The Male Gaze
Jan 28th, 2019 •
There is a resurgence of the debate about the depiction of women by men, the Male Gaze.
Historically the argument regarding The Male Gaze came from film critic Laura Mulvey in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975).
Mulvey states that “the gender power asymmetry is a controlling force in cinema and constructed for the pleasure of the male viewer, which is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideologies and discourses.” This means that the male viewer is the target audience, therefore their needs are met first and that this problem stems from an old fashioned, male-driven society. Her theory on how women are portrayed in film and the media is just as prevalent today as it was in 1975 when her text was first published.
Previous to this it was discussed by John Berger in Ways of Seeing (1972). In Ways of Seeing Berger famously stated
“To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. . . . Nakedness reveals its self. Nudity is placed on display. . . . Nudity is a form of dress”
Central to the debate is the concept of scopophilia – the pleasure of seeing. When applied to nature, forests, mountains, oceans, this is almost acceptable. When the subject of scopophilia is a naked woman it is considered bad. It is as though to feminist art theoreticians naked people are not part of nature. They and we are part of nature, and should be celebrated with the same joy and care and respect afforded to other aspects of nature.
Part of the argument is that the depiction of women shows them as objects of desire. Basic biology shows us that as an animal with sight as our primary sense we constantly and on a subconcious level assess members of the opposite sex as possible breeding partners. This is part of our being and is the main driver to our survival.
That is on the art critique level, on the level of the general public there seems to be a shift to neo-prudery keeping pace with the world wide move to the political right. There is a conflation in the general mind between the depiction of naked people and pornography
Writing from the standpoint of a photographer it seems that workers using photographic media attract the bulk of criticism. Sculptors and painters can do what they like and are celebrated for it. This is obviously due the fact that video and digital photography are the chosen media of pornography. The work I am discussing is not pornography
To confuse the main issue further, there is currently a field of photography described by its adherents as “Fine Art Nude”. This is generally without any aesthetic relevance or political position and the models are generally clones of an idealised hairless body form. In this field no wrinkles or scars or signs of aging are allowed. I do not work in this field. I celebrate hair and wrinkles as part of the natural human body. (Pubic hair is important to me on several levels. On the first and obvious level, pubic hair denotes woman, while shaved connotes child. On a practical level pubic hair is a visual shield against the disclosure of too much personal information)
Writing of my own work with naked women, I see it as contiguous with my work in the forests where I live and the coast on the southern edge of this forest and the snapshots, in that is as a deeply felt celebration of seeing*. However, contrary to this, much of my work with the local forest has been the documentation of destruction, defence and loss, and therefore not a celebration. My work on the coast is a quiet consideration of an area in constant flux. My work with women is pure celebration and is done with respect for the women who are content within their bodies and comfortable being naked and being seen naked. Further, the women I have worked with over the last 49 years have not only engaged with the work willingly, but they have enjoyed the experience of being naked and being seen naked and being photographed naked. Without this engaged participation the pictures could not have been made.
However, this does not mean that pictures of naked women should not shock and confront. In a clothed society the depiction of naked women should yield powerful, confronting and demanding images. Images with a political and humanistic point
I have recently felt pressure to hide or apologise for or cease this work. Now that I am returning to sanity following my 2017 Survey Shw at Bunbury Regional Art gallery I have decided to show, to not apologise for and to continue this work. This decision is reinforced by a response from a friend from Prague who visited my Bunbury exhibition, and who commented
“. . . And “Woman and Clay” made me so uncomfortable I had to look away several times before I could take in the fluid and starkly sensual depiction of a woman embodying nature. To see the goddess innate in every woman hanging in front of me was astonishing and empowering.”
Rachel Daubney 2017
In conclusion, I understand the argument against photographing women, but I shall continue to work in this field, and continue to celebrate the existence of strong women. I repeat, the women I have worked with over the last 49 years have not only engaged with the work willingly, but they have enjoyed the experience of being naked and being seen naked and being photographed naked. Without this engaged participation the pictures could not have been made. I enjoy this work and see it as a celebration
New Work – The new work planned with women is a distinct advance on the refined (miyabi) and understated (shibui) qualities notable in my previous work. This new work is wholly environmental and political in direction – Watch this space