How Has The Gaze Evolved In Contemporary Society?

Can It Be Challenged by New Technologies?

By Maddy Baron Clark (1st October 2021)
‘To gaze implies more than to look at – it signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze’ (Schroeder, 1998, p.208)
Figure 1: Helmut Newton (1976) Saddle I for Vogue Hommes

In Visual and Other Pleasures (Mulvey 1989:19) Mulvey proposes the idea of the male gaze, describing woman as playing a ‘traditional exhibitionistic role’ in which ‘male spectators… can project their fantasies onto’ (1989:19) in cinema. The male gaze is established as a common occurrence in historical and contemporary media. Helmut Newton employed the male gaze in most of his work, often depicting women in the ‘exhibitionistic role’ (1989:19) that Mulvey describes (Figure 1). Moreover, Peter Schjeldahl employs the concept of the male gaze with reegard to Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits (Figure 2), describing them as ‘fiercely erotic’ (cited Meagher 2002:21). In these examples the male gaze appears well established.

Figure 2: Cindy Sherman (1978) from Untitled Film Stills

In contemporary contexts however it can be argued the gaze is shifting and that Mulvey’s theory is outdated. Susan Bordo described Mulveys concepts ‘in the year 2015… seem[ing] obsolete’ (Bordo 2015). In the context of western contemporary society, objectifying bodies for profit is standard. Bordo points out that Mulvey ignores the consumerist culture we live in, and how the ‘eroticisation of the male body became big business thanks to the genius of Calvin Klein and other designers’ (Bordo 2015) (Figure 3). Thomas and Ahmed reinforce this: ’the displayed male bodies since the 80s… [are] offered to the gaze of women and heterosexual men in the new men’s magazines and fashion magazines’ (cited Whiteway 2017). In all instances the objectification of the body is used to target consumers, but equally allows for the rise of other forms of the gaze.

Figure 3: Herb Ritts (1992) for Calvin Klein

Similarly, culturally, there are female artists which create work using the gaze (Figure 4). The exhibition Women Looking at Men (Cheim 2016) features thirty-two women artists, specifically objectifying the male body and giving rise to the female gaze against Mulvey’s purely male gaze

Figure 4: Chaim & Read (2016) The Female Gaze, Part Two: Women Look at Men

Mulvey also ignores pornography catered to the LGBT+ community which can objectify all genders. The Chronicle’s essay states ‘the notion of the lesbian gaze has gained currency’ and argues ‘even the neat division of people into male and female seems, to many people, archaic.’ (The Male Gaze in Retrospect 2015). This idea of division being archaic is brought up in Legacy Russel’s Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto. Russel aims to strike back at existing ‘in a binary system’ using the rise of the internet and online presence (Russel 2020:7) focusing on being ‘anti-body, resisting the body as a coercive social and cultural architecture’ (2020:91) and thus resisting all forms of the gaze. Russel uses non-binary artist Victoria Sin as an example: ‘Their body shatters the shallow illusion as to any harmony or balance that might be offered up within the suggestive binary of male/female’ while ‘celebrating their queer body as necessarily visible… a calculated confrontation.’ (2020:59) (Figure 5).

Mulvey’s 1989 theory is far from incorrect: there are still many instances where the male gaze is employed. Nonetheless, Mulvey fails to recognise the expansion and evolutions of these alternative gazes and those who confront them in a contemporary context

Figure 5: Victoria Sin (2018) from A View from Elsewhere

Case Study: Miquela Sousa (@LilMiquela)

‘There are circumstances in which looking itself is a source of pleasure, just as in the reverse formation, there is pleasure in being looked at’ (Mulvey (1975) in Hall & Evans, 2003, p.381)

Miquela Sousa, otherwise known as @LilMiquela on Instagram, is a CGI virtual influencer created by startup Brud (Jackson 2018) with over three million followers on Instagram. Lil Miquela posts frequently, promoting brands and ‘spends her time taking selfies and hanging out with her equally-cool, but actually real friends’ (Cadogan 2018) her behaviour mimics a celebrity social media influencer (Figure 6)

Figure 6: @LilMiquela on Instagram 1st March 2021

Lil Miquela’s creators, Brud, claim she is ‘a champion of so many vital causes, namely Black Lives Matter and the absolutely essential fight for LGBTQIA+ rights in this country’ (cited in Russel 2020:93). Russel notes that Lil Miquela is an example of the ‘anti-body’ (2020:93) in her manifesto. Lil Miquela only exists as an online avatar and is seen promoting social change online (Figure 7) where she has #BlackLivesMatter in her bio and supports social causes on her instagram stories (Figure 8), backing Russel’s concept.

