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Sometimes I need artmaking to feel  positive and I am so lucky that I can immerse myself in making. When I checked in on one of my favourite photography blogs yesterday, at first I was really upset in a deep place, but later I NEEDED to make, like needing to drink water on a hot day.

I really love Steve McCurry’s work, he has taken some of the most sensitive, inspiring portraits and images I have ever seen. So it was very upsetting to find he feels “honoured” to have the Pirelli calendar assignment this year. He has taken photographs of some leading women politicians and activists for the calendar, which is historically a glamour shoot, and along with page 3, the most widely seen pornography…he has photographed a Brazilian ambassador for a sister organisation to Save the Children in a setting like a red light district, dressed in a cut away dress and corset (child prostitution anyone?) and Summer Rain Oakes, eco optimist in traditional glamour, parted lips, hands to breast pose, Adriana Lima from Bill Clinton’s Haiti support programme in a beautiful shot showing her pregnant belly, but, leaning on a wall, again, is she on the street, homeless/a prostitute?…and lots of people are going to say, well they agreed to do it to raise awareness of their cause, what’s the problem?

No one asks Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Al Gore, any male politician they respect to pose like a hooker to promote a good cause.

Why is it appropriate to ask a woman?

The use of glamour models to sell cars should surely be on its way out, and my feeling is, that Pirelli has been very clever with this, they have muddied the waters beautifully. How petty to object, when it is for a good cause, and Calendar Girls did the same thing. Except they didn’t?  Those poses were chosen by the women and had a lot of humour in them, and all the spinoffs since remain humorous. This is still a glamour shoot, but using women who are powerful and efficacious in the world in images of women as helpless and disempowered, objects of the male gaze. Cherise asked me for some links for the female gaze on Saturday, to do with her art course, and I obliged 😉 and this got us into a discussion of male/female gaze and the power levels behind each, the support each has within consumerist society. Any image that objectifies, has support from global consumerism, because it fits the pattern of creating an emotion that is uncomfortable and can be assuaged by buying comfort in an unsatisfying and therefore endless series of transactions. The idea that emotions should be dealt with appropriately by taking action that genuinely addresses them, and creating emotional self-sufficiency and wellbeing, and a positive ripple of empowerment out into the world…now that closes sweatshops and saves resources and empties landfill and is positively dangerous! So no agreement from consumerism for positive images of genuine loving intimacy (remember the HIVpositive love series?) or natural beauty and serenity…

So I guess that made the shock greater on Sunday seeing the Pirelli images on Steve McCurry’s blog. He is an empowering photographer, who normally grants subjecthood to the people in his images. Sonia Braga is the only activist who has been granted a positive, empowered and empowering image, and I can’t help wondering if this is because she is older and has more confidence in her ability to negotiate, or if she is more media savvy and sees that as a children’s rights activist, a salacious image would be totally inappropriate.

I use the word shock, and it was, but I really felt wounded, betrayed in my trust. I wanted to phone a friend, but realised I felt anxious, because the confidence with which McCurry expects this to be seen as a positive thing had hurt my sense of how that would be received, and that’s how insidious this stuff is…I felt isolated and unwilling to expose how vulnerable it had made me feel. Having done a lot of campaigning for Off the Shelf, a feminists against pornography campaign in the 80s, I know this stuff can lead into freedom of speech issues in seconds and end up causing a load of hassle.  Instead, I muddled through some craft tasks and thought out some more details of the act of senseless beauty I want to commit 😉 and then worked on covering cones with brusho treated paper, creating components for whispering wall, an installation about the stories of the silenced. And then I woke up feeling ready to share what I feel, because, making has given me my backbone, my place to stand in the world again, not necessarily the confidence that people will agree with me, but the feeling that I don’t need them to agree with me.

I left a comment and if you feel like seeing for yourself, here is the place, the link won’t work, not sure if they have blocked me :

http://stevemccurry.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/2013-pirelli-calendar-the-cal/

my comment querying the mixed messages implicit in using the women activists has not been allowed – I promise it was very polite, the most negative word I used was “confusing” as I really wanted it published.

On a positive note, writing this has helped lighten my mood, but mostly what helped was working on the scrolls for whispering wall. Until I had played with glue and papers, I felt too angry and hurt, wounded inside, to risk writing a post.

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