Week 5 The gaze 25.02.20
This Gaze is something I have considered in depth, and continue to think about in relation to my practice as I go through the MA. My MA project focuses on families who have chosen a path of alternative education, as opposed to mainstream education. I am this module , photographing inwardly my own home educating family, last module I focused outwardly, photographing other home educating families around the area where I live , and then next module I will be focusing on alternatives to schools, such as democratic schools, Steiner/Waldorf schools, forest and beach schools and home ed co-ops. Because of the multitude of differing but interconnecting paths of my work, I am ultimately presenting work from a number of different ‘gazes’ , female, mother, friend, stranger/observer.
However, ultimately, the overarching viewpoint, ‘gaze’, is predominantly the mothers gaze in this body of work, whether that be through photographing my own children, or other peoples. This comes with a quite intricate set of ethical and moral questions to be answered, complicated by as Susan bright says in her essay ‘motherlode’
“The roles of good mother, and successful artist are often seen as polar opposites. Motherhood is considered to be a precious, almost sacrosanct state, and as a result the mother-artist figure generates anxiety – especially when she involves her own children in her work – because she is assumed to have abrogated her parental responsibility.” (Bright, 2013: pg 19)
I myself have come across this during the course of the MA.
We only need to look to the work of Sally Mann, and Tierney Gearon, that we all covered in the first module, and the multitude and severity of reactions to these works to see how provocative a subject it is, and although severely complicated by the issue of nudity, I believe the issue goes (as Bright suggests above) much much deeper than just that. It is about preconceived ideas and notions we have ingrained into us for the most part about mothers, and mothering.
The male photographer Alaine Laboile photographs his unschooling*** family on a farm in France, just like Sally mann did on a farm in Virginia. We are led to believe in the Media that everyone believes that if a man , a father, takes a photograph of a naked child he is perverted , but if a woman, a mother does it, it’s fine. Yet here are two photographers living seemingly parallel artistic lives. The mother is torn to shreds online to this day, 30 years after the photographs were taken, yet here is a man, a father, posting essentially the exact same images, with children in various states of undress and they are being taken every day now, not 30 years ago, and for all my digging online I could find nothing, nowhere, were his images being talked about in anywhere near the same spheres of arguments. I hold no judgement on whether the comments are right or wrong, I merely point it out to show how the gaze of a female photographer, is critiqued in a different way to the gaze of a male photographer, and I believe it goes much deeper than nudity, we just like to talk about it like it is that, because it saves deeper discussion.
Interestingly I actually came to the MA with the idea of creating this body of work as a ‘window into the world’ of alternative education , from an inside perspective. I am in effect encouraging ‘voyeurism’ on the subject, indeed, some of the photographs I have taken of our family have literally been shot from the outside of our house, through our windows, the ultimate in voyeristic metaphor. In his film the aesthetics of repression Crewdson talks about using windows, doors, and frames as representational of the second or hidden self, and I find I do this a lot with my own images. I am literally inviting the viewer as far into these families worlds, or our world, as it is possible to do so. This metaphor of the windows keeps repeating everywhere when I look at the work of other female photographers photographing their own and/or their families lives. Elinor Carucci said of her art depicting her ‘own version of motherhood’ that ‘ it became a window onto so much of what I feel life is really about.” (Bright. 2011. pg 22) . I find this window metaphor intriguing, we are giving an uninterrupted , clear, honest view, yet there is this invisible wall between us, it is like a safety barrier, it lets you see everything, but from a safe distance.