Figure 7: @LilMiquela on Instagram 12th April 2021
Figure 8: @LilMiquela on Instagram Stories 2020

However, her presentation and marketing makes this hard to believe. Lil Miquela’s CGI body often poses in a way that caters Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze in a ‘traditional exhibitionistic role’ (Mulvey 1989:19). Objectification is common for instagram influencers, ‘She attracts the same fetishised gaze as anyone else selling her own image’ reflected in her comments section- ‘“so beautiful” one guy wrote on a post where a bit of cleavage can be detected, adding a drooling emoji’ (Petrarca 2018). We also have to question Lil Miquela’s agency. She is owned by a company whom chooses her appearance and posing and is treated like the ‘object’ Mulvey describes by being placed in ways which appeal to her audience (Figure 9).

Lil Miquela is used as a model to make money though Instagram promotions- she sits between being an advocate for change or a performative activist for profit. Russel questions ‘can a corporate avatar- in essence, a privatised body, symbolic in form- be an authentic advocate… towards social change?’ (Russel 2021:93).

In conclusion, Lil Miquela is the ideal ‘anti-body’ (2020:93) to challenge the gaze, but her lack of agency and use as a feminine object for commercial purposes stunts this. Even so, the rise of virtual influencers may open opportunities for feminist discussion for other creators, further pushing the idea of Russel’s ‘anti-body’ (2020:93).

Figure 8: @LilMiquela on Instagram 6th January 2021

‘Boring’ Photographs…

Or, Interesting Visions?

By Kieran Bennnet (23rd August 2021)
‘Ordinary, everyday objects can be made extraordinary by being photographed. Because we may ordinarily pass these objects by, or keep them at the periphery of our vision, we may not automatically give them credence as visual subjects within art’s lexicon’ (Cotton, 2018, pg.115)
Peter Fraser (2002) from Materials

The bad is becoming the good, the elite is becoming the generic and the boring is the interesting. The photography world is extending the idea of “art” into the lesser observed or overlooked. Neville Wakefield stated, “Bad photography now reigns […] it makes for good art at times when good photography witnesses only the flow of technical virtuosity into addictive banality” (Wakefield, 1998. pg.238-247). The common place, the banal, the amateur and the boring is becoming fascinating though a post-modern scope. This essay explores what constitutes boring in the photographic world

Stephen Bull stated “[The] image‐world fragments ordinary life: it encourages vicarious experience, stimulates material desire and determines the demands placed upon reality” (Bull, 2020. Pg.351). In terms of vernacular photography, Shafran an artist (Figure 1), captures a pile of receipts in the domestic space, boring right? However, the receipts draw you into questioning why they are piled, why they are needed and why so many? The most mundane becomes a mystery, the reality that nothing “boring” is there. Our own minds attribute boredom to the subject when we perceive it as dull. Shinkle defined this form of boredom as a “temporal concern; a forced inactivity of mind; a temporary slowdown of the normal flow of perception” (Shinkle, 2004. Pg.168). The mind makes you bored, but in fact there is nothing that could be said to be universally boring, boredom is a subjective response to a stimulus or lack thereof.

Figure 1: Nigel Shafran (2016) from Dark Rooms

To be bored is a natural emotion, but it depends on individuals, what constitutes boring. Some suggests boredom has positive aspects, “boredom motivates pursuit of new goals when the previous goal is no longer beneficial” (Bench & Heather. 2013). Others emphasize how boredom is a space between interests, anybody can experience, it is just subjective to what extent boredom is experienced. Walter Benjamin had suggested “boredom helps to develop a critical aware-ness of those activities which are ordinarily too banal or repetitive to merit attention” (Benjamin. 2002. Pg.216). Shore (Figure 2), has used a milk carton to highlight the beauty of the domestic and usually quite dull space. This endless red void and the carton which appears to be floating but in fact is just sitting on the table, this piece of rubbish becomes acknowledged, intriguing to view.

Figure 2: Stephen Shore (1972-73) from American Surfaces

Within the photographic world, a photograph can highlight what is normally unseen or ignored, it becomes noticed and therefore is no longer boring. Sontag suggested “Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality as a recalcitrant, inaccessible; of making it stand still. Or they enlarge a reality that is felt to be shrunk, hollowed out, perishable, remote” (Sontag. 1979. Pg.120). A photograph makes a dull moment seem more worthy of attention. When one accepts that boredom is the place between ideas, you readily agree that something of interest is out there but is yet ignored or undiscovered.

The scene (Figure 3) from American Beauty pushes this idea of the unseen delicacy, turning our gaze from something boring, into something beautiful. In this scene Ricky (Wes Bentley), is showing a video that he recorded to Jane (Thora Birch) saying “Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I ever filmed? […] this bag was just… dancing with me … like a little kid begging me to play with it.” (Bentley, Wes. 1999). The character reveals this beautiful side to life, through a bag. Thereby proving “boring” or something to be defined as that, is a social construct. There is always more to discover in the mundane and the lens brings into focus how beautiful the everyday truly is, opening our eyes to the world’s hidden treasures.

