Tag Archives: feminism

Assignment 5 – Only Angels or Demons; reworked

This commentary has been altered to reflect the formative feedback of my tutor. The significant changes have been the inclusion of references to performance photography and collaborative feminist photographers, and the addition of two new images to the series, bringing the total up to seven. We also decided that they would be easier to present as a series of cards in a box, rather than collected together in book form.

Reflective Commentary

This piece of work was conceived and begun as a furious response [1] earlier this year to the way that women are treated differently in public life to their male counterparts. Since I wrote the original post in late September, the #metoo campaign [2] has taken off and women’s voices are being heard loud and clear for the first time, revealing the ways our lives are routinely subjected to harassment and sexual abuse, artificially created limits by men, and to different and much more exacting standards of behaviour in both public and private life. (See Mary Beard’s (2017) essay Women and Power: a Manifesto [3] for a full discussion on how this has been built into our culture from ancient times). We seem to be at a potential tipping point at present, with enough women being willing to stand up and share the ways in which so many of us are ridiculed and objectified both in the work and the home environment, that men hopefully will begin to understand a little of the limitations to which we are subject, but of which they have often been entirely oblivious.

The images for the piece were made during an all-female photo shoot, where we had gathered to explore our creativity through the use of props and lighting in a studio environment. The collaborative, non-judgemental nature of the event enabled us (the photographers, the studio owner and the model) to simply play and to explore our creativity together through performance without any input  or direction from men. The group follows in the footsteps of feminist collaborative work such as that of Jo Spence and Rosy Martin’s Phototherapy [4], as well as the performative work of, for example, Marina Abromovic and June Calypso [5], who used costumes, props and very considered poses to make their point.

Thereafter, I used some of the images to make a series of objects that are rooted in feminist avantgarde photography, but which refer to totally current feminist considerations.  The use of the female body as a means of making a political statement has been a feature of Third Wave Feminism, but I have concerns about the concept of reclaiming the body through the deliberate use of overt nudity – we have been there and done that – and I feel that there are other ways that a statement of feminist intent can be made without using that historic symbol of objectification.

The materiality and uniqueness of the handmade objects symbolises aspects of how women’s identity and function is represented in social culture, through themes such as performance, two-dimensionality and entrapment. At the same time, the handmade book makes reference to the tradition of women’s craft work, and the recent surge in enthusiasm for paper arts such as scrap-booking and card making. In both this assignment and Assignment 4, I use the form of the book and its connotations of credibility, gravitas and permanence as a means of expanding the semiotic aspects of my work beyond the images themselves into how they are displayed.

Separate posts here [6] and here [7] discuss the background and photographers that informed this work, but I must make specific mention of the Feminist Avantgarde in the 1970s exhibition political pieces [8] and Albarrán Cabrera’s use of gold leaf [9] to add depth, mystery and value to their images. which have directly influenced this work.

References

  1. Woodward, Holly (2017) ‘Exercise 4.5 – Fictional texts: Holly goes off-piste, again.’ [online blog] In: hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com At: https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/category/coursework/part-4-image-and-text/project-3-fictional-texts/ (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  2. France, Lisa Respers (2017) ‘#MeToo: Social media flooded with personal stories of assault.’ In: CNN Entertainment [online] At: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/15/entertainment/me-too-twitter-alyssa-milano/index.html (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  3. Beard, Mary (2017) Women and power: a manifesto. London: Profile Books.
  4. Spence, Jo (1980s) ‘Phototherapy’. [online] At: http://www.jospence.org/phototherapy/phototherapy_thumbs.html (Accessed on 26.01.18)
  5. Woodward, Holly (2017) ‘Assignment 5 – Performance Photography’. [online blog] In: hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com At: https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2018/01/25/assignment-5-performance-photography/ (Accessed on 26.01.18)
  6. Woodward, Holly (2017) ‘Assignment 5 – Background Research’. [online blog] In: hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com At: https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/assignment-5-background-research/ (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  7. Woodward, Holly (2017) ‘Assignment 5 – Photographic Influences’. [online blog] In: hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com At: https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/assignment-5-photographic-influences/ (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  8. Güner, Fisen. (2016) ‘Feminist art of the 1970s: knives, nudity and terrified men.’ [online] In: theguardian.com. At: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2016/oct/03/feminist-art-of-the-1970s-knives-nudity-and-terrified-men (Accessed on 09.01.18)
  9. Lensculture (2017) ‘Albarrán Cabrera.’ [online] At: https://www.lensculture.com/albarrancabrera (Accessed on 07.01.18)
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Assignment 5 – Only Angels or Demons: or Do You Need a Willy To Be Taken Seriously?

