The 1970s changed the way women worked in the art field and this was reflected in the postmodern photography of the 1980s, which redefined what it meant to take a documentary photograph. Women’s role in the documentary image became a self-conscious role and acknowledged the presence of the artist. The belief that photography was a visual representation of truthful and objective reality was discarded. Instead female artists such as Sally Mann admitted to creating artifices in their work (such as posing, direction, subtle stylistic manipulations) that was full of conscious artistic decisions to represent the ideological truth they saw in their subjects as a staged exploration. Some of the themes and subjects explored centered on the sexuality of girls and adolescents entered adulthood and the representation of their bodies. Female photographers played an active role when creating a documentary image. However the staging and control maintained an air of reality, there are no blatant manipulations of negatives or prints, though there is an awareness of the photographer. Many female photographers, such as Nan Goldin, lived amongst their subjects and were inside members of the group being photographed in the documentary image. Further deviated from traditional documentary photography was the rejection of the photographer as an objective observer. Instead there was an acknowledgement of the “emotion, economic and psychological ties” between photographer and subject, creating intimacy as well as artifice.
The series “The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams” (1998-2001) by Argentinian Alessandra Sanguinetti follows the same tropes of the redefined female documentary photography of the 1980s. Sanguinetti began photographing the 10 year old girl cousins on a farm in rural Argentina, capturing their imagination and feelings of girlhood through playful staging that resemble childhood games. Sanguinetti would allow the girls to play while giving them little directions, creating a theatrical improvisation that would constantly transform at the whim of the girls. Sanguinetti noted that any idea or suggestion she made would be reimagined through the girl’s adaptations. Sanguinetti would listen to them and guide the image visually while they acted out in childish play that had a subtle darker knowledge of mature matters such as death, marriage, and pregnancy. The visual interaction between childhood and maturity was also influenced by Sanguinetti’s encouragement of imitating images of angels that the girls liked, found in books she showed them containing da Vinci and religious art. The tradition and play between staging and documentary images is continued through this series of images, where the final image’s truth is represented through ideological frameworks present in the bodies of young girls.
In Chapter 5 & 6, the discussion of the female body, and its presence in the media was something that was very common in the 1960’s. The media used the female body as a way to attract the male gaze in everyday life, and sort of “normalized” the female body by now being seen as an object of desire.
Artists such as Cindy Sherman, portrayed different way women were and still are seen in the media and took on the role from the “ideal women” on a movie set, to a lady in waiting. Nikki S. Lee’s series was very similar in the sense that she took on a role of a women portrayed in the media that she did not personally identify with, to make a point that women are not something men can use, then dispose of.
I enjoyed the contrast of female artists being described in this reading. All these women felt the same about the history behind women in photography as a subject, but the way they went about portraying how they felt through their work varied. Barbara Kruger took the approach of making her work very in your face and literal but still strong. As the viewer you know exactly what she is referring to. Nan Goldin’s work approached a sensitive topic that wasn’t really approached in photography. Although very different from Sherman’s work, Goldin also used herself as the main subject, which was relevant when discussing a theme that was so personal to herself. As a response to the male gaze, female artists used themselves to talk about the topic of the use of the female body in the 1960’s and took the post modernists approach of using the self of the 1970’s.
The reason I chose a piece of Barbara Kruger’s work was because of how in your face and dramatic her work was. You couldn’t ignore the message of her work, which worked well in informing people about the way which women have and still are very objectified not only in the world of photography, but in all aspects of everyday life. Her work is a direct response to the 1960’s (and prior) use of the female body only being used to get a reaction out of the male gaze.
Reading Response 3
Photography in the 1960s onward marked a significant change in the power of a photograph as a piece of art and document. People’s perceptions of what photography could do were shifting, as images of the Vietnam War were broadcast to people’s televisions at homes and the dialog that modernist photographers like Stieglitz or Weston were having about ‘objective’ photography or the ‘truth’ of the objective photographer was less believable. In the text an example is made of when John F. Kennedy was assassinated was an example of how this became. The image of him shows indisputable evidence of him being murdered but does not function as an ‘objective’ document to resolve the debate; it shows that photography remains ambiguous. Photographers from the 1960s to the era of postmodernism wanted to challenge modernist photographers and the norm of perception and the body.
