18 Photography, Transparency and the Depiction of Women

Sara Fellman

One of the topics we covered in this class was the history of photography, how it emerged and how it is still relevant to visual and popular culture today. We also discussed the evolution of how women are portrayed in this medium and how they were allowed to participate in the art world within this context.

It is important we understand the history and the intention behind photographs as their association with “truth” needs to be considered in much the same way as we analyse, just as paintings and drawings of the era. As we saw in our discussions, many photographs would have had to be staged for a clearer image of an object. Because of the technology of photography in its earliest years, models would have to pose still for minutes to allow the image to burn into the paper. Not everything was as it seemed, photographers often added wardrobe and makeup, as well as touching up photographs after development through processes such as dodging and burning. Today, in digital photography, we are able to apply the same processes in Photoshop.

In our class discussion, we also talked about how some magazines and newspapers today disclose when a photo has been edited. Although it is deemed unethical to distort photojournalistic pictures, it doesn’t stop tabloids from doing so. This is interesting, as social media is a big part of popular culture today. Young, impressionable people learn from what they see online, as they had in previous generations (Goodyear). The youth look up to influencers on social media. On social media platforms, we often see people–specifically femme-presenting influencers–editing their pictures to manipulate how their body looks. This practice can be harmful, as it has been proven to really warp young people’s self-esteem  (Fardouly).  Participants in the industry, as well as consumers, are urging influencers to be transparent about their use of editing and plastic surgery. So, I think it’s great that editorial papers now feel a responsibility to disclose editing. Perhaps this could set a precedent of clarifying what is real life and what is warped to look good,  that it’s meant to be art, not a point of comparison.

Another theme we discussed was the depiction of women in visual culture and how it has evolved since the 19th century. Although the contexts are obviously different, women are still often represented through the male gaze. Although seemingly self-directed, all aspects of how women are depicted and how we may portray ourselves on social media is a direct effect of the patriarchy. As empowering as freeing the nipple may be, women are censored from doing so on Instagram, meanwhile, men are not. Earlier in the term, we discussed how women weren’t really allowed into artist spaces, unless a family member taught them or there was, in a way, permission given to women to enter spaces. In the case of Angelica Kauffmann, she was not allowed access to an art education as she was a woman. She was taught by her father, she became a prolific portraitist of the 18th century. In the context of the photography, we see this medium being marketed to women through the advertising campaigns such as the “Kodak Girl” campaign. The “Kodak Girl” campaign was important, as it was a major marketing campaign aimed at women, the demographic Kodak wanted to hit because women were the people that were responsible for the “memory-keeping” at home (Alison). Once again, another clarifier that the product and campaign were not meant to empower women, but further subject them under the patriarchy. They produce these cameras to sell to women under the assumption that they are only there to capture family moments. We also see that as the Kodak Girl evolves through the 20th century, we see a further sexualized Kodak girl, really making one wonder, was the Kodak really meant for women to practice independence, or was the camera, rather the marketing done for the camera, just a pawn to further pander to the male gaze.


References

Alison, et al. “The Kodak Girl: Women in Kodak Advertising.” Ryerson Archives & Special Collections, 27 May 2020, https://library.ryerson.ca/asc/2013/10/the-kodak-girl-women-in-kodak-advertising/.
Goodyear, Victoria. “Narrative Matters: Young People, Social Media and Body Image.” Child and Adolescent Mental Health, John Wiley and Sons Inc., Feb. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7317704/.
Fardouly, Jasmine, and Lenny R. Vartanian. “Social Media and Body Image Concerns: Current Research and Future Directions.” Current Opinion in Psychology, Elsevier, 14 Sept. 2015, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352250X15002249?casa_token=PF2GEAIEjIwAAAAA%3AvjDh2oiRycXSgt1SqcqKg0TiHSquRf_ePla4q2qdZxaDPlRMI2w9HQo9z3A4dYrszUAJhJXIphI.

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