Female Identity in Photography Construction or Reality Research Proposal

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Female Identity in Photography: Construction or Reality

The Female Identity in Photography

representation and reality

Art as representation or re-presentation is a question that has been the focus of intense debate and controversy in art and philosophy since the beginning of the last century, and particularly since the advent of deconstruction and post- structuralism in the latter part of that century. Simplistically put, the debate revolves around the question of reality as something static and fixed or as a flexible process that is determined by one's perspective and interpretation. This is a question that is especially relevant to the art of photography. Photography is in essence a replication of reality in terms of its mechanics, but they way that the images are manipulated by the photographer leads to issues of intentionality, interpretation and the deconstruction of norms rather than the acceptance of conventional views of reality.

Therefore, one of the central aspects that relates to the debate about representation in art is whether there is such a thing as a permanent and fixed reality or if all truth is relative and dependent on perception or various changing points-of-view. The deconstructive view of reality, which tends to interrogate the conventional structures of certain truths, is one that is particularly pertinent to the views that inquiring women have of themselves in today's world. This refers to questions that will be explored in the following analysis of photographic art by women; such as, is female identity constructed by society and, if so, what exactly constitutes female identity?

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2.1. Theoretical perspectives and background

The idea or ideal of a fixed, immutable concept of reality has been largely discounted by modern theory in almost all humanistic disciplines. This refers to the view which has become dominant in art and philosophy that reality is relative to the viewer and that social and individual reality is in fact a construction or invention. As will be shown in the discussion of various female photographers, this is a view that is especially germane to the perception of female identity in society.

2.2. The social construction of reality

TOPIC: Research Proposal on Female Identity in Photography Construction or Reality Assignment

A view that is still accepted generally is that sexuality and sexual difference is a given and natural aspect of human existence and behavior and that it is primarily biologically or genetically determined. From this point-of-view social aspects are essentiality seen as cultural variations of certain innate biological drive and that these cultural components do not in fact radically affect or alter the natural sexual predisposition of the individual. This refers to the essentialist views of reality and art, which is in opposition to the deconstructive views of sexuality.

As many modern female photographers suggest in their works, this essentialist view does not represent true reality. The social construction of sexuality and gender is related to an interrogation of various ideologies and norms of sexuality that were constructed or and which are not innate. The construction of female as well as male sexuality in terms of deconstructive theory owes its origins to certain powers, institutions and hegemonic agencies that adhere to certain views and attitude about sexuality in order to maintain control in a society. As will be discussed, this view is adopted by photographers like Cindy Sherman and others who reject the stereotypical view of the female in society.

In theoretical terms, the essentialist viewpoint can be traced back to Platonic thought and the concept of the ideal world, which prefigures and determines the world of mundane particulars. "For Plato, the phenomena of the natural world were simply a reflection of a finite number of fixed and unchanging forms, or eide, as he called them. The eide were renamed essences by the Thomists of the Middle Ages."

This means that the essences are 'fixed' and constant in contradistinction to the mutable world of everyday reality. In terms of sexuality this means that sexuality or sexual identity was seen as an expression of an ideal that transcends the world of social reality and therefore was outside the direct influence of the social construction of reality.

On the other hand, the social construction view of reality views sexuality from a very different perspective. Berger and Luckmann's work entitled The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge (1966), suggests that "…reality is socially constructed."

The theory goes on to refer to sexuality in constructionist terms as follows: "... sexuality ... [is] channeled in specific directions socially rather than biologically, a channeling that not only imposes limits on these activities, but directly affects organismic functions."

This leads to the thinking of Foucault. Foucault argues strongly against sexuality or gender as an essence and refers to sexuality in terms of social construction. The meaning of sexuality for Foucault is "…derived from language or discourse" and "…each institution in society has a discourse about sex, a way of thinking and talking about the broad array of behaviors and actors who are involved in sexual expression."

In order to understand the construction of sexuality as it relates to hegemonic discourse and the preservation of the status quo, the following two foundational aspects should be taken into account. The first is the view the sexuality and gender differences are almost entirely ideological and historically constituted and, secondly, that there is a phallocentric aspect to the construction of sexuality. The second point refers to the view that sexuality in modern Western society has a long history of being determined and 'engineered' to support the patriarchal status quo.

In this light Foucault believes that, "…the function of sexuality as the focal point for the maintenance of relations of power is peculiar to the capitalist mode of production."

In this view the societal power structures have tended in the West to focus on sexuality and gender as an area that can be manipulated to the advantage of the status quo. As one critic states,

In the last three centuries, the mechanisms of power have undergone a transformation which, in the widest sense, is a process of the management of life itself -- and the mechanism of sexuality constitutes one of the most important techniques of population control…"

It is against this theoretical background that the works of some of the most prominent female photographers.

2. Woman photographers

(Source: http://artintelligence.net/review/?p=43)

2.1. Hannah Starkey

Hannah Starkey is described as "… one of the most influential photographic artists working today."

Her work has been exhibited internationally, including in the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Saatchi Gallery, and others. She was born in 1971 in Belfast, Ireland and studied Photography and Film at Napier University, Edinburgh and she graduated with an MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art, graduating in 1997.

The themes that have characterized her work, especially the later photography, are banality and dehumanization. This is in sharp contrast to the conventional media-driven view of the female in society.

What is important to note is that her work questions and interrogates the normative view and accepted reality of the female figure and also radically opposes the view of photography as a copy or imitation of reality. She in effect ironically turns the conventional view of representation upside down. Instead of the camera recording a reality, she uses female models who are posed in urban and city situations in order to project her interpretation of reality.

Central to her technique is the way that she constructs and captures moments and moods of modern banality and a strong sense of the dehumanization of people in the modern urban and city landscape. While her earlier works were mainly focused on the experiences of young women living in the city, her more recent works "…capture the banality and dehumanizing effects of our constructed environments. "

Her images are also intended as a scrutiny and meditation on contemporary life and the existential situation of women in society. For example, many of her works are staged pieces that are based on the experiences of young women in the city. They also "…suggest a narrative that had been artificially suspended in time."

In some of her recent work the attention of the focus of the camera has shifted from the human figure to the objects that symbolize dehumanization." In recent years her close observation of the urban landscape has produced a series of images in which surfaces -- a wall, an air-conditioning duct, and a runway -- become relevant subjects in themselves."

In essence her work disrupts or transgresses the boundary between representation and reality on a number of levels. She question the view of photography as a simple "copy" of reality, which technically and theoretically places her work in the arena of postmodern and deconstructive discourse; where reality is not something fixed but is determined by the consciousness of the artist and her perception of what reality is or should be. As one commentator notes: "Hannah Starkey's work destablises the association of photography & #8230;"

While a cornerstone of classic photography is its"… claim to being an… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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