Figure 3: Sam Mendes (1999) from American Beauty

Case Study: Laurence Stephens Bored Tourists (2018)

The traveller can be a prime example of boredom, their journey to a destination to find something more interesting than their mundane day to day life. Laurence Stephens’ Bored Tourists explores the complexities of boredom and the mundanity of tourism Referring to Figure 4, he stated that “Juxtaposed against the beautiful architecture was an array of bemused, disillusioned tourists, bored, half-asleep, unintentionally waiting to be photographed,” (Stephens, 2018). He projects the obvious boredom of these subjects into clear view, transforming these quite interesting and foreign locations into moments of pure mundanity.

Figure 4: Laurence Stephens (2018) Selfie Sticks Are Everywhere These Days

He highlights how dependent these tourists have become on their cameras needing to document every event that has happened, rather than enjoying that moment in the real world. Richard Chalfen once noted “It has even been suggested that some tourists pay so much attention to photographing places, sites, etc. that they have to wait until they get their pictures back to see where they’ve visited.” (Chalfen. 1987. Pg.101). Stephens suggests that tourists recently (with the rise of smartphones) look at an image of the place rather than the place itself. As he stated, “Along with our need to record what we are doing while we’re travelling is the fact that with our smartphones, we have a constant stream of entertainment to draw us away from our ‘real life’ experiences.” (Stephens. cf:Hardy, 2018).

Figure 5: Laurence Stephens (2018) Modern-Day Explorers.

The act of ‘fulfilling a goal’, (Bench, 2013), is one aspect that I see in Stephen’s work. Take for example Figure 5, the people within the frame appear to be comedic or novel in their appearance, emphasising their position as characters placed into an unknown situation. The woman looking down the path, the man pointing a camera at what appears to be nothing and the couple looking lost in the field behind, all come together as if they are looking for something interesting to end their boredom. Stephens has shown a different perspective to tourism in its mundanity, by revealing the individuals as those escaping a mundane life to explore one of a foreign land. They search for the interesting to alleviate their boredom but are never successful to find a goal, overcoming their boredom. Stephens uses vibrant colours mixed with crowding of the frame and using a flash, clearly identify a point of focus; but despite this, there is arguably still nothing interesting’ to show, besides bemused tourists. Stephens emphasises the boredom and never-ending cycle of boredom, no matter what you do or where you go.

Laurence Stephens (2018) from Bored Tourists
  • Baker, Tora. (2018). ‘Bored Tourists: a colourful, ironic look at tourists on holiday, documenting their odd behaviour’ in Creative Boom (31st July 2018). Available at: [Accessed 5 February 2021].
  • Benjamin, Walter. (2002) The Arcades Project USA: Harvard University
  • Bryant, Eric & Neville, Wakefield. (1998) Veronica’s Revenge: Contemporary Perspectives on Photography New York: LAC
  • Bull, Stephen. (2020) A Companion to Photography New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell
  • Cotton, Charlotte (2018) The Photograph As Contemporary Art London: Thames and Hudson
  • C41 Magazine (2018) ‘The Bored Tourists of Laurence Stephens between Spain and Portugal’ in C41 Magazine (20th August 2018) Available at: [Accessed 12 February 2021]
  • Dixon, Richard (2011) ‘Paul Theroux’s Art of Travel’ in The Guardian (4th June 2011) Available at: [Accessed 6 February 2021].
  • Mendes, S., Bentley, W. & Birch, T. (1999). American Beauty [Film]
  • Shinkle, Eugénie. (2004). ‘Boredom, Repetition, Inertia: Contemporary Photography and the Aesthetics of the Banal’ in Mosaic Vol.37, No 4.
  • Sontag, Susan. (1979) On Photography London: Penguin
  • Theroux, Paul. (2008). Ghost Train to the Eastern Star Boston: Houghton Mifflin
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Art, Reproduction, Commercialization

Good, Bad or indifferent?

By Toby Woollen (6th june 2021)
‘A combination of repeatability and access. By repeatability, I mean the ability to make exact copies of an image ad infinitum; simple laws of supply and demand dictate that the more objects there are to go around, the less fighting over them ensues, and consequently, value falls’ (Thein, 2013)
Louvre Museum (2020) Mona Lisa merchandise

The commercial side of the ‘art’ world can be seen throughout history. During the Italian Renaissance, for example, the Popes of the Catholic Church ‘strove to make Rome the capital of Christendom while projecting it, through art, architecture, and literature, as the centre of a Golden Age of unity, order, and peace’ (Norris 2007). Artworks were commissioned by the Popes of the time in order to create a legacy for themselves and the church, which in turn helped to instil awe and wonder in the viewers. It is undeniable to say that this form of commerciality was beneficial to the art of the period though, as some of the most ubiquitous works of art were created in this time by artists who had been commissioned by the Catholic Church. Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling was a commission by Pope Julius II in 1508 and has been both a tourist and religious attraction ever since, attracting up to 20,000 people per day in summer (Pullella 2012).

