Fandom and the Female Gaze

I wrote this original blog post in 2015, which shocked me because it simultaneously felt like yesterday and a lifetime ago. Since then so many things have changed, but I still feel like a lot of what I (tried to) say is still relevant, especially more so as there are now so many photographers in the SPN fandom (my own sphere of experience). 

My basic idea in my earlier blog was that “fandom photography” (which has kind of been developed and shaped in the Supernatural fandom) is a richly unique form of female gaze. Photography outside of fandom is largely still a male-dominated arena. Men photograph for other men’s consumption. Advertising, editorials, fashion, sport, travel. It can be argued that some forms of  commercial photography, like infant and family lifestyle photography, are more skewed towards females and dominated by females (this is arguable). But they don’t deal with the subject matter in the same way that say, someone photographing a convention panel would approach a subject. 

In case you wanted a refresher, “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.” 

So conversely, the female gaze is the polar opposite to that. The camera is offering up a vision of (more often than not) a male subject for consumption of a largely female audience. (I realise these are wholly general and simplistic terms, and that the audience has grown to proudly encompass a whole range of different genders and identities. But because I am wholly unqualified to offer a well-rounded opinion on that, I am using black and white areas and terms.)

The cast that attend the conventions are largely male, and the audience they cater to is largely female.  Overwhelmingly, fandom photographers in the SPN fandom are also female.  They are taking photographs and recording events knowing that the material will be consumed predominantly by other females. So the question is, how much of that is subconsciously guiding how photographers are approaching their subjects? 

Jensen Ackles, San Francisco 2015

As a photographer, you use a variety of techniques either subtly or overtly to move the viewers gaze around your image. Line, repetition, form, shape, composition, framing, colour, shadow, light. The list is endless. It’s like a writer using words to build a story and a narrative, and more importantly, an opinion. As a photographer, I’m bringing to the table how I feel and how I see and using that to influence an audience. 

So, if I know that an audience would appreciate a certain pose, or a certain way of framing and thus emphasising something, I would use that either subconsciously or consciously to compose a shot. “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, the curve of a back, the play of light and shadow across a face.” (Yes I am quoting myself, I used to be a much better writer).

Matt Cohen, Phoenix 2016

I argued in my earlier blog that it is not necessarily hyper-sexualised in any way, but there is a distinct level of intimacy on display. I would argue that there is a whole emotional layer that is over and above what is seen in the photo. The emotion is there on the side of the photographer – conventions are hugely emotionally taxing and that can have a tremendous impact on your state of mind while photographing one – and there is equally the emotion that someone viewing the photos will bring in seeing one. We all care for the people in the photos; it’s a strange, one-sided affection and familiarity that I could probably take all day trying to explain and not get anywhere close to touching the surface. But for whatever reason, we are hugely emotionally driven to these people despite any objectification the photographs may afford. 

Billy Moran, Cleveland 2018

Photography is a form of voyeurism and objectification. “It is a means of making meaning and definition out of wholly visual cues.” But I would argue that when you compare, say an editorial shot by a man (like Terry Richardson) to a photograph taken by a fan at a convention, you would be looking at two very different feeling photographs. And yes, con and event photography cannot in any way really be compared to portraiture or editorials. They are both means to very different ends. But photography is approached largely in the same way by everyone. The underlying technique is there. But where Richardson’s work may feel somewhat sterile and bare, a fandom photograph from a panel will more often than not feel brimming with emotion. I would argue that it is also wholly unique to the Supernatural fandom, in some ways. If you look at event photography that comes out of, say, San Diego Comic Con, it is completely different. How much of that is because of who is being photographed and who is doing the photography? 

Misha Collins, Burbank 2019
Richard Speight Jr and Rob Benedict, Las Vegas 2015

Candid photography is a very different beast than portraiture and one which is wholly uncontrolled. But there is still a lot of thought that goes into it. You are deliberately picking and choosing the moments you want to show. When you edit what you leave out is as important as what you put in. While you may not be running the numbers constantly and looking for something that will “get the most likes”, you are constantly thinking about what is going to be an emotional hook for someone scrolling their twitter. What is going to make them stop and go back to look a second time? Would it be the way someone’s profile stands out against a backlight? A curl of their lip into a small smile? The way another person’s back is arched, or the muscle in a jaw is tightened? A subtle lift of an eyebrow? Sinew in a forearm? It’s all a choice in the end, whether you recognise it or not. 

