Drawing With Light
It is only now, at the age of 23, that I have come to terms with photography and appreciate it for what it is – an art form. Growing up, cameras were definitely evil as they captured everything I hated about myself, my body and especially my face. I would spend hours with photos of myself cutting and pushing and pulling my body in Photoshop, just to get rid of all the imperfections, so that I could put them online and present myself as someone better. Photos were horrible and photography was a hateful, hateful medium that was only there to make me feel ashamed of myself. The candid shot was an invention made to torture me and reveal to the world that I was truly ugly, and the composed portrait was an exercise to display my gangly, awkwardness.
This reaction is entirely unsurprising, considering the amount of body shaming photos I was exposed to as a kid. Every magazine I read objectified the female body in some way; do you remember those montages of celebrities with big huge red circles around the ‘mistakes’ they were making with their bodies? Armpit fat here, showing a bit too much skin there, a roll or a bulge over the top of a pair of jeans? I was a slave to those magazines, and as soon as I saw a camera I was thinking about how to make my body, and my face perfect; I was so keen not to make any of those mistakes. When I think back at this I feel deeply sad for my 16 year old self. I had so deeply misunderstood photography, the body and myself.
It is, of course, Mortimer who has helped me make peace with photography. Repeatedly the source of most good things I have been learning recently, he has shown me a way of appreciating photography as an art form. He sees photography as a way of capturing moments and emotions, and the photos themselves as immortalised fragments of the soul. He takes photos of me at times when I have dressed up to please him, to capture the way my body looks, but also how we both felt at the time, and the effort I have put in to pleasing him. These photos tell a story. The best ones cast an anchor in a spot of time in a way that a memory cannot. They transcend their medium and capture so much more than colours and shapes in their pixels.
It is this lack of transcendence that is so disappointing when it comes to the way the female body is represented in photos in the media. I’m talking about the vapid paparazzi photos that are used as weapons in Closer and Heat to remind women that they are worth nothing more than the way their body looks for that horrifying 1/500th of a second. These photos form a large part of how the female body is represented and as far as I’m concerned they’re just a massive pile of wank. They are shitty quality, poorly framed and do nothing more than demonstrate the invasive, more seedy side of the SLR. They reduce human beings to pixels and punish them for choosing to have a career that puts them into the spotlight. Those topless photos of Kate Middleton were handed around the world’s media and became such valuable property because people find a sick sort of pleasure in taking a strong, interesting, confident woman, and an idol for many, and reducing her to the way she looks in some unskilled, unimaginative, reductive photographs. The people who take these photos have, much like my 16 year old self, deeply misunderstood photography and the results repulse me and make women feel worthless.
It’s not just the paparazzi who have missed the delights that good photography can offer. Lena Dunham came under fire from Jezebel this week because the photos of Dunham that appear in the most recent issue of Vogue were apparently retouched post-production. No shit. It’s the biggest fashion magazine in the world, its artistic director is doing something wrong if photos don’t go through post-production. Jezebel shamed Dunham for allowing this, saying that she was fuelling a worldwide obsession with representing an unattainable, standardised version of the female body. I can’t help but feel that they’ve missed the point. The shoot is interesting, the woman in it is fascinating and the whole feature is such a wonderful leap for Vogue as it focuses largely on the fact that Dunham is the successful creator of an awesome TV series and an excellent writer, rather than the fact that she wears nice clothes or is a model. This is reflected in Dunham’s rebuttal where she writes “I felt that […] all the editors understood my persona, my creativity and who I am”. The photos are artistic, fantastical and demonstrate the escapism for which we all enjoy Vogue in the first place. All Jezebel has done is made sure that the focus across the world is now on the way Dunham’s body looks in that article, rather than being interested in the person behind it or enjoying the artistic representations of a beautiful woman.
A lot of the photos I take for Mortimer, and that Mortimer takes of me, are erotic. For Christmas I bought him a french book of erotic photography that contains some of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen (Photographie Erotique, Volume 4). It’s photography that celebrates the female body, that twists and turns it into beautiful shapes and every photo captures a feeling, a fleeting glimpse of the relationship between photographer and subject. The best photos stir my thoughts and move me. It makes me want to capture my body in that way, to help create photos that keep secrets and hold in them desires we can’t put into words. I now see that the perfect photo has nothing to do with presenting a perfection that never has and never will exist. It’s about Mortimer trying to capture the look on my face that says ‘go on then…’, the way my hips move when I dance, the line of my waist when I arch my back and the secrets of my body and my mind that I share only with him. You can’t capture something like that when you’re thinking of the payoff you’re going to get for that grainy, topless shot of Kate.
I’ve come a long way from the way I viewed my body and the part that photos had to play in that. Being exposed to a wealth of objectifying, derogatory images from a young age largely informed my younger years and it’s taken this long to shake that off. There are some fantastic initiatives now that are trying to combat the way women are represented in the media (check out ‘No More Page Three’ and follow ‘The Vagenda’ for some excellent take-downs of the objectification of women). Everyone in the world has a different view of what is beautiful, and allowing a small group of people in the media represent that view is limiting and damaging. If you have a camera, tell stories with the photos you take. Celebrate your body and the stories your body can tell about your soul. Use your camera to draw with light, and use your imagination to draw something amazing.
N.B. We have a wonderful, diverse collection of photos over on our Pinterest page – take a look!