Fandom Photography and the Female Gaze

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.

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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?

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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.

Lady Gaga by Terry Richardson

Lady Gaga by Terry Richardson

 

Cameron Diaz by Terry Richardson

Cameron Diaz by Terry Richardson

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.

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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?

 

8 comments

  1. Megan you have put into words that which I have struggled to define when it comes to Con photography. Why it appeals and the thought processes photographers engage in when it’s happening. Thank you for sharing this post – it makes me a little more comfortable when thinking about the why and also about aesthetics. The choices we make as photographers are not always able to be given a clearly delineated rationale (and nor should they have to be) but this piece goes some way into explaining how such an unusual environment contributes to those choices.

  2. i love all that you said here, and i also think its a awesome thing that photographs are being taken “for” women ;-) and you do it so well.. when it comes to Terry Richardson (and i enjoy his work) but i’ve always thought his pieces were good because with his relationship/friendship with his subjects, where’s your work is beautifully intimate and emotive without you having to be “best friends” not that your not friends with these guys..ok, i think im messing this up..what i mean is your photos are personal and stunning WITHOUT having to be taken up close and one on one…sorry, i think english is my second language at the moment..xxx

  3. This is a great post, Meg! You describe your thoughts and processes so well. Thank you for sharing them! Xx

    1. I was trying to be as diplomatic as possible lol but I 110% agree. I am not a fan of his, and you’re right he’s an extreme example of the male gaze. Made worse because you hear stories about what he’s actually like on photo shoots. I mean, that photo of Lady Gaga she is quite literally reduced to a piece of meat. But this article wasn’t really about him (it was bad enough having to go searching through his work) it’s about a unique situation where in fandom we are mostly dominated by female photographers and artists making work for a predominantly female audience and I think that’s really cool?

  4. It says volumes about the differences between men & women and what we want most. In an extreme generalization: men are more interested in physical relationships and women in emotional. Take the top shot you posted of Jensen for example. It is SO. DAMN. HOT. And all you can really see of his body is his hand and the side of his neck. Of course, by now we’re all used to discovering sexuality in whatever small pieces of himself he’s willing to show us (who knew an elbow could be erotic?), since he’s so very careful that we see *him* and not just his body. We want more from him than just a roll in the hay (how ever good I’m sure it would be); we want to be allowed to care for him, to have him care for us and be a part of his life. At least I do anyway :)

  5. I am fairly new to what I consider “real ” photography, and your work is one of the standards I try to hold myself to. You have managed to capture with words, as you do so elegantly with your photography, what draws me to try and capture these moments when I take pictures and try to capture the essence of the moment, so fleeting and quick to pass, and try to immortalize the feelings and pure emotion that charges these moments we experience.

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