Nature Versus Grace

PHOTOGRAPHY STUDENT |
www.georgiaamy.com

Pygmalion and the Image series 1868-70
Edward Burne-Jones

"An interesting record of the Victorian middle-class attitude to love and sex. In the Ancient Greek legend of Pygmalion, the sculptor, who actually dislikes women, creates a statue of Venus with which he falls in love. Divine intervention brings the statue to life and makes him change his mind. In the Burne-Jones’s version, the sculpter first dreams of his idea women- The Heart Desires- then, having created her, he does bit dare to defile such beauty by touching it- The Hans Refrains- Divine intervention in the form of an angel brings the statue to life, in a painting called The Godhead Fires, not included here. Having been given a flesh-and-blood ideal women, the scultper falls on his knees in adoration in the final painting in the series- The Soul Attains- The sequence of paintings is in keeping with the Victorian ideal of the woman as wife and mother, placed by man on a pedestal to be worshiped: a very different being from the soiled dove who exists for his pleasure."

Taken from “The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites” by Edmund Swinglehust

Sophie Harris-Taylor

Sophie Harris-Taylor

 Photographer Laia Abril created a series entitled ‘Femme Love’ (Figure 1). These photographs immediately challenge the representations of women because they are about a gay couple. The ideal of being a housewife was to be a wife to a husband and a mother to his children however; Abril’s series shows two women living together.
 ‘A project that began with the intention of depicting notions of femininity in young lesbian women but which developed into an intimate exploration of a single couple’s love. Mox and Jenny…[ignore] the prejudice and prying eyes that the ‘otherness’ of their relationship attracts.’  [i]
The series has no sense of ‘Otherness’, what we see is two equal people living together harmoniously. Visually they challenge the glamorous and girly appearances that are shown in the 1950s adverts or some modern day make-up campaigns on notions of being a woman. The couple wear more masculine clothing and hairstyles; they are shown to play sport and have tattoos and to study. What we see is a beautiful relationship where two people are themselves and do not feel the need to conform to the traditional representations of what a woman is. The imagery demonstrates a new acceptance that is arising of both gay couples and women. 
 To conclude, popular culture and Fine Art shows women being ‘simultaneously looked at and displayed’ in many ways, actively contributing to the discourse surrounding them. Seen as the other, women have been negatively stereotyped through imagery throughout time. Representations have had effects on society and distorted perceptions of the gender. However, as we socially progress and become more open-minded we have been introduced to new imagery, which challenges these representations and the “Otherness” surrounding women. Events such as the World Wars and Women’s right to vote have acted as a catalyst in encouraging positive thought and we can see a new visual representation coming forth, one of real women being who ever they want to be.
‘The free woman is just being born.’[ii]


[i] ABRIL, LAIA, Femme Love, http://www.laiaabril.com/project/femme_love/


[ii] MOI, TORI, What is a Women? And Other Essays, p.xxv

 Photographer Laia Abril created a series entitled ‘Femme Love’ (Figure 1). These photographs immediately challenge the representations of women because they are about a gay couple. The ideal of being a housewife was to be a wife to a husband and a mother to his children however; Abril’s series shows two women living together.

 ‘A project that began with the intention of depicting notions of femininity in young lesbian women but which developed into an intimate exploration of a single couple’s love. Mox and Jenny…[ignore] the prejudice and prying eyes that the ‘otherness’ of their relationship attracts.’  [i]

The series has no sense of ‘Otherness’, what we see is two equal people living together harmoniously. Visually they challenge the glamorous and girly appearances that are shown in the 1950s adverts or some modern day make-up campaigns on notions of being a woman. The couple wear more masculine clothing and hairstyles; they are shown to play sport and have tattoos and to study. What we see is a beautiful relationship where two people are themselves and do not feel the need to conform to the traditional representations of what a woman is. The imagery demonstrates a new acceptance that is arising of both gay couples and women.

 To conclude, popular culture and Fine Art shows women being ‘simultaneously looked at and displayed’ in many ways, actively contributing to the discourse surrounding them. Seen as the other, women have been negatively stereotyped through imagery throughout time. Representations have had effects on society and distorted perceptions of the gender. However, as we socially progress and become more open-minded we have been introduced to new imagery, which challenges these representations and the “Otherness” surrounding women. Events such as the World Wars and Women’s right to vote have acted as a catalyst in encouraging positive thought and we can see a new visual representation coming forth, one of real women being who ever they want to be.

