In the post today I got my copy of 209 Women which was a project from 2018 to coincide with last year’s centenary of some women getting the vote in the UK.
The project was an exhibition of all 209 female UK Members of Parliament taken by 209 female photographers. And this book is the collection of images from that exhibition.
I never made it to the exhibition when it was on display in one of the Parliamentary buildings in London. Even though I work nearby it just wasn’t to be.
It does make me sad that this collection of 209 images will get drowned out by the millions of photos of women in passive, submissive positions.
During the course of this project there have been times when I have thought about the work I have been creating and whether the space I’m taking up could be a space for someone else. As this book shows, there are plenty of women photographers who are just as good and some even better than Rankin, Bill Brandt, Ralph Gibson, David Bailey, Horst, Spencer Tunick, Terence Donovan or Helmut Newton. Maybe it is time for me to take a step back and not try to compete with these women for the stage.
And you can find a list of all 209 photographers here.
I’m not sure how I came across Nudes: The Art of the Soviet Union. But what interested me about the book was the curiosity to see if there was a difference between art created in a communist society versus a capitalist system. Can you tell if people are from from behind the iron curtain once they are stripped bare?
Selling goods and services by using images of women is a casual thought in the West. So much so that an air conditioning company had no problem with using an image with the phrase “your wife is hot“.
So, is it true that art created in the Soviet Union was more egalitarian than what was being created over here?
Turning the pages of the book shows how wrong that assumption would be. There are plenty of women in this collection of works that show women in very submissive, seductive poses. Having said that, there are also pieces which depict women exercising. Men too are shown exercising. I don’t know enough about the history to say for sure that the imagery of the physically fit men and women are part of the propaganda during that time.
Having one book on the subject doesn’t make me an expert and drawing firm conclusions from this single source would be very foolish indeed.
I saw on an online forum a question asking if there is the female equivalent of the Male Gaze.
There is no question when you look around in photography and wider popular culture the phenomenon of the Male Gaze. Scantily clad young women adorn pages of magazines, newspapers and in advertising. Movies are told from the male point of view. Take The Graduate, the story is about the coming of age of a young man and what his future holds. How different and more interesting it would have been if it was told from the perspective of Ann Bancroft’s character Mrs Robinson and her attempt to break free from an unhappy life.
So is the Female Gaze the exact opposite of the Male Gaze? Is it male strip shows and “Playgirl” images? To me, it doesn’t feel like a definition created by women but rather created by men assuming what women think. There might be some women who see the Female Gaze as this but if you started with a blank sheet of paper or canvas would this be what it really looks like?
Western art has been developed through men’s eyes. It hasn’t until recently that the influence of women been able to break through the centuries of male domination. Giving women a voice is what the Female Gaze should be all about.
So how easy is it for women to achieve this? Well not that easy. Social media has a habit of censoring real images of women.
What I have found that it is so much easier discovering work by men than women. There is the attitude of some (male) photographers discouraging women photographers to the point which you could class as bullying and harassment. If you ask me the male bias is still alive and well.
So what can I do about it? It isn’t a direct battle for me to fight. All I can do is to try to support as many women artists as possible by buying their books, art or visiting their exhibitions and telling other people about it.