The female gaze and photography

The book «Girl on Girl – Art and Photography in the age of the Female Gaze» showcases 40 artists that work with the female subject in nuanced and complex ways. Author Charlotte Jansen will give a public talk about the book at Oslo Fotokunstskole Wednesday 03.05., and we have asked Charlotte a few questions about the new book:

Anja Carr – Moments (Act 10), 2015.

Until very recently, the images of women we’ve had access to have at large been created by men, and with men in mind. The book «Girl on Girl – Art and Photography in the age of the Female Gaze» tells a different story. What was your motivation for making the book?

As you point out, the visual representation of women has historically been bias. I felt that it was time to redress this by highlighting some of the women who have – very recently – been working with the female subject in more nuanced, complex ways, according to their own perspectives as women. I also felt a book was necessary to point out how different women’s photographic practices are, even when so often they’re framed as the same, or derivative of some previous woman artist.

Tonje Bøe Birkeland – Gobi 1931, 2012 (Character #II Tuva Tengel 1901–1985).

What is the female gaze, and how is it related to photography?

The female gaze as a term has its roots in academia, specifically cinema. Now it can be defined more broadly across the visual arts and culture. The way I see it, the female gaze is a different way of looking at the world, that is easier for women to imagine but is not only relevant to women. It is a way of seeing that is more fluid, flexible and ambivalent to the rigid structure of the male gaze – but it does not exist only as a counterpoint. It’s also something we have never seen on such a scale in the mainstream, before now.

Maisie Cousins – From Grass, Peonie, Bum, 2015.

The book presents 40 photographers across the different fields in which photography functions. Who are the photographers that are being presented, and how did you select the artists for the book?

Among the photographers are two Norwegian artists, Anja Carr and Tonje Bøe Birkeland, and many European artists such as Isabelle Wenzel, Birthe Piontek, Iiu Susiraja, Juno Calypso and Maisie Cousins. There is also a large number based in New York, such as Petra Collins, Mayan Toledano and Leah Schrager – in all women coming from 17 different countries with very different backgrounds! I wanted to have a range of ideas and practices to show how diverse women’s exploration of female subjects is, it’s not only feminism and femininity or even about the female body. Women don’t see a woman first! Of course I also feel each of these women has been influential and made a real impact on our culture in the last 5 years.

Lebohang Kganye – Ke dutse pela dipalesa II, 2012.

In a text where you discuss the book you state that «photography has played a important role in women’s emancipation and liberation». What role has photography played in this? What makes photography an important medium for exploring gender issues? 

The camera since its incipience has been a great tool for going out and exploring the world but it’s also become a really important part of self-exploration, especially now in the digital age, where photographs can be taken at home with your phone in your bedroom. Some of the first female photographers documented women’s protests during the suffragette movement. The camera has allowed women to represent themselves for the first time, and to present the world as they see it, and it’s made the nuances of the female experience, of different genders and sexuality, far more visible.

There is a really interesting gender dynamic in the act of taking a picture, Susan Sontag described it as a predatory, masculine action, ‘point and shoot’ – and ideas of narcissism and vanity associated with photographs women take of themselves have been considered feminine traits. When a woman gets behind the lens these discussions all come into play about power and control, ownership and sexuality. Photography is an essential, very relatable medium for visualising all kinds of ideas.

Marianna Rothen – Untitled #5b (Women of Canterbury), 2011.


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