Female Identity in Photography Construction Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

When we look at Starkey's works we appear to be looking at moments captured from everyday life, in particular the everyday life of women. In fact Starkey's photographs are constructed, the people we are looking at are actors.

Her images of modern banality also suggest ennui, despair, depression and listlessness, which are conveyed as central facets of the reality of life for women in society. As one critic describes her images; "apathetic teenagers, usually girls, languish, slack-limbed and expressionless, in dimly lit cafes, nondescript interiors, and anonymous shopping malls."

Furthermore, the images also emphasize the sense of loneliness and isolation that she considers to be the existential situation of working women in the city.

In these images and others like them, individuals stand apart from the world, separated from it by a screen of indifference. It is not that they actively refuse to invest in their surroundings; they simply do not have the energy. There is nothing decisive about the moments shown in these images. Instead, they capture indecisive moments, identical in their monotony to those that came before and those that will likely follow. Here, the photograph functions not as a register of the extraordinary, but as the index of a chronic and invariant condition.

The above quotation from Shinkle ( 2004) is quoted at length as it clearly outlines the mood and tenor of her constructed images. They are carefully crafted and designed to create specific moods of ennui, despair and a lack of vitality and energy. In short the images are constructed to generate a sense of dehumanization of the individual in the industrial and urban modern environment.

The images are also by implication a comment and critique of contemporary society. This refers to the link between images of banality and materials and consumerism, which further dehumanizes the female. As Shinkel notes; " As a cultural condition, banality is bound up with the material processes of commodity production. Home appliances, commuting, frozen dinners: necessities of modern life, these things also embody a kind of vacancy in the phenomenological register. Banal objects lack anima. "

Banality therefore is associated with mindlessness and an emptiness of meaning, which again reflects on the life of the women in the images. "Numbing the senses and paralyzing the imagination, banality is the cut-price plastic materialization of the "crisis in perception" that marked modernity."

Images of this type can be seen in the works of Starkey. An example is Untitled, October 1998, where a young woman is looking into a changing-room mirror. She is obvious weary of the process of consumerism. There is as lack of interest or vigor in her demeanor that expresses a sense of banality and meaninglessness, which is also a reflection on the consumer society.

The figures in her photographs don't do much; they wait in cafes, linger in a video rental store, stare out of windows on the bus. Isolated by their own thoughts, these figures are intermittently present and remote from their immediate surroundings, caught up by dramas taking place elsewhere.

A central aspect of many of her images is the apparent lack of emotion in the characters. Some critics have commented that this style of imagery can be linked to the Dusseldorf School photography and which can also be related to the flat objectivity of Thomas Ruff, Thomas Demand and Andreas Gursky.

2.2. Cindy Sherman

( Source: http://www.artnet.com/artwork/425981200/425359759/cindy-sherman-untitled-464.html)

Cindy Sherman was born in 1954 in New Jersey and was deeply influenced by the mass media and the way that images were constructed and manipulated by television, film, and photography. Her work is on one level concerned with redefining icons and images of popular culture. She was also deeply influenced by the development of the feminist movement in the seventies.

Her work has won numerous prestigious awards, which includes artistic recognition for her Untitled Film Stills (1977-80). Her artistic rationale has been to "disguise" herself by dressing up and adopting different personas. In effect she creates role-playing scenarios with herself as the main character, which are then photographed For example, Untitled Film Stills is a series of 69 enigmatic black-and-white self-portraits which emulates, or rather parodies, movie publicity shots from the 1940s and 50s. The series illustrated the falsity of role-playing as well as contempt for the misguided 'male' audience who would interpret the images as sexy. Her "disguised" self-portraits are also intended to question and challenge cultural stereotypes.

A central focus of her work is the complexities of social interaction and female sexual stereotypes. A theme that runs throughout is the exploration of female identity .In terms of the history and development of female photography she has succeeded in bridging the gap between art and photography for more than three decades.

The fact that she photographs herself makes her work particularly intriguing as she questions the complexity of female identity through images that often shock and challenge the viewer. Her technique also involves close - shots which exaggerate nearness. However, there is no feeling of intimacy. Her images also succeed in creating an artistic tension between the familiar and the strange, which forms an integral part of her exploration of the female identity.

An interesting aspect of her work is that she tends to emphasize the depersonalization of her images. She insists that the images are not about herself as such, but that they have their own intrinsic sense of presence. She states that,

The issue of the identity of the model is no more interesting than the possible symbolism of any other detail. When I prepare each character I have to consider what I'm working against; that people are going to look under the make-up and wigs for that common denominator, the recognizable. I'm trying to make other people recognize something of themselves rather than me."

The focus in her work is on presenting an image of women as they are in society - bored, unhappy and artificially glamorous. Her intention is to expose the unreality or the pseudo-reality of the accepted or stereotypical image of women in society. She therefore goes to lengths to portray an image of the most artificial looking kinds of women - women with elaborate hair styles, excessive make-up and oddly out -- of -- place and poorly fitting clothing. While it is clear that Sherman's idea with her "disguised" self-portraits is to question and challenge the stereotypical label that women are viewed by males as either sex objects or matronly care givers.

Another important aspect that been briefly referred to and which relates to the theoretical aspects that have been discussed, is the tendency of her images to annihilate or destroy the personal. By transforming herself in almost one hundred different women, each one called "untitled" - Sherman obliterates any trace of herself.

In other words, this is in effect a comment on the fact that society tends to obliterate or deny the personality and uniqueness of women by making them conform to certain stereotypical images of female 'perfection'. It should also be noted however that her word is also critiqued by some for being a selective interpretation of female identity. Her performances are basically one-dimensional and fail to comment on the many other roles women are not forced to assume.

In her more recent work, Sherman has moved into the realm of the grotesque using prosthetic appendages and large amounts of makeup to feature mutilated bodies. Her work reflected society's acceptance of stereotypical roles for women such as eating disorders, insanity and death. An insightful 1977 interview with the artist provides insight into her artistic rationale. She states that her purpose in creating these images is to examine and expose conventional conceptions of beauty.

I like making images that from a distance seem kind of seductive, colorful, luscious and engaging, and then you realize what you are looking at is something totally opposite. It seems boring to me to pursue the typical idea of beauty, because that is the easiest or the most obvious way to see the world. It's more challenging to look at the other side.

3. Other Photographers

(Source: http://lajauretsi.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/nan-goldin.jpg)

There are many other well-known female photographers who could be included in this discussion. One whose work tends to take a somewhat different trajectory to the two artists discussed above is Nan Goldin.

Goldin's work is more personal, direct and intimate than, for example, the images that Starkey creates. As one critic states,

It is nearly impossible to discuss Goldin's photographs without referring to their subjects by name, as though the people pictured were one's own family and friends. It is this intimate and raw style for which Goldin has become internationally renowned.

Her photographs are in fact 'snapshots' of friends include images of drag queens, drug addicts, prostitutes, lovers and family. These images serve as a record of intimacy and association and tend to dispel and disrupt the normative stereotypes of the female -- albeit in a…

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