I was going through my photographs from a Supernatural convention I attended here in Melbourne on Saturday, and some of the guys were pulling funny, faux – raunchy poses and it suddenly struck me that this is an amazing example of the female gaze at work.
“The Male Gaze” is a concept in feminist theory that “occurs when the camera puts the audience into the perspective of a heterosexual man. It may linger over the curves of a woman’s body, for instance”
Photography is an industry that is, like most, fairly male-driven. There are women like Annie Leibovitz who command respect as female photographers, but for the most part the industry is both by men and for men. For example, commercial photography in advertising still uses the female form to sell products. But fandom is something completely different. Especially the Supernatural fandom. The “Supernatural family” is strongly female dominated, and it is women of all ages. As the show ages and progresses, the span of age groups within the fandom grows. There are fans now who weren’t born when the show started. It is a seemingly perpetually growing machine of female consumers.
As a female photographer who works (at the moment) mostly in fandom, I am suddenly hyper aware that I am utilising tricks that I have read and taught myself about photography to move a predominantly female gaze through every frame I take. Concepts that you use within photography – use of line, use of shape, use of curve, use of repetition – suddenly become avenues on male subjects that draw the eye and direct attention. These become the set of a man’s jaw line, the curve of a back, the play of light and shadow across a face.
It’s not necessarily hyper-sexualised in any way, but there is a level of intimacy that is strange and can be quite startling at times. I often find that I put (sometimes too much) of myself in photos, but how much of it am I doing subconsciously knowing that it will be consumed by a mostly female gaze? How much subconscious thought is going into it?
Photography is definitely a form of voyeurism and thus objectification. It is a means of making meaning and definition out of wholly visual cues. But in fandom, this form of objectification seems to come with a wealth of emotionality that is absent from a male gaze. I can look at a photograph taken by Terry Richardson and see an absence of this kind of emotion. There is definite talent, definite technique and a rapport between photographer and subject but his photographs are very much an extreme example of a male gaze. Subjects are reduced down to a very raw shallow base – all of his photographs use the same plain white backdrop and harsh lighting. But that is a stylistic choice and it’s become his signature and he is an extremely famous, well-known photographer because of it.
It could possibly be the environment and context that further creates the divide. Fandom photographs are taken during conventions – extremely heightened emotional events. They are candid and are not set up. What you are capturing is the emotion both in front of and behind the camera. It is an uncontrolled and uncontrollable environment. So while some photos do have this intimacy with regards to a female gaze, they are always going to be parceled up with whatever the atmosphere was like at the time of capture.
I care about who I photograph, like the guys in the Supernatural cast. Annie Leibovitz once said “a thing you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people”. I would rather post one photo that makes them look good than all 100 photos I have taken on a particular day of them, even if that means that I may not get to post anything. But it was so interesting going through my photos from the weekend, and having this realisation that all of these tiny influences come into play when I’m composing a photo that I wasn’t even aware of. When I first started taking photos at cons it was purely a way to record what happened so I could remember it. But now it’s become this enormous part of my life and who I am – it is me trying to make sense of this relationship I have to fandom and the cast and to try to show how I feel about them, how other people feel about them. I guess I didn’t realise quite how personal and intimate that was until now?