In confronting the mirror in their photographs, contemporary women artists have addressed the boundaries that have historically limited women to over-sexualization or objectification. These artists have not only confronted the mirror but also the male gaze. Laura Mulvey explains the male gaze as “woman as image or spectacle”, and man as the “bearer of the look” in her “Narrative Cinema and Visual Pleasure.” This means that historically, men have been active agents in looking, while the female is expected to remain passive. John Berger simplifies the concept of the male gaze by writing, “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”
The male gaze plays a central role in some of the work Annie Leibovitz, Nan Goldin, and Cindy Sherman. Through their photographs these women have opened up a dialogue about the male gaze and developed a different method of negotiating the female image. Leibovitz’s Self-portrait of 1991 disputes the standard presentation of women, as she stands bare-breasted in front of a bathroom mirror and holds firm to her camera. Goldin’s Self-portrait also appears in a mirror. She documents herself, battered and bruised, and the mirror is unapologetic in its reflection. Sherman, with her Film Still # 13, confronts stereotypes about women and femininity and exposes their deceptive nature. These women photographers, in confronting the mirror and the image of woman as object, have also confronted the male gaze.
Sheila Jung, ’08 Mount Vernon, IA
Sponsor: Christina McOmber