Richard Speight Jr, Minneapolis 2017
Rob Benedict, Minneapolis 2017
Matt Cohen, San Francisco 2017
Jensen Ackles, Las Vegas 2017
Rob Benedict, Las Vegas 2017

When you first start taking photographs at a con it may purely be just for a way to record your experience. In fact, you may never go beyond that point. But if photography interests you, as you start to develop and hone your skill your taste also starts to develop. You start to look at things more deliberately, really think about how you want people to see what you’re seeing. If that includes the male form for the female gaze, there are unconscious little learned tricks that you may have picked up somewhere along the way to help your audience find their gaze.

Alex Calvert, Burbank 2019
Misha Collins, Phoenix 2016

Who knows? Maybe we have learned something from being the subject of the gaze for so long, and we are wrenching some control back from that by turning the gaze to someone else. 

Pandas // Adelaide Zoo, 2018

One of my go-to YouTube videos to watch when I’m feeling low is the video of the zoo keeper trying to clean a panda enclosure, and the little panda cubs keep trying to climb into the wicker basket full of leaves. It never fails to make me smile. I have a thing about pandas; I always have. But pandas are a rarity – once on the endangered species list, they were only very recently fortunately moved onto the vulnerable list. There are only two in the whole of the Southern Hemisphere where I live; Wang Wang and Fu Ni, who live in Adelaide Zoo.

Since I’d been taking photos at Melbourne Zoo more frequently, I started to seriously consider flying over to Adelaide to see the pandas. I started looking at the Adelaide Zoo site, and found that they did a “VIP Panda Tour” that let you actually hand feed the pandas and spend the morning with them and their keepers learning more about them. I impulsively bought a pass, and used frequent flyer miles to fly over to Adelaide. I am so, so glad I did.


I stayed within walking distance of the zoo, and had to go early to meet the keepers because the tour was taking place first thing in the morning, when the pandas would be most active. Any time after that they would most likely be snoozing.  It was only a small group; there was four of us plus three keepers/aides. We met Nicole, who would be taking photographs of us during the tour (dream job right there). The keepers were Angie and Nathan.

They took us into the room where they fed the pandas and kept them overnight, and showed us the huge bamboo fridge overflowing with bamboo plants. The feeding and care of the pandas is carefully regulated as is the case with all animals in a zoo, however there is the extra focus on recording and documenting everything because reports are sent almost daily to China. The care of the pandas is a highly reciprocal partnership between Adelaide and China, and every element of their care and breeding is monitored.


Apart from the predominant diet of bamboo, the pandas both have special foods that are more “treat” foods. Wang Wang loves carrots, while Fu Ni loves apples. Both pandas also eat special “panda cakes”, made up of mulched bamboo, sugar, vitamins, and eggs for protein. I didn’t know, but pandas are actually carnivores who have adapted to a diet of bamboo. These panda cakes and handfuls of fruit and vegetables would be what we would be hand feeding the pandas.


Angie kept reiterating that the pandas acted exactly like two year old children, and that each had very distinct personalities. Wang Wang was raised a single cub by his panda mother, and so he was more laid back and patient than Fu Ni. She had been a twin, and so had spent a lot of her life being reared by people and so was more adept at getting attention and getting what she wanted. Pandas are mostly solitary creatures, and although Wang Wang and Fu Ni did interact they were actually kept apart for the majority of the time, only really coming together during the very brief periods Fu Ni came into season.

We went to see Fu Ni first. Angie told us that even in China Fu Ni was praised for having a “pretty” face. She was smaller than her male counterpart, and had a little tuft of hair that stuck up between her ears like a mohawk. She immediately wandered over and sat in front of the bars, waiting impatiently for her panda cake and apples. We each took turns to kneel down in front of the bars and hand feed pieces of apple, then once we gave her the panda cake we were allowed to pat her paws while she was distracted. She watched us intently the whole time, her little Mickey Mouse-like ears moving as she chewed happily. It was so surreal, watching this beautiful animal that I had only really seen up close in photos and on videos.



She soon lost interest in us when she realised we didn’t have any treats left, and she munched on a bamboo stick absentmindedly, waiting to be let out into her enclosure.

We then went to meet Wang Wang, who had been waiting for his turn patiently. He was definitely bigger than Fu Ni with a larger head and build, but he seemed calmer and was more happy to watch us and wait while we all took turns to give him his carrots.