Michelangelo (1508-1512) Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

However, as the Renaissance allowed artists to look more towards Humanism rather than Catholicism, many works of art were made that did not focus on Christianity but looked at the value of human life and people instead. Some of these artworks have been commercialised more recently, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a good example of this. Described as ‘the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world’ (Lichfield, 2005), the Mona Lisa has been reproduced countless times by clothing brands and artists alike.

Marcel Duchamp (1919) L.H.O.O.Q. Mona Lisa with a Moustache

Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. was not the first appropriation of the work but it drew more attention to it as critics of the time saw Duchamp’s work as ‘immoral and vulgar, even plagiaristic’ (MoMa 2021), so having a reputation such as Marcel Duchamp attached to the image of the Mona Lisa certainly elicited more attention. Perhaps more importantly however, Duchamp managed to take the work away from the commercial world and mould it back into the art world again. By drawing on a postcard of the original piece, he takes the synonymous image of the Mona Lisa ‘from the banality of reproduction and returns it to the private world of creation’ (Jones, 2001). We could say, then, that commerciality actually led to more creativity for Duchamp; he saw how Da Vinci’s painting had been commercialised and used this to his advantage.

Detroit Institute of Arts Museum (2020) The Scream merchandise

Gift shops are the ideal arenas for art to be reproduced and commercialised. This can, however, dilute the initial context of the work. When talking about Edvard Munch’s The Scream on the TalkArt podcast, Tracy Emin argues that Munch’s work was grossly misunderstood, and that what was initially a work intended to talk about the ‘never ending scream of nature’ ended up ‘being a car key ring, or a fridge magnet, or a cartoon, or a joke. There was nothing jokey about that at all’ (Emin, 2020). She went on to discuss how she has made sure that after her death she ‘will not become a nail file or a key ring’, alluding to her negative view on the way in which the commercialisation of certain works can diminish their context.

‘The context of display is an important issue because it colours our perception and informs our understanding of works of art’ (Barker, 1999, p.8)

Case Study: Albert Namatjira

Albert Namatjira was born in 1902 in Hermannsburg in the Northern Territory of Australia. He was separated by the government from his parents to attend a Lutheran mission school at a young age and he soon became interested in the possibility of learning to paint. ‘Motivated by a deep attachment to his country and the possibility of a vocation that offered financial return’ (Kleinert, 2000), Namatjira expressed his interest of learning painting to Rex Battarbee, an Australian artist who in 1936 took Namatjira on expeditions as a cameleer. Battarbee lent Namatjira the materials needed in order to paint and taught him how to do so in a European style. Battarbee ‘was impressed by his evident talent’ (Kleinert, 2000) and two years later in 1938 Namatjira would hold his first solo exhibition at the Fine Art Society Gallery in Melbourne.

Albert Namatjira (c.1950) Twin Ghosts

It is notable that it was only when Namatjira painted in a European manner that he began to gain national and international commercial attention; many people sought to buy works of art from one of the first Aboriginal painters to work in a European style. However, Namatjira, along with all other Aboriginal people in Australia, were wards of the state and were therefore disallowed from making their own legal decisions. He could not, for example, decide to travel between territories. Choices such as these would be made for him by the government and subsequently state departments of Native Affairs (Edmond 2014: 358) and because of his legal standing (or lack thereof), Namatjira was taken advantage of many times during his life by people who wanted to sell originals or copies of his work. Paintings bought for £20 may have then been marked up to as much as £100 (Edmond, 2014: 350). Whilst this may seem like a rather normal occurrence in the modern-day art market, it is important to note not only the immediacy but the lack of control Namatjira had over these deals.

Albert Namatjira (c.1945) Palm Valley

It is undeniable then that commercialisation played a largely negative role in Namatjira’s artistic career. Whilst he may have created some of the most famous and beloved artworks in Australia to this date, they are outshone by the immorality of his treatment. In 1957, his wardship was finally revoked, but Edmond & Williamson (2014) propose that ‘all it meant was that he was no longer subject to the rules and regulations that so-called full-bloods had to observe and thus, from one point of view, was less an invitation to join white Australia than an excision from his own people’ (2014: 365-6). No longer being a ward of the state gave Namatjira some more freedoms, most notably a licence to buy alcohol. The commerciality of his work meant that Namatjira earned more than most other Aboriginal Australians of the time. He used his money to buy and supply alcohol to his family and friends, which he was later arrested and imprisoned for (Alexander 2014).

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Through (White Washed) Eyes?

…And On Whiter Walls?

By Lizzy Tollemache (8th January 2020)
The White Gaze: it is a phrase that resonates in black American literature… The White Gaze: it traps black people in white imaginations (Grant, 2015)

Edward Said (1978) discussed this in Orientalism, a concept later referred to by Elizabeth Kaplan (1997) as the ‘Imperial Gaze’. Essentially: do we still view and construct the world through a white (eyed) perspective?

Is this white gaze still alive and well today? And, more specifically, is it the same in visual culture? Or, indeed, in exhibition culture?

