London based Sri Lankan author and curator Charlotte Jansen is chronicling issues of femininity and identity in her new publication that explores the work of 40 female photographers from 17 different countries.
From the book’s title to its content, “Girl on Girl: Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze” re-appropriates the idea of the male gaze. By focusing primarily on women photographing other women or those using self-portraiture, Jansen is giving a platform to female artists – allowing them the opportunity to take control of the way in which they are represented and assisting in the shift of the “men’s world” mentality in art and life in general. As activist and featured photographer, Zanele Muholi puts it, this photo book is about “claiming the spaces, taking back power, owning our voices and ourselves and our bodies, without fear of being judged”.
From the photographers who use modern day social media, to those who look at stories in history to put forward their messages and from female activists to the artists who explicitly do not relate to the idea of feminism in order to illustrate their ideas – these women are united in their dedication to women’s emancipation and liberation and their contribution to the advancement of the female gaze through the medium of photography.
Here are five of our favourites:
Monika Mogi moved from America to Japan with her mother aged 12, and spent much of her teenage years floating freely around Tokyo. As a result, this young photographer’s work has a sense of the traditional Japanese street photography – her black and white series “Shion” especially reminiscent of the images Daido Moriyama took around his hometown. Naming this project after her mother’s all-girl high school rock band, Mogi focuses on her personal transition from girlhood to adulthood, and uses her friends to reenact pinnacle moments during this time. A confessional self-analysis of her teenage years, this project centres exclusively on female feeling and experience, mixing classic Japanese style with a personal feminine perspective.
Going completely against the norms of how women are traditionally portrayed in mainstream media is the work of London based Maisie Cousins. “Hedonistic and self-satisfying”, Cousins’ photography celebrates female nudity and aestheticises what most would airbrush away. Macro shots of stretch-marked flesh, sweaty faces and body hair aim to empower women through depicting beauty in non-industry standard figures and forms – with over saturated colouring complimenting the magnified textures. Uninterested in making stereotypically “nice” photographs, Cousins concentrates on what has become know as the body’s flaws, normalising imperfection and highlighting what many see as disgusting.
Self-proclaimed “visual activist” Zanele Muholi focuses her lens on the black LGBTQI community of her native South Africa, with the intention of bringing an awareness to the bigotry those within this group experience daily. Although South Africa was among the first in the world to abolish discrimination based on sexual orientation, there is still a certain stigma attached to those who fall into the homosexual or transgender category, and an active and brutal “curing” ritual is still practiced. The idea of lesbianism as particularly “un-African” is very much alive in the culture, so much of Muholi’s work centres around portraits of gay women. “The portraits are at once a visual statement and an archive,” the artist has said, “marking, mapping, and preserving an often invisible community for posterity.” Giving a face and a name to the women who have had to fight hard for their individuality, Muholi’s intimate series celebrates the identity of those many still chastise.
One half of the Israeli photographic duo Wyse + Gabriely, Yaeli Gabriely uses herself as a subject to explore the fraudulent world of fashion and advertising. Playing off the idea that images presented to us from these genres are simply illusions, the photographer uses digital cameras to shoot multiple frames and then merges fragments of different images to produce one final image. The characters in her photographs, therefore, “are a wild combination of different body parts: a head from one frame is joined to a leg and a hand from another, a body posture of one to a gaze of another”. Using her body as a site for manipulation also comes in the form of Cindy Sherman-type disguises – Gabriely uses make-up and costume to create a fake ideology and underline the issues behind false depictions in a business that she sees as superficial.
Representing the Tumblr generation, 21-year-old photographer Izumi Miyazaki’s surrealist self-portraits bring fantasy to life through a humorous incorporation of mundane objects. Embracing her youthfulness using baguettes, bananas and bunny ears, Miyazaki uses herself as her main prop to photograph a dream world. Her perplexing visual diary portrays a less serious side to discovering identity and transitioning into adulthood, and could also be seen as poking fun at societal vanity. The young woman, unlike many depicted on television and in magazines isn’t rushing to grow up; she isn’t afraid to present herself in satirical set-ups or look silly.
“Girl on Girl: Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze” by Charlotte Jansen is available for purchase at laurenceking.com