Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Rebecca Rose Vaughan, a fifth year photography student in thesis.
In this series, Rebecca and Morgan talk about photography and the gaze and working within a feminist lens.
Who or what are your main inspirations?
My main inspiration is just nature, our connection to nature or lack thereof and how that affects the way that we view everything around us.
What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?
I tend to spend the most time working on subject matter surrounding the body and how it is represented in the media and our everyday lives. I feel the body is always a very political subject. It offers an ever-changing subject matter which can easily reflect the social and political themes prominent at the time. More specifically I usually create work about bodies that have been consistently marginalized throughout history and popular culture, these can include queer bodies, POC, women or female identifying, and trans persons as well as anyone who also feels that we need to redefine how we judge, view, protect and love our bodies.
Rebecca Rose Vaughan, Bodies are Space: Tara, digital inkjet print, 2018
You work a lot with portraiture, what do you think makes an effective portrait?
Ultimately, I think the best part of a good portrait is simplicity. There’s nothing wrong with a really carefully crafted and intricate portrait but I often find what I’m looking for through lots of natural light and a good lens. For me effectiveness in a portrait means the viewer can see something special about that person through their portrait.
How do you establish a trusting relationship with the people you photograph so they feel open enough to be vulnerable with you?
This is so important to me especially with my thesis work where all my subjects are nude, it is incredibly vital to my work that I am on the same page with my model before any photographs are taken, and they have had the opportunity to ask me any questions about the work, myself or the process. I have done a lot of self-portraiture which I often lead with when talking to someone I’m going to photograph. This starts us off in a place where they can be assured I understand how unnerving it can be to have the camera pointed at you and that I’m sensitive to the experience. I make sure my subject understands exactly what my goal is with the shoot and is consenting to it before we start. I also find that my confidence in giving direction during a shoot shows the person in front of the camera that I’ve got their back, its not on them to be perfect (what does that mean anyways) but just to be themselves. Once I get some good shots I always pause and show them some of the images especially and really good one, everyone is significantly more comfortable after they see a beautiful photograph of themselves.
Rebecca Rose Vaughan, Bodies are Space, Plexi detail one (Installation shot), 2018
What body of work are you working on right now?
Currently I am working on my thesis work which will be an image and sculpture-based installation. I have been experimenting with sculptures made from acrylic materials like plexi-glass and portraits of nude bodies. This current work sits on this line between documentary and sculpture/installation and aims to influence viewers to rethink how bodies are valued in 2-dimensional vs 3-dimensional forms and concurrently how they are allowed to take up space or not.
Your work challenges the male gaze. With substantial discourse around the female/women’s gaze in photography, what do you believe is the women’s gaze in photography? How does it subvert or challenge traditional ideas of the (male) gaze?
Traditional ideas within the male gaze encourage assumptions, judgements and opinions which from my point of view feed into very specific power dynamics that are based in an intrinsically patriarchal society. To challenge or subvert this gaze there firstly needs to be an awareness and acknowledgement of it. I think the female gaze is essentially the acknowledgement of these deeply imbedded habits and beliefs and it does not need to be anything else. Other perspectives on the female gaze will place it in opposition to the male gaze but I do not feel this is necessary, the female gaze should simply be a step in the right direction to accepting all kinds of people, bodies, and practices.
Rebecca Rose Vaughan, Bodies are Space, Installation shot with plexi, 2018
Do you see yourself as a political and feminist artist? What do you believe or see as the line between being a political artist and using or referencing politics in your work?
I do see myself as a political and feminist artist because I believe that the body is and will always be inherently political in its existence within the arts and media. I see it as a choice of the artist whether they want to place their work on one side of the line between a political artist and referencing politics or engage with it at all. Art is always going to be very subjective, viewers will read what they want to out of the work no matter the intention of the artist to be overtly political or not.
In parts of your work, you are using different physical materials and placing them on your photographic works. What is the effect of this and how does it contribute to the overall works both conceptually and aesthetically?
There is so much visual language in the world today, through multiple social media platforms fuelled by visual imagery and the internet we spend so much time staring at screen which serves everything through a two-dimensional platform. By integrating physical objects and materials into my work alongside the imagery I am reintegrating these bodies into the 3-dimensional space. Conceptually I am referencing minimalism and sculpture and the politics around giving objects and/or bodies space to exist within a space. Aesthetically I think the plasticity of these materials points towards a common, clean and colourful ‘aesthetic’ that is so common all over social media.
In your time at OCAD you’ve been working in multi-disciplinary mediums. How do you think that has added to your experience in arts education and how does that contribute to the way you think about approach making art?
Working with a multidisciplinary approach to my studies and my work has been integral in helping me place my interests and work in the canon of contemporary art today. I have focused a lot on printmaking as well as photography alongside some sculpture as well. Through these mediums I have explored much of the same subject matter and themes and been able to see how they change with the introduction of a new materials and mediums.
Is there anyone who you would like to work with in the future?
In the future I mostly hope that I can find community within the friends and fellow artists I know. I think the most valuable thing you can do in the arts community is work with and support each other. Especially when we engage in creating artwork with potential to make an impact.
Are there any specific OCAD U Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?
In 3rd year I had a class with Kate Schneider which was honestly a huge turning point for how I view myself as an artist and my work in general. The form of support and encouragement she gives her students was something I reacted really well too. Kotama Buobane has also been my professor a number of times and has always challenged me in a really frustrating but beneficial way. In general the fact that most professors in the photo department at OCADU are practicing artists is inspiring.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?
To someone starting out I would say the physical practice in photography is your friend. Though there is so much digital advancement in photography and other mediums it’s so important to remember where photography came from and feed a practice that is not only digital.
Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.
Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams
About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative non-institutional spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.