Let us first consider the Family Of Man exhibition (MoMA 1955) as a point of reference, we should still consider, if, when and how contemporary exhibitions might maintain unequal power relations within the white walls of the gallery. Are these are entitled to the same critique as acts of ‘aesthetic colonialism’? (Sekula, 1981, p.15), even of ‘universalising’ [racial] expereinces (Barthes, 2009, p.121). Do these minority voices remain ‘silenced’ by the imposed narrative of the curator? (Phillips, 1982, p.62).

Ezra Stoller/MoMA (1955) The Family of Man

Like Phillips (1982), I view Steichen as an egocentric puppeteer; his decontexulisation of the artist’s works gave him the power to choose how photographers voices were silenced, and particularly how People of Colour (PoC) were represented, that ultimately served as this ‘instrument of cultural colonialism.’ (Sekula, 1981. p.15)  Theophilus Neokonkwo (1995 in Sandeen, p.155) also furthers this point, that non-western people, were depicted as ‘social inferiors, half clothed’ as well as victims of poverty and despair – and (as such, he argues) were exploited. He goes on to discuss the way that Western peoples were presented in ‘dignified cultural states’. Sound familar? Think National Geographic.

Nat Farbman.(1955) ‘Botswana / Bechuanaland’ from The Family Of Man.
The ignominious lack of inclusivity, out of 256 works exhibited only 12 were from non-westerners (Tīfentāle, 2018)

So thus, viewing essentially becomes voyeuristic. In ‘Regarding The Pain of Others’ Susan Sontag voices photography’s inability to accurately capture experiences not lived by the participant, in short, we have ‘no right to experience the suffering of others at a distance, denuded of its raw power’ (Sontag, 2004, p.73). Unequal treatment and visibility amongst the marginalised remains a prevaelent issue today. Whilst we might legitimately point the finger of blame at Western media, another might be a continuing (but shifting) exclusivity rooted deep in museum culture. Ali Meghji (2018) states cultural institutions are dominated by white consumers, that a discourse of ‘inclusion’ is promoted simply to avoid charges of racism, therefore PoC’s artwork is segregated and mainly only exhibited annually as a form of tokenism (Meghji, 2018)

‘Curatorial control has remained in the hands of white westerners.Third world writers and artists have had little say in the ways in which they were represented in these exhibitions and have only been able to react’ (Obguibe, 1999. p.158)

For example, the three winning photographs of 2018’s Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize depicted PoC, yet the images were captured by white photographers. Though, Khairani Barokka is interested in National Geographic – how far can we take this? Do we see again here a suggesstion that their ‘lives [are] classifiable, capturable, translatable only through the white gaze’? (Barokka, 2019). Are subjects are maintained in a position of objects of curious observation and consumption, victims of a gaze fixated on their ‘essentialist difference or desirable otherness’ (Ramirez in Ferguson et al, 1996. p.32)

Alice Mann (2018) from Taylor Wessing Prize
Enda Bowe (2018) from Taylor Wessing Prize
Max Barstow (2018) from Taylor Wessing Prize
‘What is often called the black soul is a white man’s artefact’ (Fanon, 1994. p.11)

Carol Duncan (1995) situates art museums as ‘species of ritual space’ to which  provide a sanctuary for the contemplation of artworks (Duncan, 1995, p.5). Yet, I would argue that this sanctuary is unfairly monopolised by white practice, while this ‘ritual’ is confined to ensuring that the ‘comfort of white people, whether participants or observers, [is] paramount to anyone else’s’ (Burge, 2019). Meanwhile, Duncan goes on to suggest that a multiracial ‘dichotomy has provided a rationale for putting westerns and non western societies on a hierarchical scale’ (Duncan, 1996. p.5).

Next time you visit a group exhibition at a major gallery, count the number of minority practitoners included. It may open a whitewashed eye.

Does this so-called White Gaze really help service the views of PoC? Or, is it merely tokenism or a portrayal of ‘Otherness’ and as still fantasised objects, silencing artistic milestones and capacity to represent oneself.

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Re-visualising Mental Health

‘Seeing’ the Stigma?

By Tove Hellesvik (4th january 2020)
Defining mental health will continue to be dynamic and fluid and will grow and change as context and cultural influences change (Goldie, 2010 p.36)
Daniel Regan (2015) from Fragmentary
‘Seeing these observations of myself from an outsider’s viewpoint prompted me to revisit those times in my life through my own visual archive. I have always turned to photography to express the feelings of a fragmented identity, of my mind splitting apart and into something destructive, something unknown. Working with self-portraits taken on or close to the date of the medical record I have disrupted the image by digitally inserting those texts that are too personal for the public into the photographic image. The result is a corrupted portrait of the broken self, a metaphor for the shattered identity’ (Daniel Regan, 2015)

Defining mental health will continue to be dynamic and fluid and will grow and change as context and cultural influences change. These statements interact directly with the line of thought and questioning here. They provide an opening and understanding to the ideas of what mental health is, to explore the means by which photographers might capture the essence of that in photographs.