Reflective Commentary

This piece of work was conceived and begun as a furious response [1] earlier this year, to the way that women are treated differently in public life than their male counterparts.  Since I wrote the original post in late September, the#metoo campaign [2] has taken off and women’s voices are being heard loud and clear for the first time, revealing the ways our lives are routinely subjected to harassment and sexual abuse, artificially created limits by men, and to different and much more exacting standards of behaviour in both public and private life. (See Mary Beard’s (2017) essay Women and Power: a Manifesto [3] for a full discussion on how this has been built into our culture from ancient times). We seem to be at a potential tipping point at present, with enough women being willing to stand up and share the ways in which so many of us are ridiculed, harassed, and sexually abused both in the work and the home environment, that men hopefully will begin to understand a little of the limitations to which we are subject, but of which they have often been oblivious.

The images for the piece were made during an all-female photo shoot, where we had gathered to explore our creativity as a group through the use of props and lighting in a studio environment. The collaborative, non-judgemental nature of the event enabled us (the photographers, the studio owner and the model) to simply play and to explore our creativity together through performance.

Thereafter, I used some of the images to make an object that is rooted in feminist avantgarde photography, and which uses the materiality of the handmade book to symbolise aspects of how women’s identity and function is represented in social culture, through themes such as performance, two-dimensionality and entrapment. The use of the female body as a means of making a political statement has been a feature of Third Wave Feminism, but I have concerns about the concept of reclaiming the body through the deliberate use of overt nudity – we have been there and done that – and I feel that there are other ways that a statement of feminist intent can be made without using that historic symbol of objectification.

At the same time, the handmade book makes reference to the tradition of women’s craft work, and the recent surge in enthusiasm for paper arts such as scrap-booking and card making. In both this assignment and Assignment 4, I use the form of the book and its connotations of credibility, gravitas and permanence as a means of expanding the semiotic aspects of my work beyond the images themselves into how they are displayed.

Separate posts here [4] and here [5] discuss the background and photographers that informed this work, but I must make specific mention here of the Feminist Avantgarde in the 1970s exhibition political pieces [6] and Albarrán Cabrera’s use of gold leaf [7] to add depth, mystery and value to their images which I have drawn upon here.

References

  1. Woodward, Holly (2017) Exercise 4.5 – Fictional texts: Holly goes off-piste, again [online blog] In: hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com At: https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/category/coursework/part-4-image-and-text/project-3-fictional-texts/ (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  2. France, Lisa Respers (2017) ‘#MeToo: Social media flooded with personal stories of assault.’ In CNN Entertainment [online] At: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/15/entertainment/me-too-twitter-alyssa-milano/index.html (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  3. Beard, Mary (2017) Women and power: a manifesto. London: Profile Books.
  4. Woodward, Holly (2017) Assignment 5 – Background Research [online blog] In: hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com At: https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/assignment-5-background-research/ (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  5. Woodward, Holly (2017) Assignment 5 – Photographic Influences [online blog] In: hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com At: https://hollyocaidentityplace.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/assignment-5-photographic-influences/ (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  6. Güner, Fisen. (2016) ‘Feminist art of the 1970s: knives, nudity and terrified men.’ [online] In: theguardian.com. At: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2016/oct/03/feminist-art-of-the-1970s-knives-nudity-and-terrified-men (Accessed on 09.01.18
  7. Lensculture (2017) ‘Albarrán Cabrera.’ [online] At: https://www.lensculture.com/albarrancabrera  (Accessed on 07.01.18)

Assignment 5

The box , covers and page spread for the book are shown here, while the original has been sent to OCA for the assessment process.

Individual images

Box and Page spreads

Box

Side A

 

Side B

 

Reflection

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Overall, I am happy with the technical skill level of the images. They are what they are, and silhouettes offer a less demanding technical requirement that other photographic processes. The visual skills for the assignment cover two different areas, a) the posing and positioning of the model within the frame to tell the story, and b) the use of skills outside the direct photographic arena to present them effectively. My use of a window format using Sewn & Tied bookbinding was my own idea, as it is one I may use again in future projects.

Quality of Outcome

Unlike the other assignments in this course unit, this was a piece of work that wanted to be made. I did not have to struggle for months over a theme and images; they simply put themselves together in two afternoons of creative immersion. Subsequent to the original idea, my main decisions related to how I was going to present and contextualise the images. I am pleased overall with the final product, although ideally I would have liked to make the series longer. My issue with doing so was that it might diminish the message held within the current sequence of images. My bookmaking skills improve with each object I make, but it will be a long time before I achieve perfection of a final product. Having said that though, there is a certain pleasure in producing and holding a clearly handmade object, imperfect but still attractive.

