This exercise aims to produce images that illustrate my feelings or approach to feminism using the technique of photomontage. The notes suggest producing one digitally and the second in a ‘different, more tactile and responsive manner’. Weirdly, the notes also dictate that the collages should be 2:1 ratio. As other students have commented, this seems to go against the whole idea of art photography and having freedom to experiment but I am sure there was a good reason for this being included.
Photomontage has always seemed a bit ‘shouty’ to me, certainly not subtle. Hannah Höch changed my mind though and my admiration for her work has grown considerably since this study visit to the Whitechapel Gallery in 2014.
With this in mind, I suspect that photomontage could be a massive time suck for me. I’m intrigued by it but not very dextrous and I realised quite quickly that to produce anything of which I would actually be proud would turn in to a huge project. I decided to go quick and dirty instead.
The tactile approach appealed to me more than Photoshop so I decided to do two collages using a real life ‘cut and paste’ approach. I used all my own photos. With hindsight, this was limiting as I found myself steering the work to fit what I had printed off.
The first image was based around a riff on Sojourner Truth‘s famous question: “Ain’t I a woman?”. I tried to keep to the simple idea that feminism is just about equality. As bell hooks says it is simply not being sexist.
From the great Caitlin Moran in ‘How to be a woman’:“We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”
In this image my friends and family are happy to be part of the beautiful parade of humanity. All different but all respectful of the differences of others without exploiting or oppressing. I think for so many people, feminism becomes quickly complicated by the idea that is must include a hatred of men or that it somehow cancels out activism to end other forms of oppression.
This would definitely have looked a lot better digitally and would have been more effective if the images of the people made up the letters. Or possibly if the words were cut out of the page.
For the second image, I tried to explore some of the more specific feelings I have about feminism. There is a steep and rocky path. At the bottom, women are being held back by some elements of the institutionalised sexism in our society. The curtain in the window aims to convey the idea that so much of the female experience is based around the home and is often hidden. The lines are echoed in the young girl’s hair. This is one of my nieces who, I fear, is growing up in a world which in some ways will be harder than it has been for me. Her landscape features a vacuous culture of talentless celebrities, cyber-bulling and stupidity and mistruths spread by social media. Meanwhile, young boys are still being taught that violence is an answer.
Not sure exactly where I was going with the cat heads but I have always felt there is a link with feminism and cats. It partly goes back to the silly old idea that the men would make all the big decisions about the world while women should stick to their needlework and playing with kittens. Cats might look beautiful and serene but you cannot train a cat. They do exactly what they want and big cats are amongst some of the most dangerous animals on the planet.
The male head sculptures are there to indicate the eternal and omniscient patriarchy which weighs heavily and seeks to obfuscate and silence women and all feminists.
I think this would have worked much better if I had placed figures within a landscape or interior scene (which is what Martha Rosler does so well) rather than jamming a series of ideas together. There is no visual journey or coherent story.
My friend who changed her mind about me using my photographs of her for the stereotypes exercise did agree that I could share one image of her washing up in a mask and an alluring leopardskin dress. This is not a visual statement about feminism but it is, for me, a good summary of what society expects of women.
“But, of course, you might be asking yourself, ‘Am I a feminist? I might not be. I don’t know! I still don’t know what it is! I’m too knackered and confused to work it out. That curtain pole really still isn’t up! I don’t have time to work out if I am a women’s libber! There seems to be a lot to it. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?’
So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants.
a) Do you have a vagina? and
b) Do you want to be in charge of it?
If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”