Daniel Regan (2015) from Fragmentary
Dmitri Gerasimov (2011) Head in the Package
Edward Honaker (2015) from Book II








One thing is immediately apparent in much of this practice. A sense of invisibility, or of retreating from the world; both visually and physically.

Rather than acting as portraits, they are transformed into metaphors. One can easily feel the sense of suffocation, of panic, anxiety and claustrophobia providing our first look at photographs bringing attention to the daily struggles of people with mental illness. Similarly, Michal Macků developed his own artistic technique to best tell stories through his photography. Calling it ‘gellage’ he moves the gelatinous emulsion around on film negatives and alters their appearance in dramatic ways. In these images, the subject seemingly rips himself apart, not unlike the feelings that depression and anxiety can bring.

Michal Macků (1990) from Gellage
However, with panic, anxiety and claustrophobia also comes despair, depression and the feeling of being alone.

The darkness which surrounds Alex Bland’s man in a box in Fragile (2015) shows an abyss that one can be pushed into and feared, or, find a sense of comfort for escape. As Goldie (2010, p.36) points out, we are essentially social beings and mental health can be socially created and socially destroyed. In which case, the push into an abyss can be confirmed as a social behaviour or result thereof. It is important to note, that mental illnesses can easily stem from forced social hardships, behaviours, abuse which we should all be mindful of when interacting with other people. A similarly metaphorical approach is to be found Liz Osban‘s practice, a photographer who went through depression and used her images to show this. She secluded herself into unfamiliarity and deserted spaces that were blue and gloomy. She beautifully shows mental illness in her works which evoke a sense of empathy from an audience, immediately relating back to creating an understanding space for the normalization of mental illness in public.

Gabriel Isak (2015) The Farewell Prelude
‘The dormant bodies create a sense of melancholy serenity, matched by scenery that is fixed, purgatorial. Wind-swept hair, paper planes, birds in flight and floating balloons act as an unsettling precedent for figurative journeys: the animation, it would seem, is projected outwards by the thoughts, fears and hopes of the individual, left unresolved and trapped within their sedentary vignettes’ (Aesthetica, 2015)

Goffman argues that the stigma of mental illness, is usually considered to be an undesirable attribute in terms of social normality. But what is social normality when it comes to mental illness? It is understanding that mental illness is an invisible threat that surrounds us all and to be more accepting when it comes to opening up about the struggles of life. Liz Osbert‘s project Dualities goes a long way in terms of normalising this by exploring people in their homes living their ordinary lives. She shows the different moods associated with daily routines. It provides insight on ways that mental illness can have different effects in different ways. It is not always a continuous moment or feeling, but rather a series of good and bad days. The everyday aspect of ordinary people helps normalize societies views of mental illness.

Liz Osbert (2014-2018) from Dualities
‘It opens the door for more artists to make work about their personal experiences and share it with a wider audience. Since photography is a relatively democratic and accessible medium, now it means that there are greater opportunities for people to explore photography as a medium to process, document, and conceptualise inner states in a therapeutic manner’ (Regan in Campbell, 2019)

Society can be a cruel place for mental illnesses and healthy lifestyles. Sean Mundy‘s Nescience illustrates a dead body amidst hurrying strangers. No one taking a glance or slightly curious with the scene before them. Everyone is so caught up in their own path that they forget to notice when someone is in dire need of help. The stigma and discrimination faced by people with a mental illness is widespread and offers a key public health challenge to stereotypical society views. (Goldie, 2010, p.215). Photography offers us an important gateway to challenge and change these stigmas.

Further Resources
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‘Real’ Beauty or Picture Perfect?

Human Bodies not Human Beings

By Abigail Emm (22nd December 2019)
‘A society where feminine beauty is defined not by the human self on genuine intellectual and sentimental grounds, but by a computer software on the grounds of economic interest, is more dead than alive. It is a society of human bodies, not human beings’ (Naskar, 2017)
Harper’s Bazaar (November, 2013)
Vogue (August, 2019)










When we really consider the all too ubiquitous digital retouching / altering of models’ appearances, such as the removal of blemishes and changing of body shapes, we must also think about whether this is merely to aid the sale of an item, or promote a beauty ‘standard’. Or both? In our image world, these types of images are more easy to come across than ever, with a combination of social media, magazines, billboards and advertisements, the exposure to these types of representations of ‘woman’ are nearly inescapable.

Does this create unattainable expectations for bodies / create a market for products and services that could aid an individual to get closer to a so called feminine ‘ideal’. What is the morality of retouching models? How does it effect those who view these images? Is this ‘ideal’ a myth in itself?