While we were feeding him, Angie and Nathan told us more about the pandas; about their breeding cycle and the attempts to breed cubs so far (they haven’t had success yet), about how long the pandas have in Adelaide before they have to go back (the contract is until the end of next year, but they are trying to work out to keep them here longer), and about how they vocalise (they can sound a bit like puppies!)

Once the group had all had turns feeding both pandas, we took a few more treats out to put into each enclosure. The enclosures were separated by the feeding area, and almost in a horseshoe shape. Each panda had an indoor and outdoor enclosure, as well as the behind the scenes sleeping/feeding area. The indoor enclosure was climate controlled and sound proofed, and had plenty of branches for climbing and sleeping. The outdoor enclosures were almost like little valleys, with plenty of tall trees and crevices and rock ledges. There were tire swings, hammocks, and plenty of toys on rotation to aid in enrichment. Wang Wang apparently loves nothing more than sitting in a tub full of soapy water filled with bubblegum-smelling bubble bath that he happily splashes on himself. Fu Ni loves the smell of perfume and musk, and happily loves cuddling towels drenched in essential oils. Both love sawdust, and enthusiastically roll around in it. The keepers rotate what they leave out, and also rotate which outside enclosure the pandas go in, to keep them from becoming bored. We hid the treats in different areas to encourage them to sniff around and seek them out, then we all went out to watch them while we had morning tea.




The time flew by, and by then it was starting to get extremely hot (it ended up being 37 degrees Celsius that day, or 98 degrees Fahrenheit, so not the best day for the zoo or taking photos). I took as many photos as I could before the tour ended. We each got to choose a photo that Nicole had taken of us during the morning. Then it was over. I was exhausted and elated.

I spent the rest of the day making my way around Adelaide Zoo. I fell in love with it, and with the organic way the enclosures fit into the environment and fit together. So many animals were placed in proximity to each other, and could see and hear each other which I thought was a really cool thing I hadn’t really seen anywhere else.






The thing that kept standing out to me was how quiet the zoo was, even though it was the middle of the school holidays. Go to Melbourne Zoo during the school holidays and it is a mad crush at each enclosure to get to see the animals. But there would be long stretches where I would be walking totally alone in amongst the sounds of the animals. Although, given the heat, I wouldn’t have blamed anyone who had decided to go to the beach instead and I spent an inordinate amount of time being very envious of a hippo who did a luxurious belly flop dive into the water in his enclosure near where I was eating lunch.


I sat at the lion enclosure for a long time, watching a male and female lion interacting which is something I hadn’t seen before. They were purring loudly (it was like a muscle car idling in your ear) and trying to find somewhere cool to lay in the shade.





By the time I’d made my way once around the zoo, it was getting way too hot and there had been lots of animals hidden away that I hadn’t seen, so I decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel. But I decided I would definitely be back, and I would also try to make it to Monarto Zoo, which is Adelaide’s open range zoo and home to one of the largest lion prides in Australia as well as the Lion 360 “people cage” where people get to experience lions up close. 

I wasn’t 100% happy with the photographs I got on the day, but I try to look at it like it was a once in a lifetime experience I was able to have, and I can always go back to try to take photos another day when the weather is a bit better.

I highly recommend the experience to anyone who loves pandas. To learn more about Adelaide Zoo, Wang Wang and Fu Ni, and more about the special animal experiences available there, visit their website here!



I’m not a wildlife photographer.

I follow photographers like Laurent Baheux and Richard Bernabe on Twitter. They are wildlife photographers; Bernabe is regularly flying to Iceland or the Antarctic to capture animals all over the world, while Baheux champions conservation of animals in their own habitat with his heart-rending black and white photographs of animal families, especially big cats (my favourite).

I’m not a wildlife photographer. I take photos at the zoo here in Melbourne, far away from the wilds of the natural habitats of the animals I photograph. But it’s become something of a lifeline for me over the past couple of years, and especially the last month or so where I have been twice already.


Each of the photography styles are very different, and oftentimes you will hear photography experts tell you that it’s better to hone your skill set into one particular direction; portrait, landscape, wildlife, weddings, infants, concerts, sports, etc. This is true, and at my heart I think I will always want to be good at portraiture. I think it’s what I most want to do. But at its core I believe that when you’re doing any kind of photography you’re calling upon the same fundamental skills; your base technical skill, intuition, practice, luck, and empathy. I strongly believe that empathy is what will set you apart as a photographer. You want to evoke feeling from your photographs, and how can you do that unless you know how to feel?



