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Impact of Gender on the Work of Photographer: Analytical Essay

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How does gender play a role in the making and reception of a work of photography? What kind of issues have feminist and contemporary artists prioritised in addressing this role? What feminist strategies of image production have they adopted?

In the lecture from week 7, we explored issues related to how feminism uses the medium to perform in photography. This article will also examine the role of gender in photography and how feminism considers and addresses the rights of women’s photography, and how to declare feminism in feminist images.

Despite the pursuit of equality between men and women in today’s society, the differences in gender still have different effects in photography. At the same time as the pursuit of the ultimate picture, the effects of different photography techniques applied to specific genders will be more idealized (Patrick Keating, 2006). Anderson believes that portrait photography is more reflected in the face’s mark, and the human’s character will clearly mark the lines on the face of the person (Patrick Keating, 2006). Personality is an intrinsic change and a change that manifests itself in the face. Anderson insists that gender with obvious personality markers are more suitable for strong contrasts, while gender with less distinctive characters are more suitable for soft contrast. Men are most likely to have a more pronounced personality, because men’s lifestyles are more about the actual development process and decision-making, while women are less obvious than man, and women are more reflected in the beauty of the mind (Anderson, 1973). According to this theory, the use of portrait photography by men is more suitable for places with strong contrast between light and dark, while women are more suitable for soft light. According to the test of Anderson, when soft, flat light hits the male’s side face, the wrinkles on the male face are eliminated, giving a counterproductive effect.

At the beginning of the 20th century, with the change of photographic mechanical technology, photography became more and more common in the application of softening technology, and the softening technique was very effective in static photography (Barry Salt, 1985, p287–293). Portrait photographer Hendrik Sartov applies softening techniques to the female face close-up, emphasizing the “soft” beauty of women. Soft light is more suitable for women, in line with Anderson’s theory. After that, more soft face details in Hollywood movies are used in female, but not male. Later, the photographer tried more different ways to used softening and backlighting. Backlight special effects have quickly become one of the standards for shooting people (Patrick Keating, 2000). Although the backlighting method has a good effect in both men and women, the way of backlighting effects is more obvious applied to the female. Because women have long hair, they can absorb more backlights, which makes women’s portraits produce more diffusion under the backlight work, while many men are short hair and can’t absorb too much backlight (Patrick Keating, 2006). It is clear that there is a significant difference between the roles of men and women in two different genders in portrait photography.

Photography was born in the early nineteenth century, and male photographers have always dominated photography. Before the rise of feminist photography, women were only allowed to participate as passive actors in the field of photography (Legido, 2004). The beginning of the feminist photography movement marks the use of photography as a means for female artists to criticize and restore gender rights. The focus for women in the field of photography is how feminist photographers declare their opposition to patriarchalism. Because at that time is a male-dominated society, the issue of production, sales, and exhibits has become the biggest challenge for feminist photographers.

By the end of the 19th century, photography has gradually become a social leisure activity. Since contemporary society is still in the patriarchal society, women at that time were limited by unequal photography opportunities. As a pioneer in the era of feminist photographer, Barnes has opened up a new career photography path for women (Margaret, 2012, p156-171). Since the work of women in the 19th century was not valued by the society and the photography industry, Barnes as a distinguished female photographer, used a method of recording female work through photography to declare feminism in photography. Barnes has opened a ‘Women’s Work’ column for women photographers in photography magazines, and more middle-class women were encouraged to enter the field of photography (Barnes, 1890, p39-42). Barnes believes that indoor photography about family life scenes is a good way to declare feminist photography (Mus White, 1999). Barnes proposed the theme of narrative photography of ‘poetry’. Female photographers can describe the status of women in the family and the ‘feminine’ photography by photographing women caring for children or setting up family scenes, just like those painting artists (Barnes, 1890). Barnes also encourages women to take photos of the outdoors. “Women who are in a picturesque environment will be a very worthwhile thing to record through photography.” (Barnes, 1891, p.59) Barnes believes that the record of the travel landscape It is an effective way to replace the travel diary, and can better show the different between female photographers and male photographers in landscape photography. Barnes published her own opinion on travel photography in a picnic magazine, and pointed out that the travel record is a souvenir for a special moment for relatives, friends, or elderly people who cannot travel. Barnes presented this idea at the annual photography conference in the UK and attracted a large number of photography club members to come. Barnes promotes hiking records rather than train trips, so the photographer can freely stop and record your travels.

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In 1889, Barnes attended a joint annual photo exhibition in New York and Washington, and advocated the abolition of the ‘Ms. Award’ system. She mentioned that men and women should participate in photography exhibitions at the same time. The idea of ​​“woman works” should be eliminated. The work should be regarded as “whole” rather than male photographers or female photographers (Barnes, 1890, p.42). Barnes lectured throughout the United States and spoke in a women’s speech to the working class that women who want to compete with men in the photography industry must be exposed to a work that transcends stereotyped female gender orientation (Barnes, 1891). For example, the chemicals that will stain clothes, the glass that is easily scratched, and the original work of photography that the original male was engaged in.