A study by Kleemans et al (2016) on the impact of manipulated / perfected Instagram images on young women, concluded that indeed, manipulated images were more favourably viewed than their un-manipulated counterparts. Interestingly, the participants in the study also struggled to detect when the model’s body had been slimmed down. This causes concern, as this lack of awareness might suggest that there is a culture of doctored images as ‘reality’, and that young women may start comparing their body to these fictitious myths.

from Kleemans et al (2016)
‘Exposure to manipulated Instagram photos directly led to lower body image’ (Kleemans et al, 2016)

Bingham (2015) writing in The Telegraph reported that 90% of teenage girls ‘digitally enhance’ photographs of themselves before posting them online (Bingham, 2015). I believe this statistic wouldn’t be as high if this ubiquitous (but all to often hidden) use of retouching was lessened. In allowing young women to see other women with thier true blemishes and larger stomachs and thighs, a healthier body image will be developed, as the pull to change their bodies to resemble the (published) ‘myth’ of the model is made more realistic.

‘Retouching or otherwise altering pictures, to make them appear thinner, for example, has become the “new normal” for young people’
(Bingham, 2015)

This is clearly a dangerous game, particularly if young woman perceive these doctored images as ‘reality’, and as a result start comparing their body to fictitious ones, which can lead to the development of poor self-esteem and eating disorders. As Sarah Marsh (2019) proposes, ‘There has been a dramatic rise in hospital admissions for potentially life-threatening eating disorders in the last year, prompting concern from experts about a growing crisis of young people experiencing anorexia and bulimia’ (Marsh, 2019).

Is this directly related to a ‘myth’ of an ‘ideal’ woman / an ‘ideal’ body?
Dove (2006) Evolution

In 2006, Dove created an advert that depicted a woman preparing for a photoshoot, and subsequently being heavily photoshopped; with her neck lengthened and her eyes enlarged. Whilst this advertisement was praised for highlighting how drastically retouching can change appearances, it was also condemned, due to the company using it as a marketing tool. Dove were also selling ‘Intensive Firming Cream’ at the time (Traister, 2005) which aimed to improve the appearance of cellulite. This created a contradiction in what the company were saying vs thier simultaneous financiaal gain, which, when it came down to it, was still profiting from telling women that they needed to change their bodies.

Companies are slowly starting to alter their models less, which is shown through multiple fashion retailers such as H&M and Missguided halting their use of this practice. This encourages people who are concerned about the ethics of retouching to shop at these stores also. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, more companies need to join these retailers on their body-positive advertisements to make a larger impact

Missguided (2017) Make Your Mark
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Conflicts and Contexts? A Brief Consideration

War as Entertainment. War as change?

By Louis Izard (14th Decemeber 2019)
‘Wars are now also living room sights and sounds’ (Sontag, 2004, p.16)
Roland Emmerich (2013) White House Down
David O. Russell (2003) Three Kings
Oliver Stone (1987) Platoon
‘The shock of photographed atrocities wears off with repeated viewings’ (Sontag, 1977, p.20)

It is clear that certain representations of war and suffering have become all too commonplace, particlularly in the images we see (both now and then) of the difference between coverage of the the Vietnam war (1955- 1975) and Iraq war (2003 – 2011) and they way they have been appropriated for entertainment alone.

Does this make us less or more involved? Does the power of the cinema dilute this? or are we merely living in a simulacra? Where does the photograph fit in?

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag (2004) looks into the way we view war and suffering. She proposes two central ideas on how war photography / imagery can affect a population. The first is through the media, in which mass distribution of these images of suffering cause public outrage and demand for change. While the other idea looks at the gradual erosion of compassion after repeatedly viewing these images. Essentially, she argues that ‘Such images just make us a little less able to feel, to have our conscience pricked’ (Sontag, 2004, p.94).

Steve McCurry (1991) Camels and Oil Fire, Kuwait
‘I really don’t think that a picture of an atrocity should be a good picture, a beautiful picture, a well-composed picture… It should be casually composed, hastily framed, only competently printed’ (Sischy in Lewis, 2003)

In contrast, the Vietnam war was widely photographed, and the images captured are certainly graphic to our modern eyes. This is due to the display of real and uncensored depictions of suffering from both sides, in so many different contexts.

Consider the photographs included in the music video for Buffalo Springfield (1966) For What It’s Worth below.

Iraq was considerably different. As Kenneth Jareke (2014) points out ‘It was one picture after another of a sunset with camels and a tank…If I don’t take pictures like these, people like my mom will think war is what they see in movies’ (Jarecke in Deghett, 2014).

Consider the film trailer for David O. Russell (2003) Three Kings below.

representations from Vietnam are more likely to depict the violence inflicted on others, whilst images of Iraq are mostly of tanks, guns and US soldiers – a particularly Western / American view of the world perhaps?
Nick Ut / AP (1972) The Terror of War / ‘Napalm Girl’
‘Baudrillard pointed out that the [Iraq] war was conducted as a media spectacle. Rehearsed as a wargame or simulation, it was then enacted for the viewing public as a simulation: as a news event, with its paraphernalia of embedded journalists and missile’s-eye-view video cameras, it was a videogame. The real violence was thoroughly overwritten by electronic narrative: by simulation’ (Poole, 2007)
Rick Merron / AP (1965) Vietnam War
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Getty Images (2011) Iraq War

So today, in our image world, and the age of the (uncensored) internet – what is the role of Citizen Journalism? As Sontag (2004) notes, ‘The less polished pictures are… [more they are] welcomed as possessing a special kind of authenticity’ (2004, p,24). Here is New York (2004) was one of the largest collaborative projects undertaken to archive the events of 9/11 but also as a celebration of a vibrant city overcoming trauma.

