This is the second essay in Girls! Girls! Girls! recommended by my tutor as part of my A1 feedback. It is titled “Dial P for Panties: Narrative Photography in the 1990s” by Lucy Soutter.
I found this essay harder-going than the first one (and the third one), despite the fact that I agreed with some that the author was saying. However much of the narrative I struggled to understand at all, and can only take comfort in the fact that it was undoubtedly written for a more educated and experienced audience. There is a very helpful and useful afterword to the essay which adds the perspective of hindsight, some nine years later.
“Ten years ago, I had difficulty seeing pictures of girls in their underpants as a feminist enterprise. I was resistant to the concept of ‘subjectification’ in which the female figure is not objectified if she occupies a position of confidence and control… Today, while I stand by many of my original concerns about their work, I have come to see this group of female photographers as representatives of an evolving contemporary feminism: one in which women are cultural and sexual creators free to occupy a variety of subject positions.” (Waxman and Grant, 2011 p59)
So, cutting a long story short, I don’t understand enough to write intelligently about this essay. I understand the initial concept – can photographing young women in their pants be considered a feminist depiction? I understand completely why you might not think so. I think I understand about “subjectification”, which I need to read more about. Then I think about the film made by Valie Export in 1968, in which she invited male passersby to put their hands inside a curtained box she was wearing over her bare chest. The choice was hers to make the work, the choice to participate was the mens, and you can see the different expressions that they have from the glee at the prospect to the sudden lack of mirth looking into Valie’s impassive eyes with their hands in the box. One man has a lit cigarette in his mouth while his hands are both in the box. He didn’t even put his fag down or out while he touched her. The work gave me a huge sense of violation, even though no naked flesh was visible at all. So I’m not sure that feminist acts are that easy to define but I’m pretty sure that feminist results are clear.
I’m going to wrap up here – not a conclusive piece of writing but one that is representative of where I am with it, despite two readings. This is unfinished business for me.
Waxman, L. and Grant, C. (eds.) (2011) Girls! Girls! Girls! In contemporary art. Bristol, UK: Intellect Books.