This determination is triadic in nature. It requires the cooperative intensions of the image-designer (the constitutive gazer, i.e. the artist, the photographer, videographer or director, etc.), a docility of the will in the body-object represented (the gazed-at model), and a passive interpretative disposition in the audience (the society of gazers or media consumers as such). The triadic nature of this cooperation is significant, as a breakdown in the three nodal points’ cooperation, i.e. ‘resistance’, can originate from any one nodal point, and is of course stronger where two points coordinate to resist the third. This is a crucial reason why in the current project self-portraiture seemed an appropriate creative-practice method to confront the hegemony of the male gaze over photographic representation. In occupying two nodal points, both the constitutive gazer and the gazed-at model, I could experience the full weight of the male gaze constitutive of the photographic apparatus. As the constitutive gazer, beautifying lighting techniques were available to me in the studio; slimming and blemish-reducing retouch and airbrush tools were available in the editing suite. As the gazed-at model, I could be made to feel, in every awkward pose, the full weight of the normative expectations of the male gaze on my body’s roundness and ‘excess.’ This relay, or feedback loop, was accentuated by the back-and-forth of posing, shooting, editing my poses, returning to pose again – a snowballing self-consciousness. So, what ways out of this painful self-conscious cycle were available to me? It was a key aim of this research to answer this question.
A creative practitioner who discusses the hegemony of the male gaze and confronts it with inquiries into what a ‘female gaze’ might be, is Jill Soloway, creator of television series Transparent16.Soloway suggests that a critical 'female gaze' would not be simply a gaze that reverses gender roles, allowing women to occupy the position of voyeur, fixing men in the object position. In a sense, as this replicates the non-reciprocity of the gaze, this is just the male gaze in a kind of inverse parody. In any case, the hierarchy of looker/looked is not broken down. Rather, Soloway suggests that the female gaze would in fact focus on framing the lens to resuscitate the subjectivity of the one who is looked at. In an echo of both carnal methodology's focus on the affective lived body, and the first personal, situated knowledge of feminist epistemology, Soloway suggests that this means raising the gazed-at feeling, living body to the level of the camera's perceptions. This act itself is enough to repair some of the objectification of the male gaze, as an object is not supposed to feel. Indeed, suppressing the suffering of the subject makes it easier to instrumentalise the subject. A strategy is to return the gaze, to say, ‘I see you seeing me.’ This is an act of defiance. It also breaks down the whole structure of gazing, since the power of gazing is premised on an unselfconsciousness of the one who looks. As will become clear in my analytical discussion of individual artworks, my own work takes cues from this.
I believe that Laura Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze continues to have import for how gendered advertising affects how women’s gender is socially constructed today. The obvious heteronormativity of Mulvey’s theory need not be considered a limitation so long as the stereotyped visual representations in the media remain largely heteronormative. It is arguable that, as commodity culture has intensified and proliferated its images of women’s bodies, of the Glossy Magazine Girl, women’s subjective experience of those bodies has come under more intense scrutiny. I will elaborate on this further below, but Mulvey’s psychoanalytic reading of visual media (or the deployment of lens technology) is perhaps ever more significant in a world increasingly mediated by visual images.