The Sexist

Female Photographers, the Phallic Camera, and the Male Gaze

Art soiree – May 27th virgins4

If we must turn the art of photography into a sexual metaphor, this is how it usually goes: The camera represents the photographer's phallus. The camera's lens is the artistic extension of the male gaze. Female subjects "make love" to the camera, and by extension, the artist. But what happens when a photography exhibit featuring solely women artists wants to get a little sexy?

(a) NEGATE THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S SEXUAL AGENCY. At Georgetown's L2 Lounge this Thursday, "Art Soiree" will host a photo exhibition of five female photographers. The title? "Five virgins and the camera." Naturally, since the photographers are not dudes, the camera—the phallus in this scenario, remember—will just turn around and penetrate the photographer-virgins, because it can! Instead of the photographer enforcing her sexual agency upon her subjects by wielding the camera, per the traditional sex metaphor, the camera is actually fucking the photog in celebration of her first public exhibition.

(b) TURN THE MALE GAZE ON THE PHOTOGRAPHER. Note the photograph chosen to illustrate this exhibition. No, it's not a work by exhibiting artists Alyona Vogelmann, Emily Clack, Natalya Skiba, Xeniya Kirpichenko or Zanyasan Tanantpapat—it's a thin white lady with no head in a see-through dress holding a camera in front of her crotch. Because even when a woman is taking the photos, we still have to make sure there's a male gaze taking photos of her taking those photos, sexily.

(c) AND THE SUBJECTS? STILL WOMEN. Art Soiree says that its virgin-photographers will be  "capturing emotions, personality and individuality in everyday reality of women’s lives." Sounds great! But again, even when women are photographing other women, the "everyday reality of women's lives" they are revealing necessarily comes down to that old traditional display of submissive femininity: "The vision of hidden weaknesses and the vulnerability that create beautiful and mesmerizing moments."

(d) BONUS! PRETEND THIS IS ALL IN THE SERVICE OF FEMINISM. From the press release: "This Thursday Art Soiree is all about women, celebrating their beauty, elegance, talents, achievements and much more. Come and meet these talented photographers as they share with you their lives through their works, all while enjoying a jazz performance by our female guest
musician." When exhibiting the work of female photographers, remember that a woman's beauty comes first, followed by her elegance, with her talents and achievements—her fucking photography, presumably—bringing up the rear. But wait: The guest musician is "female." Forget about the jazz performance, is she pretty and elegant?

  • VictoriaFGaitan

    This was a damn good read. Thank you!

  • Jedi

    Yea, great read!

    I've personally never seen (pun intended!) much logic in the camera = phallus thing. It would be more appropriate that camera = eye.

    And eye = vulva. (Well, many oval forms can be seen as vaginal symbols. And both the eye and the vulva have hair/lashes. And they both sometimes get wet. ;)

  • some lady

    I'm a master of fine arts candidate majoring in photography in a fancy art school. I'm also a woman, which means my work is always preceded by some declaration of my gender (unlike my male colleagues, who are simply PHOTOGRAPHERS), my professors more often than not encourage me to photograph my own body or my home life (neither of which I find interesting) then parrot this same advice to my other female colleagues in spite of their current projects or interests, and the photo history course required by my major spent an entire year championing male pioneers in the field while writing off female photographers as entitled hobbyists who got lucky.

    it's a relief to see my stomach isn't the only one being turned here.

  • Jesus Son

    You must be running out of things to write about. Some sort of valid criticisms of the language used to promote the show with a lot of hilariously piss-poor psychoanlyzing and righteous outrage thrown in for good measure.

    A funny, entertaining read nevertheless.

  • drsnacks

    Noticing that a camera can be metaphorically phallic is not an attempt at psychoanalysis, it's a cultural commentary.

  • DoctorJay

    @somelady: You should quit your grad school if your teachers act like that. Why would you pay money to get that kind of lame advice? What do you need those professors for anyway?

  • a Gaze

    the top heading of this .. writing very well matches the content. 'The Sexist' appears to still be very present in our world, as is 'the racist,' 'the extremist,' 'the dualist,' and etc. clearing our own biases is the best first step, then we can stop offending and taking offense from others. better yet, actually examining an artwork or anything at hand, for yourself, and then making your own conscious interpretation is a good start.

    if the writer of this .. would have actually seen for herself the content of this exhibit, which occurred three days after this was written on May 27th, she might have found herself pleasantly surprised to see her own prejudices and preconceptions proved unreal. her own illusion simply put.

    the exhibit is still open until June 10th, so anyone and everyone is very welcome to come and see for her/himself what did the photographers themselves capture with their "transcendental" gaze, yes the one that transcends the dualistic mindset.

    it is however advisable to the writer of this and to all writers in general, to due their "due diligence" in advance and check out the work first that they are going to in any way assess. at least three of the exhibiting photographers have online websites that share their photography, so none of the fallacies would need to have been stated if you would have taken a look at their work first for yourself.

    but once again, all prejudices have to be resolved internally first. so you are very strongly recommended to deal with those first yourself, before you go out to the world wide web and show your biased gaze.

  • Lisa
  • Jedidiah Palosaari

    It seems to be part of this New Feminism thing, where women, some women, embrace the objectification of themselves in society, being explicit with their bodies for all to see, and calling feminism the very thing feminism used to fight against. It is like the old Gnostic myths, where they say that, "As long as I *choose* to objectify myself, it is no longer objectification."