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Jo Spence (1934–92) had a highly politicised approach to photography, creating photographs that run counter to the idealised imagery offered by advertising. Spence often worked collaboratively and sought alternative distribution models, laminating work for durability and renting out her photography to conferences, libraries, universities and public spaces to broaden its audience. She also documented her own struggles with cancer.
‘Putting Myself in the Picture’ (Camden Press 1986) brought together her raw and confessional works to inspire a younger generation of photographers.
Remodelling Photo History (1982) a series of self-portraits in collaboration with Terry Dennett. The work consists of a series of diptychs where two photographs of Spence are juxtaposed. In some pairs, the first is a parody of a more traditional pictorial image; the second shot is less conventionally framed and the irony is articulated with less subtlety.
‘Victimisation’ “Here we see that the estate will not admit trespass, and that it stands in for the heroic (male) defender of the ground, repelling weak opposition at its border. Jo Spence failed to cross the barrier, allowing the absent landowner (through his gate and sign) to become hero, male, the creator of difference… her mockery diminishes the victory won by the landowner.” (John Taylor 1994, p.282 quoted Alexander p133)
Some early women photographers did do serious topographical work in the late nineteenth and early 20C:
Frances Benjamin Johnson
Elizabeth Ellen Roberts
Artistic photography, continuing the ‘genteel’ occupations for lady sketchers and watercolourists, was also conducted by:
Julia Margaret Cameron
Lady Elizabeth Eastlake
But their work was more closely aligned with the family album, documentary and performance, rather topographic. (ibid, p.188).
Feminist discourse since the 1970s has rejected the monopoly of the male gaze and articulated the female point of view in relation to the landscape. Social and technological developments have also made serious photographic excursions into the landscape considerably more accessible (Wells, 2011, p.189). A number of female photographers have, in one form or another, engaged with feminist politics in relation to the landscape and the concept of nature, as well as the male gaze.
For interesting feminist and other modern approaches see:
Helen Sear’s series Grounded (2000), in which she digitally combines photographs of skies with images of animal hides photographed at a museum.
Jo Spence subverts classical depictions of nude female figures within idealised settings.
Joan Fontcuberta Bodyscapes (2005) employ three-dimensional imaging software used for military applications to render landscape images of close-up photographs of his own body.
Photographer Cindy Sherman (born 1954) initially used herself as model in many of her works.
She has taken a stance against sexism and stereotyping since her early photo-series Centerfolds or Horizontals (1981). This examined the poses in men’s or pornographic magazines of the time.
The images were rejected by the commissioning publication ArtForum as reinforcing stereotypes.
Sherman continued to challenge the ways in which women are seen and valued. In the 1992 Sex Pictures she used latex medical body parts to re-create poses seen in pornography. These images mimicked pornography whilst at the same time de-eroticising it, forcing the viewer to confront their attitudes to the female body and pornography and raising issues of voyeurism. interview on Sex Pictures with Cindy Sherman
Clowns (2003-04) was Sherman’s first major piece to
be created digitally, hence the garish colour palette.
The imagery examines how make-up transforms the
individual and questions the complex emotional
state that lies beneath the painted smile. It is also an
investigation into what a clown is, why people choose
to do it.