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Feminism Depicted in Photography

Hamburg, Germany. 12th Mar, 2015. A visitor looks at photographs by the artist Ana Mendita in the exhibition 'Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970's' in the Hamburg Art Hall in Hamburg, Germany, 12 March 2015. The Hamburg Art Hall presents art works by 34 fem
dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo

In art and photography, depictions of women by men focus mainly on sexuality and have done for many years. Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud, Max Ernst and Charles Baudelaire, among many, all had their muses which, in a way, was the starting point for the ‘male gaze’. The most well-known women in art are usually not artists but subjects and a 2012 campaign found that less than 6% of the artists in the Modern Art section of the Met are women, and across the museum 85% of the nudes are female. Women are so often presented as objects in the eyes of men but when the feminist movement started in the 1960s many women were inspired to create feminist photographs that fight the ‘male gaze’. There are many female artists who are now reclaiming the representation of women and feminism within photography fighting discrimination in both the art world and life in general.

Earlier years

Feminist photography has been tackling the ideals of females for some time now. Hannah Wilke conveyed the message of how women were treated in her 1974 series ‘S.O.S’ by covering herself in bubble gum folds which symbolised being chewed up, thrown out and replaced. Laurie Simmons emphasized the stereotypical roles of women in society with her series ‘Objects on legs’ and Cindy Sherman who’s controversial centrefolds toy with female stereotypes by twisting the traditional pin-up shots you would find in magazines such as ‘Playboy’.

cindy sherman photo portrait
picturelibrary / Alamy Stock Photo

Modern day

Gender equality has come on leaps and bounds in recent years but women are still inspired to pick up a camera and express feminism through photography. Ellen von Unwerth specialises in erotic images which celebrate femininity instead of putting it out there male pleasure. She is often considered controversial as her images depict provocative women but they are provocative with taste. Her images show us intrigue, romance and joy and they are a great example of eroticism from the ‘female gaze’. SLAY describe Phebe Schmidt as using satiric superficiality to make incredibly perceptive comments about the nature and place of women in today’s society. Liora K’s ‘The Feminist Photos’ are described by BUSTLE as being simple yet visually startling and involving feminist statements about autonomy, bodily control, and women’s rights written across bare female bodies.

Model is seductively on wooden floor, b/w,
mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Media and Technology

It has never been easier to broadcast feminist imagery in our generation thanks to the advance in technology and the rise of social media. Many women have been spurred to take selfies expressing themselves and then share their images with the world. This is a controversial topic however as some people are accusing women of being self-obsessed, oversharing, and conforming to beauty stereotypes whereas others see their selfies as a clever means of taking back control of their own image from the ‘male gaze’.

The media also plays a massive part in getting the word out there and there have been many photographic campaigns that have tried and succeeded to hit home about how important feminism and equality is. One of the most powerful campaigns and the one that stands out to me is the UN Women’s ad campaign in 2013 that used beautiful portraits or women covered by Googles most popular search terms and delivering the hard hitting message that sexist attitudes still very much persist today.

Stock photography

So how can you convey a feminist message within your stock photography? The truth is it doesn’t have to be a campaign or anything blaringly obvious, feminism comes in many forms and we have a massive gap in the market for ‘gritty women’, authentic real life images of women in a stereotypical ‘mans’ role or women in high powered positions. Fashion photography can also portray feminism as Dior has done in their latest campaign by not conforming to the ‘norm’ of masculine or feminine.

Sweden, Female mechanic adjusting wheel
Folio Images / Alamy Stock Photo

There are a growing number of female photographers who are shaping how society looks at women. There is a great book, Girl on Girl: Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze, that looks at how women are using photography and the internet to explore issues of self-image and female identity but what do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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