Similarly, in the late nineteenth century, feminist photographer Johnston used his career to support women’s rights and strongly advocated the professional recognition of female photography. Johnston advocated a visual concept: Declaring feminism by taking photos with eye contact of the man who observed the female portrait. The entire female portrait presents an unusual female character, beer and cigarettes, exposed stockings and ankles. Johnston believes that eye behavior is a medium of “recognition of rights”. The desire of men for women is a special recognition of women’s rights. This is also the way women take over the dominant power, embodying the value of women and undermining the stereotype of “the patriarchal” (Kristie S, 2015).

The contribution of modern feminist themes to Australian contemporary art has also been greatly recognized (G. Cole, 2015). Since the old feminist ideas surrounding gender equality have been dissipated in modern times, the new feminist ideas are mainly reflected in the desire of feminist photography for women’s aesthetics. The aesthetics of modern feminism for female photography is mainly reflected in the humor of “performance”. “Performance” humor is a dual effect of sight and touch. Female photographers express a victory symbolizing self-consciousness through humor, an unstable force that may break the order, the “performance” humor will be better than directly satirical works and“performance” humor are much more tolerant and bring a less ironic irony (G. Cole, 2015). Feminist photographers are committed to break the rules of “sex” and abandoning the “closed” thinking of women. Artist Castagnini (1992) curated the photographic theme of female mainstream pornography, and awakened the aesthetic thought of ‘sex’ in female photography. At the same time, it also satirized the traditional concept of sexual orientation in society, giving feminist photography through the charm of female body which come to have a ‘feminine’ work.

With the development of the Internet, more and more feminist photographers have begun to promote and display their collections on the Internet. The Girlgaze website was created in 2016 by Amanda de Cadenet to help women artists to promote and display their work and find employment opportunities (Girlgaze, 2016). Girlgaze gives female photography support through a topical activity on Instagram with the theme ‘Girl Gazing.’ The photos of women who added the Girlgaze topic were selected on Instagram and the selected photographers had the opportunity to participate in a series of women’s photographer exhibitions (Girlgaze, 2016). The open event attracted the participation of a large number of female photographers and successfully attracted mainstream media and multi-party sponsors. Girlgaze focuses on the theme of sexuality, beauty, physical and mental health to show feminism, and shows the public how women express their themes through feminist images.

Instagram is one of the most popular and most used online social software for young people, and many young photographers publish their work on Instagram. Many feminist photographers declare feminist images by publishing female naked bodies, but many “overexposed” body photos are banned due to network management (Magdalena, 2014). Dacy is a female photographer who posted bare work on Instagram. Dacy’s account was deleted several times by the “legality” rule, but she didn’t give up on publishing new works. When Dacy was interviewed, she stated that she had troubled with the work about to republish on the Instagram platform, because she didn’t know if Instagram would ban her own work again. She has tried a variety of ways to eliminate the “over-exposed” rule, to preserve the body art that women should have. For example, by using a simple horizontal and vertical tape to cover the genital organs, or using a headgear to cover the face, or using the bending of the legs and hands to create a ‘naked without revealing’ effect. Dacy once stated that she hated the bar very much, but she found new inspirations through some of the bar images on the web, such as fancy lights, messy rooms, empty glasses and unconstrained postures. Those materials bring new inspirations and make the images more interesting (Magdalena, 2013). Women are re-manufacturing their bodies while following the rules of the network, creating a new feminist art space (Duggan, M. and Smith Smith, A, 2013). Under the suppression of the rules, feminist photographers received unexpected new art ideas (Berlant, 2008).

Since the feminist movement at the end of the 19th century that promoted equality of rights between the sexuality, or to the feminist movement in the 20th century to promote equality of work opportunities, or to the desire of modern feminism for the aesthetics of female photography, the feminist ideas have continued to advance from the 19th century to the present. In the 21st century, the feminist movement is seen as a “practical culture”. The changes from pursuit of equality to the pursuit of self-awareness, feminist photographers have obtained feminine charm that is not restricted by rules.

Reference List:

  1. Magdalena, 2014, “Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Tactics of Circumventing Sensorship”, Visual Communication Quarterly, Vol.21, Iss.2, pp.83-95
  2. Margaret, 2012, “Catharine Weed Barnes Ward: Advocate for Victorian Women Photographers”, History of Photography, Vol.36, Iss.2, pp.156-171
  3. Jacqueline Millner, Catriona Moore & Georgina Cole, 2015, “Art and Feminism: Twenty-First Century Perspectives”, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, Vol.15, Iss.2, pp.143-149
  4. Muñoz-Muñoz, Ana M; González-Moreno, M Barbaño, 2018, “Women photographers in Europe: a fresh, feminine approach”, Vol.37, Iss.4, pp.141-145
  5. Fleckenstein, Kristie S, 2105, “Reiterating with a Difference: Feminist Visual Agency and Late Nineteenth-Century Photography”, Vol.41, Iss.1/2, pp.1-IX
  6. Patrick Keating 2006, “From the Portrait to the Close-Up: Gender and Technology in Still Photography and Hollywood Cinematography”, Cinema Journal, Vol.45, Iss.3
  7. Ruxandra Looft, 2017, “# girlgaze: photography, fourth wave feminism, and social media advocacy”, Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, Vol.31, Iss.6, pp.892-902

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