May 30, 2008

Female vs. Male Self Portraits...

Robert Mapplethorpe, 'Self Portrait', 1980

Cindy Sherman, untitled film still #34, photograph, 1979

In one of yesterday's posts I mentioned that I have noticed an overwhelming amount of female self portrait photography over the amount of male SP work. I did a little searching around and came across an essay written by Lydia Vasko. Titled "Feminist Art and the Self Portrait" it talks about a large movement from female artists that basically takes aim at the "patriarchal trajectory of the artistic canon".

you can find the full essay here.

or just read a few small, but significant passages below...
As a result, in the sixties and seventies, feminist artists began exploring representations of self in their art in response to the void in the traditional artistic canon where women should have been. Their creation of self portraiture was driven by the lack of acknowledgement women artists received and “bolstered by the belief that the personal is political, women artists sat down to create art that expressed their feelings as women artists in a man’s world, as women in a man’s world, and just as women” (Borzello 159). Many women of the time wanted to take control of the image of woman, of their roles as saints, sinners, and muse, as objects of paintings, and overturn traditional notions of male artist, female model (Borzello 159). No longer wanting to be portrayed as the object of the male gaze, feminist artists saw self-portraiture as “a way to keep control of their own representation” (Loewenberg 399).

A main concern of the period was “to reclaim the female body from its imprisonment in art as a beautiful, voiceless object to be judged by male spectators. One strategy was for women artists to use their own bodies in their performance, photo and video works, on the principle that as they were in control they could direct the viewer’s response” (Borzello 167). By placing herself in front of her camera, canvas, or theatre the artist was able to assert herself as a women artist, inserting herself into the greater canon of artists as well. This was a significant movement by female artists, both politically and artistically. The artists placement of ‘self’ is powerful in its ability to represent the ‘self’. It is through representation that the female artist can be seen in the public sphere not only as subject but as artist, thereby gaining agency and voice. By stepping in front of the artistic lens, the feminist artist was able to not only control the gaze fixated on her, but make a claim for recognition and power (Borzello 154). According to one art historian, this self-representation is one of the methods used by subjugated peoples to regain their voice.

6 comments:

jim turbert said...

great post. i like your blog and your work.
on a completely un-scholarly or theoretical note, i have also noted the huge imbalance of female to male self-portraiture in the world. i am a male self-portraitist, and i recall meeting with a group of friends and acquaintances for an informal crit group. one of the other guys in the group takes a lot of pictures while he's out on bike rides. another is a large format formal landscapist. one documents motorcycle culture, and some of the other guys were all over the place. the common thread for all of them is that they were guys out in the world being active and taking pictures of stuff and dudes doing dude things. i felt a little sheepish, and frankly, i'm not sure why i was invited to participate, but the contrast of their work to mine was quite noticeable. during our first meeting, one of the fellows actually commented that "mostly chicks do" what i do. sometimes i feel funny telling photo people that i take mostly self-portraits. i ALWAYS feel funny telling non-photo people that i take pictures of myself. do i have a point? not really. i'm just saying...

oh, and the last sentence of the article you quoted states that "According to one art historian, this self-representation is one of the methods used by subjugated peoples to regain their voice." i'll buy into that. i'm not about to tell you that working/middle class white guys (like myself) are subjugated, but i'm pretty sure that everyone feels subjugated on occasion (as an individual, not as a group such as class/sex/race).

rock on,
jim (jtfanclub.com)

Aaron said...

@ Jim

I like your little story. And you're right that everyone feels subjugated and I don't think that those only trying to "regain their voice" as was stated, are the only ones doin' it. With a clear message or emotion behind it, anyone (class/sex/race) can do it.

Anonymous said...

I agree that female self-photography is much more prevalent, however, I do not think it has anything to do with regaining a voice. I think it has much more to do with the fact that women are more concerned about the way that they look. As a female, and someone who takes tons of self portraits, I have noticed how much time I put into observing myself. I often identify myself with how I look rather than what I do (something I am trying to correct, but I believe it is a typical "woman" thing to do). I have yet to meet a girl who can resist the urge to sneak a peak at herself in nearly every mirror she sees. I think that very often female self-portraiture can be an extension of this.

Aaron said...

interesting point of view anonymous. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

Squidge said...

This is an interesting idea, I would disagree with jim on the idea of female to male self portraiture. Maybe this is lacking within photography but within art male self portraits are incredibly prevalent. Should we be considering the gender roles that are present within these. I also think that Anonymous has and incredible interesting point, and it seems interesting that female artists who are wanting to fight against the images of women in art still choose to make women (themselves) the subject. Why not photograph men in the way women have previously been represented? I looked into project ISM, which asks women to take photographs of themselves nude. And to be fair all I can see is a replication of the male gaze by women, what about the female gaze on men?

Jerald said...

What an exciting experience!/Hilarious! Delightful! True!/wonderful stuff! thank you!
Portrait Artists From Photo