this. As in so many car advertisements, the woman is merely there as ornamentation to sell the car. Her presence in the image is purely to attract men to the brand. She is completely objectified here.
The red BMW in the magazine covering the woman’s face is also symbolic. Red is the colour of passion, dominance and is usually associated with men. This image is totally aimed at men. Women would feel that the image is very sexist. As a woman, I feel this image is meant to make me feel inferior to men and to cars! The woman in this advertisement is degraded to being seen purely as an object. She has no real identity but is meant to signify all women. I do worry that this advertisement has the effect of reducing the position of the woman to one where she has no say, no emotions and no position in the ‘reality’ of the image. Being portrayed as an object in the image could cause deviants in society to take the same view of women.
How would I change this advertisement?
If I was shooting this image, I would change the following:-
The theme of the original advertisement exploits the idea that “Sex Sells”. I am not sure that this is still so true today. I would change the theme to one where there is a relationship portrayed between the subjects. There may be sexual tension portrayed between the models, but neither one of them would be more dominant than the other.
I would also consider making the advertisement more about the vehicle as well as the brand. Text on certain aspects of the vehicle’s safety rating or efficiency could be included to address this.
The title could remain the same and lead the viewer to deem that the relationship between two people was on a par with the experience of owning a BMW. The implication could be that people would view you as happy and fulfilled if you drive the car.
In order to attract a larger demographic, I would choose models who have an average weight. I would also consider the use of models who were of different ethnic backgrounds and skin colour. The BMW advertisement is very limited in its choice of white models. These changes would allow more people to relate to the image.
There is also a case to consider the portrayal of a same-sex couple in a variant of the advertisement. This would really open up the market for the car.
To remove what appears as quite explicitly sexual, I would have both models fully clothed. This would ensure that neither one was objectified in the way the BMW advertisement has the woman.
I would change a few things here. Firstly, I would not have the man in such a dominant pose over the woman. There are other positions where they could both be seen as equals in the relationship. The positioning of models on the bed could also be altered. The bedroom in the advertisement above is sterile. It does not look romantic so I would introduce elements of romance if I were to use the same type of location. They could also be in an outdoor location, on a beach etc. This would open up the message portrayed by BMW.
Secondly, I would not have the woman’s face covered. She should be visible and have a voice in the advertisement. I would have the magazine in the image, but as a prop to the models.
If the couple are portrayed as equal and are both engaging with each other, it will be easy to remove the dominance of either of them. In the BMW advertisement the man is portrayed as both shallow (the car is better than sex with the attractive woman) and dominant over the woman. The woman is objectified and only there to sell cars. I would position the models to give them equal status and to make the attraction between them mutual on all levels. This would help appeal to all sexes when comparing the attraction of the models to the attraction the viewer would have towards the brand.
What have I learnt from this exercise?
To always make sure that I have taken care of all the details in any image I produce.
To analyse some of my existing images to see what ‘hidden’ messages I might be giving out.
Although this advertisement is from 2002, there are still issues of objectification and stereotyping in advertisements today. I am aiming to do my bit to reduce that.