‘The free woman is just being born.’[ii]



[ii] MOI, TORI, What is a Women? And Other Essays, p.xxv

A change in advertisement can be seen; The ‘Nike Women’ advert ‘ Make Yourself featuring Allyson Felix, Julia Mancuso and Sodia Boutella’ shows sportswomen pushing themselves physically and mentally, displaying endurance and strength.  Army Job adverts also now feature women but not to encourage a temporary role.  Both of these examples show contemporary women to be strong and useful diminishing the idea that they cannot exert themselves physically or that they serve as glamorous sex objects who are not remotely career driven. It has become more socially acceptable that woman can do these things and so they are represented in popular culture as doing these things. 
 Films such as the Hunger Games (2012), The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (2009/2011) and Million Dollar Baby (2004) use female protagonists who are independent and strong minded, they contradict the stereotypical roles and show power.  The characters are complex and intelligent and show conflicting interests to, for example the 1950s representation of a woman.  Television shows similar characters, which challenge the representations of women.  The News Room (2012-) shows intelligent, career focused women such as Sloan Sabbath (Olivia Munn) in a high pressure, demanding work environment.  Dexter (2006-) also shows females in the higher roles of police hierarchy. 
A new representation has started to appear which goes against the flawless photo shopped imagery of female perfection; this is the idea of the real woman. No7 launched a campaign  (Figure 1) with advertisements using no airbrushing techniques, that shows the real result of their product - without the use of surgically altered, visually enhanced models, the consumer sees real women. This is a positive thing, which encourages women to love who they naturally are. Dove adverts have also contributed to showing real women in their campaigns when featuring all natural body and skin types encouraging the idea that these are real women and they are beautiful even if they do not conform to traditional stereotypes of beauty. Dove also created the ‘Evolution of Beauty’ campaign that highlighted the sad extremes advertising goes to in order to create the unrealistic perfection fed to women everyday through media, using the tagline 
‘No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.’[i]


[i] PIPER, TIM Dove Evolution, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsnEkTvq0-c

A change in advertisement can be seen; The ‘Nike Women’ advert ‘ Make Yourself featuring Allyson Felix, Julia Mancuso and Sodia Boutella’ shows sportswomen pushing themselves physically and mentally, displaying endurance and strength.  Army Job adverts also now feature women but not to encourage a temporary role.  Both of these examples show contemporary women to be strong and useful diminishing the idea that they cannot exert themselves physically or that they serve as glamorous sex objects who are not remotely career driven. It has become more socially acceptable that woman can do these things and so they are represented in popular culture as doing these things.

 Films such as the Hunger Games (2012), The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (2009/2011) and Million Dollar Baby (2004) use female protagonists who are independent and strong minded, they contradict the stereotypical roles and show power.  The characters are complex and intelligent and show conflicting interests to, for example the 1950s representation of a woman.  Television shows similar characters, which challenge the representations of women.  The News Room (2012-) shows intelligent, career focused women such as Sloan Sabbath (Olivia Munn) in a high pressure, demanding work environment.  Dexter (2006-) also shows females in the higher roles of police hierarchy.

A new representation has started to appear which goes against the flawless photo shopped imagery of female perfection; this is the idea of the real woman. No7 launched a campaign  (Figure 1) with advertisements using no airbrushing techniques, that shows the real result of their product - without the use of surgically altered, visually enhanced models, the consumer sees real women. This is a positive thing, which encourages women to love who they naturally are. Dove adverts have also contributed to showing real women in their campaigns when featuring all natural body and skin types encouraging the idea that these are real women and they are beautiful even if they do not conform to traditional stereotypes of beauty. Dove also created the ‘Evolution of Beauty’ campaign that highlighted the sad extremes advertising goes to in order to create the unrealistic perfection fed to women everyday through media, using the tagline

‘No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.’[i]



[i] PIPER, TIM Dove Evolution, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsnEkTvq0-c

Nobuyoshi Araki’s photography (Figure 1) in ‘Tokyo Lucky Hole’ (1990), and Thomas Ruff’s  ‘Nudes’ (2003) (Figure 2) involves graphic eroticism, sharing some visual similarities to much pornographic imagery, depicting women as being extremely sexual and exposing their genitals and having sexual relations.

This representation is completely different to the ideals of the wife and mother at home and is controversial in the way that it does not conform to these ideas and instead shows the woman in a completely different light, which society is not publically comfortable with.  

As technology advanced into the latter part of the 20th century, a new type of Hollywood woman presented itself.   With the use of post-production enhancement programs such as Photoshop celebrity women began to be depicted as an image of literal perfection (figure 3).  The tools allow all imperfections to be remedied creating a flawless unrealistic figure that encourages women to strive for the impossible, consequently shattering their self -esteem. When celebrities are seen airbrushed it implies that this is what beauty is and this creates a complex for a lot of women. Ultimately what we have is

 ‘a vision of perfection that simply [doesn’t]… exist’. 

