As you may know, it takes me ages to read books and I have just finished reading Representing Women by Linda Nochlin. It is one of those books that I will need to read twice to take it all in. So I’m not going to do a full review but here are the key points I picked up.
In the final chapter Nochlin suggests that the female nude wasn’t always the main preoccupation of (male) artists but is only a fairly recent thing. Kenneth Clark in The Nude confirms this in which he “observed how, in the 19th century, the nude came to mean, almost exclusively, the female nude”. I don’t remember seeing if Clark explains why this is but Nochlin suggests that the rise of photography as one of the reasons.
To me this makes a lot of sense. Paintings and sculptures are not portable unlike the photographic print. And not to mention the ability to mass produce photographic prints which allowed connoisseurs to purchase the art at a fraction of the cost of commissioning a piece of work.
The lack of women having the funds to practice photography at the dawn of the technology means that the archive is based from very much a male perspective. A tradition which is sadly still very much the norm today. Model portfolio websites whose members are mainly male photographers and female models.
In another chapter of Nochlin’s book she discusses the work of Mary Cassatt, an artist that I wasn’t aware of before now. Trying to find a decent book about Mary Cassatt has not been easy. A lot of the books are out of print or not in stock at Waterstones. I am hopeful that I will be able to find something soon.
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.