I like the fact that I can use those fundamental skills in an environment wholly different to the one I was used to. In a con situation, my mind is buzzing the whole time. There is no quiet, it’s all noise. When I’m doing a portrait, I sort of go into a trance where I couldn’t tell you a lot of what happened if you asked me afterwards. I’m usually overcome with nerves and focusing on all the things I need to remember.

But when I’m taking photos of animals, it is wholly external to me. I bring what I need to, but I am completely at the mercy of a subject I can’t direct. I can’t explain what I want. I can’t even really anticipate in the same way I sort of became able to with conventions; if you did it long enough, you could begin to tell when you would need to pay attention and when you would need to make a move. I’m going to watch this guest answer this question, because it is a moving subject and their facial expression will react in a way that shows they’re touched. This is where the music builds, so someone will likely be moved by the music and throw their head in abandon. It became like a dance I knew the steps to. But this … this is like waltzing with a partner who is breakdancing. I just have to be patient and let go.

And it’s so quiet, which is something I crave.  



I acknowledge that photography at a zoo is a very sterilised version of taking photographs of animals. Going on safari and photographing wild animals would be different again, in a myriad of ways. But for awhile at least, this is my only option. I can try to frame and compose in such a way to focus on the animals themselves and not the enclosures, not the environment, but instead to try to make them and their behaviour and interactions the focal point of the photo. It’s taking small pieces of a puzzle and fashioning it into something in my control.

Given everything that happened last year, I’m just grateful that I have something that is driving me to take photos and driving me to improve. I was scared that I had lost something last year, but I feel as though I’ve taken it back.

Pete Souza & Photographic Resistance

Like a lot of people, I’ve been following ex-White House photographer Pete Souza’s Instagram and seeing his almost daily posting of photos taken during Barrack Obama’s eight year presidency, often reflecting in them differences between the current and former administration. These are equally biting, critical, melancholic. They serve as an authoritative primary document – a way of reminding us of certain aspects of history in a climate where it is becoming frighteningly easy to bury and deny even things that happened yesterday.

As well as the moral and ethical implications these reminders have, it’s also really interesting from a photography perspective. A lot of the photographs Souza is posting are photographs he has posted before; he is reposting them to highlight a point, to serve a purpose. When these were taken, it is highly likely that the original intent was not the point he is making now. Documentary photography especially is meant to embody and encompass the world we live in at a particular time. We bring to it our knowledge of what is currently happening, as well as what has happened.

However, when Souza is posting these photographs – often tagging them and captioning them with pointed descriptions – they have an entirely different message to perhaps the original one intended.


Souza was a prolific photographer – Obama wasn’t the only President he photographed – and during Obama’s administration he was with him almost every day, shooting thousands and thousands of photographs. During the beginning of Trump’s administration, he was actually going through his catalogue to pick out photos for a book he is releasing. So it was obvious that as certain things were happening, mirroring or sharply contradicting what had happened before, he would post or repost things he had seen as a form of social commentary. His captions were never outright hostile; they didn’t need to be. The photos said everything better and more succinctly than even the fiercest critic could.

For example, there has been growing criticism over the Trump administration’s responses to deadly hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Houston. Trump was accused at worst of negligence, and at best of using the size and scope of the destruction as a political and egotistical measuring tool. During all of this, Souza would post photos of the various relief efforts conducted during similar disasters during Obama’s campaign, as well as photographs highlighting the former President’s natural empathetic and selfless nature.


During the aftermath of Charlottesville, Obama tweeted a photograph that Souza had taken of him alongside a Nelson Mandela quote, which became the most liked and fourth most retweeted tweet in Twitter history, showing not only how powerful and potent Souza’s photography coupled with Mandela’s words were, but also how desperate the world was to feel some sense of humanity and empathy.


It has gotten to a point now where people are beginning to expect some form of photographic social commentary from Souza. There’s even memes about it, which he seems to find amusing. But in the comments there is also a sadness, a longing to go back to a time before. The comments are always a mixture of joy and pain, a reflection of what a country once had and a critical examination of what it has become.


