Assignment: How have women been portrayed through photography? 16/01/2009
How have women been portrayed through photography?
The gaze deals with how the audience views the people presented in visual culture, in this case, adverts, magazines and Cinema. The ‘male gaze’ is the male ability to exercise control over women by representing them in visual means as passive, sexual objects of male desire. The power of men over women has always existed. They are seen as the more powerful and clever species. This control over women has been seen predominately in linguistics senses in past times. It is clear that there are more derogatory terms for women than there are for men. Men can also wolf whistle or cat-call in order to harass a woman but there is no such response for women. Men also have more linguistic power over women due to their social status in modern society. In more current times men have turned to visual arts to implement their control and power over women. In this essay I hope to demonstrate how women are and have been portrayed in relation to the ‘male gaze’ and how it is still very prevalent in contemporary modern culture through photography and other mediums, such as, cinema and advertising. I will be analyzing the photographic work of Cindy Sherman, E.J. Bellocq, advertisement and the written work of Laura Mulvey and John Berger. Traditionally imagined, written and produced by men, advertisements have long depicted women as men want them to be, sexy, obedient, fragile, instead of as they actually are. In this way, the male gaze is very predominant in modern advertising. John Berger put it in Ways of Seeing, “Men act and women ‘appear’. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”[i] When women look at themselves in modern advertisements, they are encouraged to view themselves as a man might view them. Women have very few roles in the world of advertising. Mainly they are portrayed as domestic providers who do not make significant decisions, are dependent on men, and are essentially sex objects. This traditional representation of women is a problem, not because it is wrong to want women to be sexy or striking but rather because their beauty is being defined as a means to male power through strategic admiration. Most adverts on television and in magazines have pretty, sexy women with the idea being that if you buy what they are selling than you will get the girl in the avert, or in a woman’s case, be the girl who gets her man. A good example of this is cigarette advertising; in this case I will be looking at a 1960’s ad campaign by Tiparillo. This campaign showed an off screen man offering a variety of women a choice in cigarettes and small text at the bottom of the advert discussing the cigarette but also a crude comment on the women pictured. The women appear to play strong roles, a Lab Technician, Librarian and Violinist, but the ‘male gaze’ is clear as though they may have strong positions, they are still portrayed as sexual objects. In the advert Tiparillo M – 1967 we see on first glance is what appears to be a strong, smart lab technician, the glasses help emphasise that she is intelligent. She is photographed from her cleavage upwards, The model dons a gormless expression, though it is stated why she may have this expression on her face in the text accompanying the advert, ‘Underneath that pocket of pencils beats the heart of a digital computer’, here we are made aware the women is actually a robot. This puts the women in the position of being passive, being programmed by the man. The way the male character is displayed off screen puts an emphasis on the spectator and how he ‘identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his life, his screen surrogate.’ [ii] the last sentence in the text is ‘ which Tiparillo are you going to offer? Or are you just going to stand there and stare at her pencils?’ This comment is obviously referring to staring at the woman’s...
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