 

‘What the postwar […] movement had done […] was to take what had seemed natural, imposed and inevitable, freeing up gender identity, redefining it as unstable and mutable’  [i]

The effort to reinstate women into their primary role can be seen through mediums such as advertising and films. 1945 film ‘A Brief Encounter’ involved the female protagonist ultimately realising that her place was in the home with her husband despite her exciting new love interest.  Films like this were created to persuade women of their purpose and where she belonged. Into the 1950s Dior’s New Look was established

‘constructed upon the curves of the female body’[ii],

bringing forth a new type of woman and an end to utility wear.  The fashion encouraged femininity and female form. This changing image of woman introduced glamour and pride in appearance. The woman of this time was to be well presented while maintaining her womanly duties.

Advertising clearly demonstrated a woman’s purpose as mother and wife and was

‘capable of presenting these roles as natural’[iii].

Kenwood produced an advert (Figure 1) for one of their products with the obvious tagline ‘The Chef does everything but cook-that’s what wives are for.’[iv] Beside these words, stand a husband and wife, the man in a suit and the woman leaning on him, wearing a chef’s hat with impeccable hair and long painted nails. This shows a woman dependent on a man with her sole reason of existence to maintain the home whilst looking glamorous for him.

Like the renaissance, the discourse surrounding the time of the 1950s was still that man owned woman. Enforcing this thought was (Figure 2). Here the woman is transformed into a literal possession- a tiger skin rug, which the man stands on. This shows the man in charge as the superior and the woman as a glamorous possession.  Within the text, the line ‘After one look at his Mr. Leggs slacks, she was ready to have him walk all over her.’ [i]The obvious implication is that women are submissive to men and materialism.

Women were also represented as being stupid or useless.

(Figure 3) states; ‘Men are better than women’[i].  A woman is depicted as hanging off a rope, held by the unconcerned man, who appears to have climbed effortlessly. This illustrates that women are useless outdoors and should therefore remain indoors, while men succeed in physical activities.  The placement of the models in the advert relates to the preferred place of the man and woman- the man above and superior, the woman the inferior other, weak and reliant on the man. Imagery like this encouraged men to share these ideas and women to stay at home to avoid humiliation.

 ‘Television is widely known to represent and reinforce the mainstream ideology of contemporary western culture: patriarchy.’ [ii]

The representation of women in television has corresponded to other mediums of popular culture such as advertisements, where the female resumed a specific role at specific times. In the 1950s

 ‘Jane Wyatt epitomized the archetypal housewife and mother on Father Knows Best, while Donna Reed made running a household look easy on The Donna Reed Show.’ [iii]

At this time ideals of a woman in society were echoed in television programmes such as those mentioned above. The programme Bewitched (1964-1972) introduced Samantha, who had unusual power - she was a witch. However, Samantha promised to give up her powers to become a normal housewife, because that was the ‘ideal’ life. Despite this, she often used magic, usually resulting in consequences. It demonstrated that there is punishment for not conforming to the ideal of being a normal housewife and for asserting more power than the man has. Plots often punished women, such as in the OXO advert

 ‘when a mother and wife goes out to work leaving her family to fend for themselves’[iv].

When she returns the family have eaten dinner and left her nothing.

In television, women are often placed in the domestic setting, in 1988 a survey showed that

‘56% of women in adverts were shown as domestic housewives and only eighteen different occupations were shown…in comparison to forty three for men.’ [v]

In soaps women tend to either follow this representation or if they are younger and unmarried they

 ‘conform to the mannequin image…seldom aiming high in a career’[vi].

In similar American television shows

‘we…see women in a position of power more regularly’[vii],

however, they are punished or portrayed as the antagonist.

‘Women of all ages use their sexuality to gain power’[viii],

so are often seen as scheming or manipulative but visually desirable.  In shows such as The Simple Life (2003-2007) women are portrayed as being useless and stupid and overtly sexual. The show saw the two main characters failing at different jobs and wearing indecent clothing. Programmes like this reinforce the idea that women are possessions -being the opposite of a stay at home mother/wife they are shown to make bad choices and be incapable.

‘While television can be said to reflect the changing roles of women, it seems to portray them in a light of approval or disapproval, positive or negative according to the roles of patriarchy favors.’ [ix]

Much like television there were stereotypical representations of women in movies. Film Noir introduced the femme fetale. The Femme Fetale is dangerous, seductive and beautiful,

‘often leading men into deadly situations.[x]’ 

Translating to

 ‘fatal women’[xi]

 she is alluring, sexually powerful. Examples include ‘Double Idemnity’ (1944) where Phyllis Dietrichson lures her male counterpart into an affair and suggests killing her husband for insurance money. This representation is a warning against women like this, even though the woman is portrayed as being extremely alluring and to have a sort of power over the man she is also extremely dangerous- often ending up dead or involved in a police enquiry.