I can’t speak as to Pete Souza’s original intent in his “commentary” – he has started doing a book tour where he speaks about his experiences and he apparently feigns ignorance at his “shade” and insists he is only posting his work. But you have to think that for someone who was so intimately in the shadow of a great man such as Barack Obama, it would be increasingly frustrating to see the good works and the good intent being torn down daily, and worse yet, rewritten to suit a different narrative. To be able to post a photograph that says, “No, this is how it happened,” would be a powerful act of rebellion and resistance.

Words are becoming increasingly twisted and manipulated and denied and distorted. Photographs can change context, but what they show in them at their core rarely lies.


It’s currently 1:42am on Saturday, December 31st, 2016. 

When I was little, the countdown to Christmas went by in the time it took you to blink. Then before you knew it you were counting down the days until New Year, and until you had to go back to school, and that seemed to go even faster.

But I’m grown now, and the end of 2016 feels like these last few months have staggered and almost crawled to the end.

2016 will probably not be looked on fondly when people look back years from now. I can practically feel the echoing wave of collective sighs of relief when the clock ticks over around the world into the near year. To a lot of people, 2016 has felt like one long drawn out ending. We’re all holding our breath.

Good things happened; of course they always do. It can take longer to look for them sometimes. I feel like this year my photography finally took a step forward – it’s closer to where I want it to look, feel. I’m still not there (I’ll never feel quite “there”, I don’t even know where “there” is) but it definitely took a leap over the seemingly immovable static I had been feeling.


Osric Chau, Captain America, Vegas Cosplay Portrait, 2016

Osric Chau, Captain America, Vegas Cosplay Portrait, 2016


Rob Benedict, Viper Room LA, June 2016

Rob Benedict, Viper Room LA, June 2016


Billy Moran, Viper Room June 2016

Billy Moran, Viper Room June 2016


Matt Cohen, Phoenix 2016

Matt Cohen, Phoenix 2016


I was privileged to get to work with incredible people, to be supported by incredible people. I was able to push myself way out of my comfort zone and found I liked it; no, I loved it. Even when I hated it, even when I was scared of it, I loved it.


Briana Buckmaster, Seattle 2016

Briana Buckmaster, Seattle 2016


Matt Cohen and Osric Chau, Phoenix 2016

Matt Cohen and Osric Chau, Phoenix 2016


Makayla, September 2016

Makayla, September 2016


Rob Benedict and Richard Speight Jr, Seattle 2016

Rob Benedict and Richard Speight Jr, Seattle 2016



Osric, Vancouver 2016


Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, Sunday, VanCon 2016

Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, Sunday, VanCon 2016


Kim Rhodes and Rob Benedict, PhxCon 2016

Kim Rhodes and Rob Benedict, PhxCon 2016


Angie and Brooke, October 2016

Angie and Brooke, October 2016


Osric Chau, Phoenix 2016

Osric Chau, Phoenix 2016


Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, Jensen Ackles PhxCon 2016

Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, Jensen Ackles PhxCon 2016


Ruth Connell, SFCon 2016

Ruth Connell, SFCon 2016


Danielle, October 2016

Danielle, October 2016


2016 firmly cemented in my mind that portraiture is where my heart and soul is; it’s where I feel strongest, where I feel the most afraid, where I feel the most exhilarated. I was so, so fortunate I had such a wealth of amazing people that helped cement that for me.


Misha Collins, Vancouver 2016

Misha Collins, Vancouver 2016


Kat, LA 2016 Makeup by Vic Righthand

Kat, LA 2016
Makeup by Vic Righthand


Kim Rhodes, LA 2016 Makeup by Vic Righthand

Kim Rhodes, LA 2016
Makeup by Vic Righthand


Timothy Omundson, LA 2016

Timothy Omundson, LA 2016


Rob Benedict, LA 2016

Rob Benedict, LA 2016


But 2016 was an ending for me too. I don’t know what the future will bring, and it was an ending for me thinking that if I just sit back and be patient enough things will happen. I have to stop thinking that way. I need to become proactive and make things happen. Patience is a virtue, but so is passion and movement and action. If I really want this as much as I claim I do, I need to go out and get it.

I don’t know how.

I’m scared.

I will still tell myself I’m not good enough.

But I won’t listen anymore.

It’s now 2:22am, Saturday December 31, 2016. I’ll go to bed, wake up, and it will be the last day of this crazy, unrepeatable year.

Goodbye, 2016.

Hello, 2017.