Women and Landscape

Posted on May 29, 2013


I have started to think about what I plan to focus on during my YOP course. I have made a significant investment in Portraiture during the Advanced module and there is lots more to learn and explore. I plan to continue to work in this genre for YOP.

I am currently finishing off my Understanding Visual Culture course and my final essay is entitled ‘Reality and the Photographic Portrait’. I am getting a great deal out of the research for the essay and this is stimulating thoughts on some other aspects of portraiture that I am keen to explore. So I plan to adopt the title of this essay as my broad theme for my work during YOP.

One of the areas I plan to investigate is the way in which context influences how a portrait is read. By context I mean both the context in which the sitter is depicted in the portrait and the context within which the spectator views the portrait. In a broader sense context could also refer to the props, accessories, make-up and clothing which envelop the subject.

I have previously referred to the work of Luigi Gariglio. His ‘Lap Dancer’ series illustrates (to an extent) what I am interested in. Gariglio’s work is a series of portraits of lap dancers, but he presents them outside of their ‘normal’ working context. I explained this work as follows in my previous post here:  ‘The women were photographed frontally showing only their head and shoulders. They are gazing directly at the viewer in a reversal of their normal role of objects of the male gaze. Gariglio photographed them without make up with plain lighting, once again reversing the ‘normal’ representation of these women.’ What was happening here was that Gariglio took these women from the context within which they are normally seen, changed their costumes and removed the props and accessories which would normally surround them. They become different women – they confront the male gaze rather than accepting the role of  a submissive object of the male gaze. The absence of context makes reading of the portraits much more ambiguous and open to the viewer’s imagination. It also restricts social stereotyping of the women’s characters. In a way I wish he had chosen to show them clothed as this might further divert attention from their original role.  Gariglio’s series can be seen here.

It is interesting to compare Gariglio’s work with Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s ‘Lucky Thirteen’ series, see here. DiCorcia’s is a series of ‘portraits’ of pole dancers at work. The subjects work in the same industry as Gariglio’s but their representation is quite different. DiCorcia presents his subjects in their stereotypical role as the objects of the male gaze. The press release for diCorcia’s work refers to the photographs referencing the celebration of the human form in ‘High Art’ . I read the series more as an ironic piece. By placing near pornographic images from popular culture in the context of the gallery he prompts comparisons with the depiction of the nude in the Western painting tradition. This raises questions about what the true purpose of such representations was. Could it have been to provide representations of nude women as objects for the male gaze?

One of the ideas I have been developing is a portraiture project where my subjects are women landscape photographers. What I would be aiming to do is to ask the photographer to select one of their favourite landscape photographs. I would then make a portrait of them (fully clothed!) at the location of their selected photograph. The subject of their photograph could be an urban or natural landscape or a detail within such a scene . In effect the subject of my portrait will have chosen location used for their portrait and has a psychological connection with the place. My intention would be to show my portrait of each photographer alongside their original photograph as a diptych. The connection between the portrait subject, location and the associated photograph would be made clear to the spectator so that this knowledge can inform their reading of the portrait.

Why women photographers? Well I developed this idea in discussion with Catherine, a fellow OCA photography student, and we both felt that historically women’s involvement in photography (particularly landscape/street photography) has been highly constrained. By selecting only women subjects I would draw attention to the role of women in photography. The diptych’s would also show a women’s view of landscape/street photography. Curiously of course the portraits would be a male view (i.e. mine).

I would be very interested in people’s views on this idea, which is why I have made this post. I would also be interested to hear from any women photographers who might be willing to participate in this venture. If I don’t get enough volunteers I might need to broaden the scope of the work to include men, but I think this would be a shame.