Demonstration of Creativity

This is possibly the most creative piece of work I have undertaken so far in my degree journey, but also the one that is least aligned with traditional photography. It has opened up a new avenue of exploration for future units, using the physical aspects of photographs and their presentation, particularly through handmade books, to expand the ideas I wish to examine. I would like to explore the use of ideas from book-making and scrapbooking to make one-off objects which contain and present my images in ways which extend their stories. A new love of studio work has also been uncovered, much to my surprise; I was not expecting to enjoy it so much. A consideration of the five assignments in this module together has shown me that I enjoy making work which provides a social commentary to issues which are of current interest, but in a non-standard format, and I intend to continue exploring this in the future.

Context

For this assignment, the work came first and only afterwards did I consider contextualisation. I believe that the sheer number of possible ways in which work by other photographers could be said to have influenced the piece, and my difficulty in picking a few specific photographers to reference, means that the assignment was a subconscious distillation of many different ideas relating to the current social media interest in women’s experiences of life’s limitations in comparison with men and the potential of the Female Gaze. Not only has it drawn on other photographers’ work, but it also uses ideas, processes and concepts that I have explored myself in previous coursework and assignments, and it really feels as if the project gathered my learning and experiments together in this final piece of work.

Assignment 5 – background research

Introduction

In assignment 5, I have chosen to consider certain themes relating to the place of women in today’s social culture. Those themes are very much a part of the current zeitgeist, and it seems that social media has finally given half the population a way of voicing our opinions loudly and in a way that cannot be brushed off by the patriarchy as simply ‘women making a bit of a fuss.’ Women are finally beginning to Roar. (Perry, 2013) [1]

Examples of the female voice which have magically coalesced this year through the medium of social media, range from the wildly successful #metoo [2] campaign, which revealed just how many women have suffered sexual harrassment and abuse at work through an acknowledgement of the slut-shaming of female politicians to the outing of the shocking lack of female photographers who are given space in mainstream news outlets. Just for interest’s sake, here is the breakdown of ‘2017 photos of the year’ from various international publications as compiled by @womenphotograph [3] an initiative by female journalists who want to make the visual news less male-centric. They publish weekly statistics on the percentage of photos taken by women or non-binary photographers across major publications and it is a very sorry list, as can be seen below. The surprising success story in the group is the BBC, which has a highly creditable 48% of their best 2017 images taken by women. If they can manage this, why can’t other news organisations.

Fig. 1. @womenphotograph (2017)

Alongside this, I have been reading Mary Beard’s (2017) Women and Power; A Manifesto [4] and Angela Saini’s (2017) Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong [5] and together this has reawakened my feminist activism, which has lain semi- dormant for a considerable period. In Women and Power, Beard refers to the way women have been  disempowered quite explicitly for at least 2000 years, with for example, the Romans specifically excluding us from public speaking by teaching the necessary skills only to boys. This sidelining has continued ever since and even now women in public roles are subject to a level of personal invective and ridicule which men are simply not. Only last month, for example, Vanity Fair published an video suggesting that Hillary Clinton give up politics and take up knitting instead. (BBC, 2017) [6]

Meanwhile, here in the UK, female politicians are discussed more in terms of their clothes choices and appearance than their ideas. This image of Teresa May and Nicola Sturgeon illustrates this admirably. Two powerful political women reduced to a discussion about who has the better legs. When was the last time two male politicians were discussed in that way? Never.

 

Daily Mail C79V9QtXQAEEu1t-2

Fig. 2. Daily Mail (2017)

 

So, on the one side, we have society telling women to stay away from public life by making them feel uncomfortable and demeaned if they stick our heads above the parapet, while on the other side objectifying perfect images of women are in adverts everywhere, making us feel that we can never measure up to what is expected of us. The more one looks into it, the more furious and politically active I become.

However, there are an increasing number of chinks of light in the gloom, particularly and surprisingly in the media industry, always understood to be the home of the ‘casting couch’. Recent films such as ‘Wonder Woman‘ [7] and  ‘Star Wars: the Last Jedi‘ [8] have both been hugely successful at the box office and shown that there is an real appetite for stories that clearly feature the female gaze. Female movie starts are standing up and outing the sexual harrassment that has been endemic in the movie industry, often at considerable risk to their own careers. And photography collectives such as Women Photograph [3] The Old Girls’ Club[9], Fast Forward: women in photography [10] and  Women in Photography [11], to name but a few, are not only showcasing the work that patriarchal organisations are dismissing, but also funding bursaries for new non-binary and female photographers to enable them to create a name for themselves. Of course, charges of ‘whataboutism‘ [12] are levelled at groups which exclude men, but the obvious riposte is that when the proportion of media used photographs taken by men dips below (for the sake of argument 60%) it might be worth having that conversation. At present, with the average being somewhere in the 80s, any objective assessment would conclude that men are more than adequately represented already.