Cameras became cheaper to produce and accessibility to 35mm was made much easier. There became a new aesthetic of ‘here-and-now’ imagery where the line between personal project and documentation began to blur. Lee Friedlander took images in ‘Topless Wedding in Los Angles”, 1967, of a couple getting married breaking the conventional rules of decorum and ceremony. Another photographer, Diane Arbus, who’s subject was often the body itself and her images usually depicted people of an exotic nature. She would photograph the bodies of nudists, circus freaks, or people at a psychiatric ward. Post modernist photographers often wanted to criticize the aspects of modern styles and found new ways of relating to photography. Thomas Struth took large format images of families throughout the developed world and put them against the same scrutiny as the colonized people in 19th century photography. Meanwhile, Barbara Kruger was repurposing images from media to question how the identity is constructed and how the gaze plays a role in its construction and in the media. These chapters reveal different ways that photographers utilized the medium to challenge social normalcy as demonstrated in photography in eras in the past.
Nowadays it’s hard to believe that photos can influence people, and even large groups of people, to behave in certain ways. In our current age, people are aware of the opinion-swaying, highly manipulated language of photography. We are even used to seeing imagery of death and war (whether or not they are fabricated in the form of a movie or images of real tragedies). In the 60’s, the photos from the Vietnam war had a real effect on people. It was probably one of the first times that photography was advanced enough to be able to capture movement (i.e. people) during a war. The photos weren’t simply of dead bodies scattered about (like in previous wars), but of people in the process of being maimed or killed, real people suffering before the lens. The collective human psyche was evidently disturbed. People started dressing and acting differently, just to distance themselves from the people who sanctioned such a war to begin with. Long hair and not wearing bras weren’t just cool fashion trends; they were visual ways of distancing themselves from the suave looking monsters with no empathy for those they were hurting.
This chapter discusses a sort of distancing from the self, which I can only imagine might happen after being a part of a country who could wage such a bloody war. I don’t think people wanted to believe it. That may be why getting high and making psychedelic art and photographs started taking place. Perhaps it is one of the reasons the notion of the masquerade in art came about; “to enact a temporary self”. To get away from the truth. Susan Sontag said that photography takes you further from the truth, despite what is said about photography’s inherent promise to experience the world.
These two chapers are very relevant in how photography’s history has led to the state of contemporary photography. The 1960’s era of photojournalism transitioned into photography being used as a tool for social change. Because there is an emphasis on visual culture and the meaning that images convey, straight photography that is neutral is difficult to achieve. Barthes’ theories about the contents of images, including the colour and compositional structure, carrying cultural significance emphasizes this. Photography for journalistic purposes is put under great criticism for its ethical wrongdoings.
This idea relates to Lincoln Clarkes’ book Heroines which depicted women supposedly on heroin photographed in fashion-esque poses. This project was aimed to raise awareness for the people suffering in this area of Vancouver and to bring support to these women. To some extent, the book did raise awareness, but still received criticism due to the little compensation that they received and how these women continued to suffer.
In these chapter it depicts the many movements and moments that caused the change in how not only the female body but the bodies of men, the bodies of the homosexual and the bodies of different races came into conflict with their previous forms of representation. From the Vietnam War to the evolution into Post Modernism the subject of “the body” had a whole new set of reactions that were attached to it.
In terms of how the war changed the views on the human body it all circled back to people wanting to go back to a time before the war began. As history has told, a very large portion of the American population did not agree with this war and thought it to be unnecessary violence and cruelty. This caused an effect within not only the general population but within the art world to move their style back to a time of classical thinking and creating. They completely deviated from the Modern interpretations of the Body. Combating the rules on the kind of bodies that were “allowed” to be shown. Another movement that developed was the creation of performance art and allowing women and their bodies to regain their agency and take it into their own hands. It was an area of the art world that was completely untouched by male bias and gaze.
