Lads Mags

Like it or not, the Lads Mags from the beginning of the century had a huge influence on the culture in the UK in how women were portrayed at the time. Now that we are in 2020 and the beginning of the century was twenty years ago, has anything changed in that time? To see I got a selection of magazines from that era.

Looking through the collection of FHM 100 Sexiest Women I couldn’t help but notice how white each year was. Yes, it was no surprise that the women were young but the number of women of colour is so low that you can count them with one hand.

Why is this important? Well, if the culture we are living in is judging the success of women from their sexual attraction to heterosexual men, then just seeing mainly white people, what does it say to someone who is not white? Can someone who was not born white be able to even compete in this race?

An optimist would argue that this was twenty years ago and with the magazines shutting up shop that things have changed. Yes, it is true that most of the Lads Mags from that era are no more but in that time the Internet has taken over that space.

What strikes me about the images in these magazines is how little the styling and the posing has not changed in the past twenty years. Skimpy clothing, underwear or nothing at all is still in fashion today. The provocative poses are still the order of the day today. All you need do is check out the online galleries of the well known model portfolio sites to confirm that this is the case.

I’m not arguing that we should ban these images or create an atmosphere where women being part of these images are penalised. What I’m saying is that in twenty years our visual language on this hasn’t changed. All I’m asking is why not?

Cynthia MacAdams – Emergence

Watching more telly while having to stay at home is no bad thing if you find something that you would have missed in normal times. I wouldn’t have subscribed to Netflix if I wasn’t spending so much time indoors. Searching around on there I came across a documentary based around the photographic book Emergence by Cynthia MacAdams.

The book was published in 1977 and is a collection of portraits of women making their mark on the feminist movement during that time. The documentary Feminists: What Were They Thinking? by Johanna Demetrakas is a series of interviews carried out with some of the people who appear in the book and also shows the reaction to the book by women from a younger generation.

Finding a copy of the book was a real challenge. It is a rare book. Even secondhand most were way over my budget. However, I did manage to track one down on an Internet auction site from Germany.

Looking at the photographs, I’m pretty amazed how contemporary they feel. Sure, you may have to over look the fashion of the 70s but the message in images over forty years on is still relevant today.

When I started this project, the photographers and artists was from a very small pool. My knowledge was based on seeing work by the big names in bookshops or galleries. The longer I have been doing this, the more my eyes have opened to the ocean of great work that is sometimes hidden. It does annoy me how far superior artists or photographers, many of them women, get overshadowed by ones with a good publicity machine.

Representing Women

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.