Brief: OCA tutor Dawn Woolley writes a regular blog on Link 10 called ‘Looking at Advertisements’. Read one of Dawn’s articles and write a blog post or make a comment on the site in response.
In the 1970’s French fashion photographer Guy Bourdin seemed to take this a step further. He fetishistically cropped and fragmented the figure of the model, often reducing it to a small part such as a foot or leg. Sometimes the body-part of the real model was replaced by pieces of a mannequin.
In psychoanalysis fetishism is a form of sexuality in which a single aspect of a person, such as their hair colour or foot size, becomes the dominant source of attraction for the fetishist. Sometimes the real body of another is dispensed with entirely, and an inanimate object, such as a shoe, is desired instead. The fetishisation of the female body is often cited by feminists as one of the most common forms of objectification in film and photography. In her seminal text on the representation of gender in Hollywood films called Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema Laura Mulvey describes how women are made to look so beautiful and eye catching that they are reduced to a face or body-part rather than portrayed as believable, 3-dimensional characters. She describes how male characters actively drive the storyline, while female characters are often outside of the narrative of the film because they are only there to be looked at. Because of this the audience tends to identify with the male character and objectify the female character.
In Bourdin’s images the legs are doubly fetishistic – they are fragmented body parts and inanimate objects because they belong to a mannequin. By posing the legs ‘in action’ the images humorously play on the ‘life-like’ illusion that can be created photographically. The legs appear to be moving, frozen mid-gesture like a film still, but we know that they are not because they are inanimate objects. I think this is where the cleverness lies in Bourdin’s photographs. They are fetishistic in the way Laura Mulvey describes, but the female figure hovers between inanimate object and narrative-driving character.
The paper by Mulvey is illuminating as it returns us to psychoanalytic ideas of gendered gaze (Mulvey, 1999). Referring to Freud’s work in this area to comments that scopophilia is “one of the component instincts of sexuality which exist as drives quite independent of the erotogenic zones.’ At it’s extremes this would be represented in the ‘Peeping Tom’ obsessive voyeur “whose only sexual satisfaction can come from watching, in an active controlling sense, an objectified other. I think I agree with that description of that phenomenon although today it probably would be classified as a behavioural or amygdala disorder.
The other thing in the short article is the Mulvey emphasises that patriarchy of the images where the woman is presented as “(passive) raw material for the (active) gaze of man.” She quotes the films of Alfred Hitchcock.
I am familiar with these ideas but Woolley, like Bourdin is articulate and witty and adds to a new insight which is this;
I recently visited ‘Guy Bourdin: Image Maker’, an exhibition at Somerset House in London. I had always thought his photographs were fetishistic, but as I walked around the exhibition I became convinced that something more complex was at play. There were copious images that seem to repeat ideas and visual motifs over and over again, almost like a formula. Towards the end of the exhibition I was confronted by an image that suddenly threw the entire exhibition into a new light.
The large photograph depicts two models walking down a street, viewed from within a shop. Inside the shop a group of mannequins appear to be watching the passers-by on the street. The mannequins are only wearing swimming hats and seem to gesture towards the models, asking them for their swimming costumes. The models are staring straight ahead as they walk in a regimented or robotic fashion. I wonder whether the models are real people or mannequins who have escaped the window? Having viewed many images in the exhibition that confounded my experience of movement and stillness, animate and inanimate, it is very difficult to say. I wonder if Bourdin is suggesting that there is equivalence between consumers and mass-produced commercial bodies. When we buy the latest fashions do we turn ourselves into mannequins?
I like this insight, of imitating the inanimate and that is objectified, because it is worrying that we should lose something vital and human in the search to ‘look good’ or ‘sexy’ or ‘perfect’ like the mannequins.
In Assignment 4 I am objectifying a male body which does not have the same element of sexualisation than if I had chosen a female model, unless someone has a predilection for the older male body as their fetish..
Gingeras, A. (2006). Guy Bourdin. London, Phaidon Press.
Mulvey, L. (1999). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. . New York: Oxford UP, 1999: . L. B. a. M. Cohen. New York, Oxford UP: 833-844. http://www.composingdigitalmedia.org/f815_mca/mca_reads/mulvey.pdf.