July 17, 2021

PHO701: Oral Presentation


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Transcription of Presentation

Hi, I’m Adele Annett, and this is my oral presentation for the Positions and Practice module.  

I’ve been working as a portrait photographer for a number of years now, most recently focusing on the early years of motherhood. In this presentation, I’ll start by talking a little about the subject area I’m most interested in. Then I’ll take a look into my current practice and the future direction I wish to take.  

The motivations for my current work come from grappling with the lost identity I experienced after becoming a mum. Which later reformed and then I struggled with it again during the government enforced Coronavirus lockdowns. Specifically, I have an interest in looking at female identity from the perspective of societal influence and generational lineage. 

In Martha Rosler’s ‘Vital Statistics of a Citizen’, Rosler alludes to the standardization of women in society, her performance art representing how women are measured and judged. Rosler’s work has had a great impact on the type of art I want to create as I question societal narratives and what it means to be a woman. 

[clip: Vital Statistics of a Citizen] “These parts that to be judged the self has already learned to attach value to itself, to see itself as a whole entity with an external vision. She sees herself from outside with the anxious eyes of the judge who has within her the critical standards of the ones who judge.” 

Much of my work is informed by feminist writing and art, such as those shown here.  

I also find inspiration from newspaper articles and social media forums, where mothers speak of their experiences and struggles. Having looked at female identity in the context of feminism and societal expectations, I find myself considering the idea of lineage and how female identity has been determined. First, by the history books, then replicated through the media and advertising, and finally learned and passed down from generation to generation.  

I came across the book Cassandra speaks by Elizabeth Lesser, who recounts ancient stories which have moulded our social history. These stories created narratives for the sexes, stories that offer only one perspective, that of the male. Lesser poses the question, ‘What if Eve’s story had been told?’  

John Berger concluded that the average Renaissance oil painting of the nude was painted for and by the male gaze. Berger then went on to show how such paintings have been replicated and used in modern day advertising, replicating to the messages that women ought to be surveyed. When I first discovered the work of John Berger, his words resonated strongly with me and I saw how significant and relevant his theories still are today.  

My current work is influenced by the day-to-day interactions with my daughter. She recently asked me “Mummy do what face masks do?” Purify, Minimise and Smooth, the ideal society has of women to be purified, minimised and are imperfections smoothed out. I wanted to show how we try on many different masks in an attempt to seek perfection. So that we can fit into and be accepted by society as we continually evaluate how it is we are perceived by others.  

In this series, I wanted the sequence of masks to tell a story, a story of how we start out just wanting to simply tone or be a little more radiant. But the end point becomes much bleaker as we buy into more and more messages about how much of ourselves we feel we need to change.  

It felt fitting that the final image of the series should be “minimise”, showing that in the process of trying to be something else we do overtime minimise our true selves in order to conform to unachievable aesthetic.  

This particular series reminds me of the work of Sonia Ivankovich. She created a sequence of stills presented in a video format, where she drew arrows on her face, similar to the way contour lines are used in the application of makeup to sculpt the facial features. This work is both a comment on the unrealistic standards of feminine beauty and a protest against the systematic implementation of gender codes in society.  

Brooke Shaden’s series ‘Begin Again’ touches on the theme of identity and she too uses masks as a metaphor. Shaden has been a huge influence on my work, and there are many parallels between the methodology used in her work and my own.  

We both start with a concept and map out the final images before we get behind the camera. We both aim to bring a concept to life through a constructed narrative captured through the medium of photography and we both enjoy the use of metaphor in our work. We also both view self-portraiture as a mirror to convey our messages and as a source of self-exploration.  

For me, motherhood felt loaded with expectations, and it was in the midst of meeting all these expectations that I began to feel like I had lost the sense of myself. In the modern world of social media, mothers are provided with a picture-perfect vision of how things should be, and look, in the early years of motherhood. An unrealistic standard is created. It became apparent to me that success is not attainable in the realms of motherhood, nor are the efforts of motherhood often appreciated.  

In my series, when I grow up, I wanted to look at the invisible labour of motherhood as a concept from the perspective of my 5-year-old daughter. I wanted to show how this invisible labour, although invisible to the outside world, is very much witnessed and imprinted in the minds of our children. It shapes and forms their own ideas and expectations of who they will or will not become. I find this a really poignant perspective because whilst I begrudgingly accepted my fate in the pandemic, it’s only when I consider the impact of my daughter’s expectations of her future self that it makes me want to change what she sees.  

I feel there are parallels between this series and Ana Mendieta’s ‘Silueta Series’. Mendieta‘s series really spoke to me, the absence of her body in the landscape. As she explored her own culture and experience as a Cuban migrant, not feeling a sense of belonging in the US. I personally, related to her work as I felt myself disappear as my identity faded away against the landscape of motherhood. This served as a great reminder of John Walker’s idea of mental set and context when reading an image. It illustrated that how an image is read is dependent as much on the viewer’s experience as on the artist’s intention.  

I’m starting to play around with the idea of layering images, something which I wish to explore further as a metaphor for the layers that make up our identities. I’m interested in layering in camera like these works by Eileen Agar and Brooke Shaden and also in post-production.  

The work of Hannah Hock, Marianne Brandt and Barbara Kruger are particularly inspiring from a feminist point of view, as well as from a process perspective. I am really interested in using other forms of media, in particular, I keep coming back to the idea of using threads to show how threads of our experience are woven into our identity. These threads can be unpicked and traced back through history. Some we choose to cut and sever and others we choose to weave into something different. Threads would also be a nod to the history of female art lineage as weaving, knitting and needlework were the only forms of art accessible to women. In the early days of women’s art education.  

In summary, my focus is to interrogate the many ways female identity is influenced in terms of long-standing societal expectations, which have been passed down through both our culture and generational lineage.  

I also wish to curate my own narrative that challenges the expectations of women and mothers, a narrative that can contribute as hopefully one of many voices, to produce a richer history for future generations.  

My primary concern currently centers around the use of myself as a model, making my work perhaps, overly personal or sentimental and not representative of the wider female population. Considering Susan Sontag’s views; if I were to use a model other than myself, I could be seen as objectifying that woman by putting my ideas on to her, which is in contradiction to the exploration I am undertaking.  

In the context of my work, would it be OK to place my concepts and visions onto another woman when exploring the wider societal impacts of female identity? I’m currently reading a number of theoretical texts to see if I can find a resolution to this conflict. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY [as included in the final slide with clickable links]

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