My assignment hinges of this potentially pivotal moment; one where the sidelining, diminishing and objectification of women and their bodies continues, but one too where women are beginning to stand up and fight for their rightful place in society in large numbers, after a lapse of several decades since the original Wave of the Feminist Movement. The next post will look at the photographic influences which informed the assignment.

References

  1. Perry, Katy (2013) Roar In: Prism. Los Angeles: Capitol Records.
  2. Khomami, Nadia (2017) ‘#MeToo: how a hashtag became a rallying cry against sexual harassment.’ [online] In: guardian.co.uk At: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/20/women-worldwide-use-hashtag-metoo-against-sexual-harassment (Accessed on 09.01.18)@womenphotograph At: https://twitter.com/womenphotograph (Accessed on 09.01.18)
  3. Mary Beard’s (2017) Women and Power; A Manifesto. London: Profile books.
  4. Saini, Angela (2017) Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story. London: Fourth Estate.
  5. BBC News (2017) ‘Vanity Fair sorry for suggesting Hillary Clinton ‘knit’.’ [online] In: bbc.co.uk At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-42502893 (Accessed on 09.01.18)
  6. Wonder Woman. (2017) Directed by Patty Jenkins. Los Angeles: Warner Bros.
  7. Star Wars: the Last Jedi (2017) Directed by Rian Johnson. Los Angeles:Lucasfilm, Ram Bergman Productions, Walt Disney Pictures.
  8. The Old Girls’ Club [online] At: http://theoldgirlsclub.uk/ (Accessed on 09.01.18)
  9. Fast Forward: women in photography [online] At: http://fastforward.photography/ (Accessed on 09.01.18)
  10. Women in Photography [online] At:  https://www.wipnyc.org/ (Accessed on 09.01.18)
  11. Merriam-Webster (2017) What About ‘Whataboutism?’
    If everyone is guilty of something, is no one guilty of anything? At: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/whataboutism-origin-meaning(Accessed on 09.01.18)

Figures

Figure 1. @womenphotograph (2017). [online]. Tweets posted 28 December 16.05 and 16.06 https://twitter.com/womenphotograph/status/946411708578521088 and https://twitter.com/womenphotograph/status/946412052750376960

Figure 2. Daily Mail (2017) Never Mind Brexit. Who won Legs-it? [newspaper headline, online] At: https://www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-mail/20170328/281479276248035 (Accessed on 09.01.18)

Exercise 4.5 – Fictional texts: Holly goes off-piste, again

Lately I have been reading King Kong Theory, by Virginie Despentes (2010), which is about how women are still required to conform to what the patriarchy thinks they should be, and any woman who does not accede the stereotypes of Mother or Whore is considered a target for abuse. A glaring example of this in in today’s news – it is reported that Laura Kuenssburg, the BBC Political Reporter has been given a bodyguard to protect her at the Labour Party conference. Various politicos are opining that it is a publicity stunt (though quite why Kuenssburg needs publicity is not clear), but many people have gone public to support her position and vulnerability, which was illustrated by a chorus of hisses at a general election meeting earlier this year. Yvette Cooper, Diane Abbott and Harriet Harman have all roundly and loudly condemned the threats, and all three are no strangers to online bullying themselves.

I find this all very dispiriting. In sixty years, have we really moved feminism so little towards the mainstream that people feel it is perfectly ok to vilify and defeminise any woman who appears to be anything other than an unopinionated doormat.

So, in support of Ms Kuenssburg and all the other women who are routinely insulted, bullied, threatened and objectified both online and in real life (have a look at the website the Everyday Sexism Project if you don’t know what I mean) I have put together this series of words and images All the images were taken of a woman by a woman, and about women, for our own entertainment. They are a reflection of the confused stereotyping of women that is so prevalent in modern society.

Symbolism:

  • monochrome and inverted images of the same person – black and white viewpoints; stereotyping
  • gold leaf behind the images – the often unacknowledged/partially hidden value that women offer to society
  • faceless woman –  Everywoman
  • pedestal and wings – angel and demon
  • the words (in set below) – some of the names that women are called to synthesise them as a group, one that is different from men.

I also tried a second idea, as a single series of images without the gold leaf, which is shown below and which I am calling The Dichotomy of Being Female.

two side of woman

Finally, I haven’t a clue if these work, but I had a lot of fun making them. (Also, in an ideal world I would re -photograph the individual gold-leaf images, at a higher f-stop, as they are a little fuzzy around the edges.)

References

Despentes, Virginie (2010 e-edition) King Kong Theory. London: Serpent’s Tail.