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2018 Annual Conference

Philadelphia

March 01-04, 2018

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2018 SPE Annual Conference: Uncertain Times: Borders, Refuge, Community, Nationhood / Hosted by The University of the Arts

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Erin Jennings

SPE Member since 2012
Member Chapter: South Central

CU Nudes

In "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey appropriates Lacan's theoretical approach to the gaze. Mulvey asserts that the patriarchical order inherent in cinema leads to an established male gaze during which the female is considered as object and as other. Furthermore, since the congenital patriarchical nature of narrative cinema allows only a male perspective, female viewers have subsequently appropriated the male gaze. This results both male and female viewers contextualizing the female within the narrative as other, existing only in relation to the male protagonist as an object serving as a narrative catalyst. For the viewer this results in a perception of the female in narrative cinema to be a means of validation for the viewer as he/she imposes a mode of self-identification upon the male protagonist as the child interacts with the mirror in Lacan's mirror phase. Within these parameters female gaze cannot exist due to the viewers inability to cast the male as object as opposed to identifying the male protagonist with the self. If the frame of the gaze exists in cinema, it is absolutely not unreasonable to assert that the dominant patriarchy has exercised similar control over gendered perspective in artistic disciplines, yielding images that produce women as passive objects receiving an active male gaze.n Subsequently, when addressing the nude in photography, Mulvey's construct of the male gaze should be considered. While the narrative application of the concept changes considerably, the role of the viewer and the action of the gaze are similarly constructed by an inherent patriarchical order. Subsequently, the role of the female figure as object is also dependent upon the figure as sexual. If this is the case, then how does the viewer respond when sexuality is removed from the figure? Or when the male and female figures are cast into the same space?n My figure work takes two approaches to this issue. The abstract close-up approach is an attempt to negate the inherent sexuality of the nude figure by working in sexually ambiguous areas of the body that are recognizable only in that they read as skin. Two things contribute to this quality in these images. The first is the compositional inversion of the image that confuses perspective and jars the viewer, lending to a momentary, involuntary cognitive reassessment of the image as figure. If this is effective, it is effective possibly because the figure is merely camouflaged by process and approach. The second is the infrared process that allows the viewer to see the vascular structure trough the skin of the figure. The process simultaneously gives the skin a translucent quality that is unnatural and therefore disorients the viewer's expectations.n The second approach is in the larger than life nude image. It evolved out of frustration in the inherent objectification of the nude figure existing in the patriarchical visual lexicon. In order to circumvent the inherent stranglehold of the gaze, the images yield to the sexuality of the figure by allowing the sexuality of the image to push the viewer outside convention into the complex gamut of sex and the grotesque reality of the human body. Figures are photographed from a low vantage point to create a looming body, while distortion and truncation of the figure emphasize the body as a reproductive totem devoid of prototypical sexual context. The perspective of the image and posture of the figure are not without humor that undermines the gravity of the gaze. In addition, the male and female figures are also cast into similar space, upheaving the asymmetry of the gaze in the role of male and female as object. These images as a result objectify the figure but subvert the traditional mode of objectification by casting the male into the same space as the female, creating a male object. In the instance of the large, striding male figure in nude #1, the male is completely truncated and only the legs, arm, hand and genitals exist within the frame. The removal of the head of the figure removes identity, further objectifying the figure. The genitals are centered within the frame as the figure strides across the space, existing simply as a lumbering, transient male object. This image is displayed as a companion to a similarly composed female figure functioning in the same capacity.nWhile the images exist singularly for each viewer and take on various readings and connotation depending on the viewer, in this instance the gaze may be re-interpreted and re-examined. However, the gaze will not be entirely discarded in that the absence of the familiar framework of the gaze will ultimately call attention to that absence, instituting a reassertion of the gaze for the viewer. The gaze is a non-negotiable context for the figure that will inevitably confine the viewer. While negation of the gaze is elusive, the images generate a parallel perspective that exists only as much as the viewer and the photographer can cast off the influence of the dominant patriarchy (if at all). As a female photographer I operate within this dictated space. Transcending the male gaze within these images is a near impossibility as the images were produced, exist and will be viewed within that context. I cannot negate my own bias created by the systemic inundation to the male gaze; instead I attempt to work with full acknowledgement of the pre-existing constraint of the dominant patriarchy. With these images I simply recognize the gaze and work within that recognition, while pulling the viewer into this cognitive and visually articulated awareness via absence of the traditional framing of the gaze.

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