Another film stereotype is the gold digger, this tends to be a woman who displays the want for money and luxuries and will do anything to get them, whether this is abusing the emotions of a man or marrying an old man for his fortune when he dies. Sharing a similarity with the mother/wife stereotype she will probably not work and stay at home, but neglects her duties. Often portrayed, conforming to the mannequin image; the gold digger appears to value selfish material wants rather than love. Marilyn Monroe played a gold Digger in ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ (1953). In this film she and two other girls rent a penthouse in an attempt to attract Millionaire men so they can marry into a fortune. However the moral is enforced in the end when love overcomes wealth.  Monroe also stars in ‘Gentleman Prefer Blondes’  (1953) which features the song ‘Diamonds are a girls best friend’ showing the way women are obsessed with material worth. Marilyn Monroe was a figure in film around this era that became the ideal woman, curvy, beautiful, sexy, large breasted and fashionable. The power of representation could be seen through the effect this had on women who modeled themselves on her.


[i] IBID

[ii] INGHAM, HELEN, The Portrayal of Women on Television, http://aber.ac.uk/media/Students/hzi9401.html

[iv] I INGHAM, HELEN, The Portrayal of Women on Television, 

 

http://aber.ac.uk/media/Students/hzi9401.html

[v] IBID

[vi] IBID

[vii] IBID

[viii] IBID

[ix] IBID


[i] IBID


[i] MIRZOEFF, NICHOLAS, An Introduction to Visual Culture p.7

[ii] REED, PAULA, Fifty Fashion Looks That Changed the 1950s p.22

[iii] GREEN, PHILIP, Cracks in the Pedestal: Ideology and Gender in Hollywood p.16



(more from my essay)

The woman is trapped in the gaze, and merely a sight for the man.

 World War II, however, would be a time when the role of women changed from

 ‘a ladylike home-maker […] fully responsible for the well-being and comfort of her family […] inhabit[ing] an insular world, separate from the employment field.’  [i]

Workers were desperately needed and women were to take the roles of the men, working in places such as factories and on farms, to help the war effort.  The

‘cultural division of labour by sex ideally placed white middle-class women in the home and men in the workforce.’ [ii]

The war went against the discourses that women were meant only to exist in the home, unable to do anything other than this, and promoted working to women. Characters such as Rosie the Riveter where introduced, Rosie was

‘the ideal woman worker: loyal, efficient, patriotic, and pretty’[iii].

These role models were created to encourage the women to think they could be like her and it was the best thing they could do at this time for society. Posters such as (Figure 1) were produced in order to push women into the direction of work. Though this was progress regarding roles, by working, women were still helping the man, only by a different pretense.  

The imagery represented women in a glamourised and sometimes dramatic fashion to make the idea seem attractive to them.  Another example is (Figure 2).

 The propaganda imagery represented women, as being proud, beautiful, hard workers in new environments.  It was a significant social change and the

‘attitudes to women workers changed’[iv].

 However, the women’s war role was

‘superficial and temporary’[v].

Post-war propaganda had the intention of bringing women back into the home.



[i] ANNEGRET S, OGDEN, The Great American Housewife: From Helpmate to Wage Earner 1776-1986 p135

[ii] The Image and Reality of Women Who Worked During World War II, http://www.nps.gov/pwro/collection/website/rosie.htm

[iii] IBID

[iv] IBID

[v] IBID

Sophie Harris-Taylor portraits. 

These two images show the female in a very stylistically simple way. The black clothing against black background create an immediate focus point onto the exposed skin/face of the subject. It appears as a study of the female, looking at the curves of her side profile, her skin, the expression on her face and the way her hair falls. There is a compelling frustration to gain the subject’s eye contact allowing us to see her in another way. But the viewer is not granted this and we instead see her as an object to be looked at and studied, unable to reach further. By further I do not mean that if the subject was making eye contact we could see inside her soul… this is not what a portrait can offer. However, there is some restraint, something very obviously not allowing us to connect on a closer level with the female, we gaze at her but her gaze never meets ours, it is deflected. This creates a cold impression from the images, also reiterated in the pale skin against black. I think the look of the images creates an awareness of the slowness of time, how the moment has stopped as the shutter was pressed. I think Taylor has brought together a harmony of classic and contemporary in these minimalistic images. I particularly like the softness of the light, and I feel that the image’s crop and positioning of the subjects work well to create a thoughtful composition- the point in the frame that the subjects eyes are lined works well aethetically to create a well balanced image.

Next shoots booked:

Monday and Wednesday next week. 

I had a tutorial today, Jamie was with me with the idea of going back into the studio. He also suggested I look at how I want to present my final work. 

I have been thinking about this during the easter. When I was in hobby craft I came across a frame which I quite liked with a good size.  My initial idea was to look at a dark wood. This is something I will carry on considering in-between shooting. Once I have my final edit I will need to look at how I want them printed on what paper and chose a frame which will show the image off well. 

http://www.hobbycraft.co.uk/hobbycraft-dark-wood-effect-frame-50-cm-x-70-cm-natural/590497-1000