It was these people pushing for a new view and new forms of representation of their bodies that came the new art movement of Post Modernism which was under constant scrutiny of its predecessor because many of the works of this movement involved the repurposing of images and ideas that Modernist artists deemed inauthentic, artificial and fraudulent.
This movement allowed for these artists to not only verbally express their views on how bodies had been represented but could physically take the works and redo them in a way that matches their views if not just contrast the works original purpose. Images that were racially biased were re-worked and used as political and artistic statements for taking back ones identity. Advertisements were then deconstructed and combined with text to emphasize the gendered marketing world and how women are simply a tool to sell. This movement caused the photographer to no longer be a bystander but a participant and bring into question and criticize their own representation.
The events that unfolded in these decades were not only political but had an incredible physical and psychological effect on the art world. The views on the body and what those bodies meant were completely altered and rebuilt. It was about forcing change in a time where people felt like nobody was listening.
These chapters discuss a variety of influences and effects that the body has on the overall meaning of the photograph. It starts from subjects such as the Vietnam War, to the psychedelic era, to the protest against patriarchy and racism, gay liberation, etc. The text begins with photojournalism and photographing objectively and capturing these bodies that are not in control in the way that they are being presented versus photographing subjectively. I`ve also noticed many photographers that experimented with the body and photography, explored sexuality and the nude form to protest against things such as patriarchy. Looking at the poster by Guerilla Girls, titled, Do Women Have To Be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum?, which criticizes the traditional female image within visual culture as objects of the male gaze rather than producers of art. This also led me to question why many female artists choose to perform and present themselves nude as a way to communicate feminism. There is a sense of control in how the female artist chooses to present themselves, but at some point I wonder if presenting oneself nude is the right way to gain respect.
Although the chapters discussed many subjects, the idea of nudity and taking control of presenting oneself stood out to me. I feel that nudity or the subject of sex is a successful way in gaining attention, but no necessarily the right attention.
Shirin Neshat, Rebellious Silence, 1994
Neshat’s work explores notions of femininity in relation to Islamic fundamentalism and militancy in her home country. The Farsi texts imprints on both sides of her face are written by two Iranian feminist poets who had written on the subject of martyrdom and the role of women in the Revolution of Iran. She makes herself a stand-in for the Iranian women who protest this political/societal shift, but who remain silenced. Within the photograph, she rivets the audience with her gaze. But here it is not male scrutiny that dominates and objectifies the female, but rather it is the female gaze and purposely veiled body that is defiant, here controlling the “phallic” power of the rifle, not being dominated by it. Neshat is creating feminist work but more importantly, feminism for women of colour and culture ( not just the Western white female). I feel that the way she presents herself provides no room to objectify her or her body.
Through reading the chapters five and six, I was surprised to see the connections of multiple different photographers such has Wilkins, Carroll, Nan and Arbus and how their diverse photographic styles, became interconnected under one main theme – documentary.
While thinking about all these photographers under one dome I started to particularly think of Diane Arbus and her works. Arbus we know from the text, works with documentary photography and small negatives – similar to 19th century Tin Types. But perhaps the most interesting of her works is her Photographs of the strange. Its always been a theme within in her work for years. But in her final years, Arbus had gained the trust of the others around her, sharing the same difficulties and loneliness. She had photographed these people without the intent of publishing the images (as they were found after her self inflected death). My question becomes, were these images – purely documentary – used as a coping mechanism for her mental state? Where the images taken as a form of physical manifestation of her pain and her trying to connect and sympathize for others?
Of course we can not ask Arbus about her last works… including if she would of even given permission to have them published. There will always be a debate if her images were to document the strange within her environment, or just a way to cope with her final days of struggling. creating a conversation of what is the direct unbiased truth the images we are subjected t every day.
Dorfman, Elsa. “Untitled by Diane Arbus.” American Suburbx. N.p., 4 Oct. 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.