re-picturing PHOTOGRAPHY

Objectification is defined as seeing and/or treating a person, usually a woman, as an object (Nussbaum, 1999).

In photography, women are often treated as sexual objects in which their appearance or sexuality is regarded as more important than their other characteristics, for the use of other people, and capable of representing them (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; Kilbourne, 1999).

You know it when you see it.

When the camera lens focuses on a woman’s body parts rather than her face, she is objectified.

When a woman who is extremely thin with perfect skin and hair needs to be photoshopped to fit in with the other women in a beauty magazine, she is objectified.

When a woman is depicted as welcoming or enjoying sexual violence, she is objectified.

When a woman’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs, dreams, hopes, and desires – those very things that make us human – are not apparent, she is objectified.

But, how do you not objectify women in photography? Through this project I have learned that this is much easier said than done. Even with the explicit goal to challenge sexual objectification, how do you not create images that objectify women? After all, photographs literally are objects. By simply clicking the shutter, your subject becomes an object, a two-dimensional thing, rather than a multi-dimensional person. This is frustrating as I think about ways that I may be contributing to rather than resisting objectification.

However, words keep popping up as I struggle work my way through this project. Although I didn’t realize this initially, this seemingly random occurrence revealed one way in which we might photograph women in less sexually objectify ways (I’m not convinced that we can completely eliminate sexual objectification from photography).

As a noun, voice is defined as the sound or sounds uttered through the mouth of living creatures, especially of human beings in speaking, shouting, singing, etc. As a verb, voice is defined as to give utterance or expression to; declare; proclaim.

Although we may not audibly hear women’s utterances in photographs, we may literally give women voice, the power to utter, express, declare, or proclaim, when we read the words that women choose to describe how they make meaning in their bodies, their frustrations with their bodies, or the ways their bodies give them strength.

I have only recently begun to hear these voices, but as I listen and create I find myself finding a new photography voice of my own.

Have you discovered ways to photograph yourself or others as subjects rather than objects? If so, I would love to hear your voice.

    • Tiffany Hogan
    • May 27th, 2011

    Fantastic message and AMAZING photo. Thanks Sarah!

    • Heather
    • May 27th, 2011

    In college I did a project where I photographed my girlfriends while they where telling me their favorite stories about their lives. This generally ended up in much laughter, smiles, and deep looks of meaning in their eyes. Their faces and bodies were in the shots as mere props to the spirit shining through.

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