At a webinar with Michelle last week it was observed that my images this module were quite melancholic, a sentiment echoed by others , and the question was raised am I trying to show this (home education) from a positive light? Interestingly in both the first and second module it was noted that the images appeared to be overly happy, that we can’t REALLY be like this, be this happy all the time, it was utopian. I find this juxtaposition unbelievably fascinating and interesting . I am neither trying to show it as a melancholic thing, or a utopian thing, I am only human, sometimes (like the first module , when we were travelling around Scotland and the lakes educating our children out in the world and nature, it was utopian. Now , in the final run up to GCSE’s and A-LEVELS that could potentially effect the entire paths of our two eldest boys lives, everything is tinged with a melancholia, and cool light, and neutral colours are apparently my new best friend) I see life as utopian, sometimes I see it as melancholic , I am only trying to show a true view of what it is life for me, for us, personally, how people read that, from what ‘gaze’ I can’t influence, overly, and I am not sure I would want too.
I link this to something I was talking to Steph about on the webinar the other day, it has been said that home education is predominantly a ‘white middle class’ thing , however , my images from last module show a huge class (if you go in for that sort of thing, which is a WHOLE other topic in itself) and financial spectrum , showing it most definitely isn’t a middle class thing. However, we all view images coming from a certain perspective, we are tainted by our view of the world, previous imagery we have seen, or people we have encountered. We, as the photographer have our own gaze, but the viewer or consumer of the image will in turn have their own gaze. My images this module are melancholic because the person who is looking through the lens is full of sadness that a way of educating , a way of living, for our two eldest children, is coming to an end, and they have indeed had a pretty ‘utopian’ life mostly for the last five years, since we took them out of school. One could read these images as melancholia that this woman is sad, this mother is sad, this situation is sad, without knowing the reasons why, and an image will be read in an entirely different way to it’s intended meaning, psychologically – incredibly interesting!
Ultimately though, in this body of work, my audience that I am most geared towards will be other families who use some form of alternative education, so their view of these images would be entirely different to someone who knows nothing of the subject, and I don’t see that as a bad thing at all, I see it as a fabulous place to start a discussion from, the images, become an education in themselves, ultimately my end goal. In her book Girl on Girl , Charlotte Jansen says “The photographs women take of women (**and it most certainly is tipped in the balance of things that the mother tends to be the main one facilitating the education in my experience**) can be a tool for challenging perceptions in the media, human rights, history, politics, aesthetics, technology, economy, and ecology; to get at the unseen structures in our world and contribute to a broader understanding of society. what you can get is not always what you might see.” (Jansen. 2017. pg 9)
I went to go and see Steve McQueens Year3 project at Tate Britain a few weeks ago, an exhibition that has been raved about by all the art critics pretty much upon it’s opening, however as someone who shunned that educational path for a myriad of political and philosophical reasons I don’t need to explain here , I found that exhibition incredibly sad, and claustrophobic , because my gaze is different from the gaze of Tate who commissioned it, McQueen who organised it, and the teachers who were there at the same time as us viewing it. Who incidentally were all smiles and thought it was wonderful. My children, had an entirely different gaze. How did these compare to the gaze’s of the photographers who shot those group portraits ?
For my body of work I think this is what I am most interested in when we talk about the gaze, how the photographers, subjects, and viewers gazes interact and overlap with each other, and how one effects and influences the other.
*unschooling – The following links give explanation of what unschooling is defined as https://www.naturalchild.org/articles/guest/earl_stevens.html and https://sandradodd.com/unschool/definition
Bright, Susan. 2011. Home truths, photography and motherhood, essay motherlode. London, Art books.
Jansen, Charlotte. 2017. Girl on girl . Art and photography in the age of the female gaze. London; Laurence king.
Crewdson, Gregory. 2005. The aesthetics of repression. Available at - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1833704/ (Accessed 22.02.20)
Dodd, Sandra. Definitions of unschooling. Available at https://sandradodd.com/unschool/definition (Accessed 22.02.20)
Stevens, Earl. 1994. The Natural child project. What is unschooling? Available at https://www.naturalchild.org/articles/guest/earl_stevens.html (Accessed 22.02.20)
McQueen, Steve. 2019. Year 3 project Tate Britain. Available at - https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/steve-mcqueen-year-3 (Accessed 22.02.20)