Micheal Shulan (2004) (ed.) from Here is New York
‘What was captured by these photographs — captured with every conceivable kind of apparatus, from Leicas and digital Nikons to homemade pinhole cameras and little plastic gizmos that schoolchildren wear on their wrists — is truly astonishing: not only grief, and shock, and courage, but a beauty that is at once infernal and profoundly uplifting. The pictures speak both to the horror of what happened on 9.11 (and is still happening), and to the way it can and must be countered by us all. They speak not with one voice, but with one purpose, saying that to make sense of this terrifying new phase in our history we must break down the barriers that divide us’ (Shulan, 2004)


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Doug Rickard’s ‘Pictures’?

America according to doug Rickard 

By Emily Jane Scott (13th December 2019)
‘(Photography) promises a view of the world, but it gives us a flattened object in which wrecked reminders of the world are logged’ (Elkins, 2011, p.17)
Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture

Doug Rickard produced his series A New American Picture, by utilising the vast visual archive of Google Street View. He iimportantly reminds us to challenge preconceptions about what photography, or ‘photographies’ can be, especially when it comes to digital imagery. Rickard spent an extensive amount of time (2009-2011) exploring stereotypically ‘subordinate’ urban neighbourhoods and rural areas across the USA, from the comfort of his own computer desk. He would then photograph the composition on his computer screen with a digital SLR. Whilst many photographers aim for the most transparent process possible, Rickard includes blurred faces, pixelated distortion and warped perspective which reveal the digital origin of his photographs.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
Perhaps Rickard’s process reflects the beginning of an age where human beings are reduced to data, constantly being observed, being monitored?

Yet, paradoxically, Rickard returns humanity to this data by picking out individual stories and adding them to the overarching and ongoing narrative of the American working class. The sense of distance provided by Rickard’s multi-layered technique adds weight to the images- reminding us of how distant we might be from these people and places; both on a geographical, cultural and socio-economic level. And so, Rickard is no more of a visual appropriator than any more ‘traditional’ photographer: he is simply photographing from within a digitally reconstructed environment, as opposed to the world outside. The images included in A New American Picture only became photographs (dare we say ‘art’?) once they were selected, framed, curated, contextualised and published by Rickard.

‘Doug Rickard… is interested in the American content and its haunting, visceral power. “I was interested in photographing America in the same context, with the same poetry and power, that has been done in the past” (in Appleyard, 2011)
Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
Rickard’s work blurs the lines between technology and reality, the image and the world around us. His practice challenges our view of what photography is, and could be in this new, digital age.

Although Rickard is drawing from a collection of images which have already been ‘taken’, His practice, to me, cannot be considered to be a ‘pure’ form of artistic appropriation (despite appropriation being a completely valid way of producing powerful work, which can eloquently distil a cultural mood). The original mages within Google Street View are not, in my opinion, photographs. They were objectively, methodically collected by a vehicle-mounted camera driven down every street; they have no nature of subjective selection.

Rickard is no more a visual hunter-gatherer than any photographer. he is simply photographing from within a digitally reconstructed environment, as opposed to the world outside which is, itself, layered with constructed imagery.

Szarkowski’s (1966) discussion of photography focuses on the idea of selection. A photographer chooses what to include within a frame, and what to leave out. It is impossible for the ‘photographer’ to be truly objective, as a truly objective image is not a photograph, it is only visual data. so where does that leave Rickard, or indeed, his source material? A New American Picture only became subjective photographs once they were selected, framed, curated, contextualised. One might even liken his work to that of a ‘readymade’ sculptor; he turns something completely banal and utilitarian into a different practice merely through recontextualization. But yet paradoxically, despite its source material, we should still frame this practice in the tradition of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Paul Graham – or even Edward Hopper, as an equally visual / critical and subjective commentary on the state of thier own America.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
‘Any doubts as to the artistic – rather than ethical or conceptual – merits of this new way of working were definitively settled by Rickard’s pictures. It was William Eggleston who coined the phrase “photographing democratically” but Rickard has used Google’s indiscriminate omniscience to radically extend this enterprise – technologically, politically and aesthetically’ (Dyer, 2012)

The idea of photography as an accurate representation of the real world is mythological. Whether it be an artist’s concept, a news story, a memory, an advertisement, an illustration or investigation, all photographs feed into a false narrative of some kind. Yet, Rickards photographs are aesthetically pleasing, insightful, emotive and harrowing. The sense of distance provided by his multi-layered technique adds weight to the images, reminding one of how distant we really might be from these people and places, on geographical, cultural and socio-economic levels.

Doug Rickard (2011) from A New American Picture
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