I have had such a response to the first post on this topic that I feel the need to add a small disclaimer to the top of this one! I am not by any means an expert in feminist theory or the male gaze. I have no degree, period, and anything I know on this topic is because I looked it up and read about it out of pure, somewhat idle interest. If I get something egregiously wrong or if my opinions seem off base, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I am trying to learn about this by writing about it.
I have had some awesome offers from others to use their photographs for future installments, and I am taking them up on it as the topic demands it. I want to say that my intention is not to hurt feelings with this project, so I am trying to be careful in how I use the photos of others. Because of this, for this particular installment, I am sticking mostly with my own photos, but I will be using more photos of other designers in future installments. Topics currently planned are: The crafter’s gaze, The female gaze, Narrative in knitwear photography, and The self and the other. If you have other suggestions, or would like to contribute to one of these topics, either in words or photos, please let me know! For convenience’ sake, this post is titled the spouse as photographer, but could refer to any romantic significant other.
In my own photos, as in those of many independent designers, I often use myself as a model, largely for the sake of convenience and shyness to ask someone else to pose for me. I use my husband as a photographer. I’m not a trained model and he’s not a trained photographer, but we put some work into coming up with our ideas, and I think it’s safe to say that the image that results is a collaborative vision. As such, it is neither wholly male nor wholly female. I do the styling, present him with a series of images I’d like to capture, and I do the posing. He, in turn, often fusses about location and lighting and is ultimately the one who frames the shot and captures the image. From a very personal standpoint, he gets a more comfortable and relaxed version of me to photograph than someone with whom I am less at ease would. I smile differently for him than I would for a stranger.
In some cases, as in the photographs for Audrey Totter, we were deliberately aping photographs framed by the male gaze.
The history of film noir is rife with shots that start at the feet of the female character and ride up her body to make sure that we’re seeing it as the male detective is. She walks in, and he appreciates her body for a while before the camera settles on her face, establishing her as a person. These shots place us in the shoes of the detective and allow us to understand, without a word being said, that he is sexually attracted to the dame, broad, or tomato who’s just wandered into his rat hole of an office. My pose in this picture is entirely unnatural. I don’t stand around with my hip thrown out and one of my feet on tiptoe. This picture is all about trying to capture a sense of film noir through the familiar, unnatural, and very male gaze that the camera gives us. The fact that the photo was taken by my husband probably means that it’s a different sort of picture than it would be if it were taken by a female friend or a stranger.
In what way different, though? I think we’re seeing, often, his idealized view of me combined with my vision for how I want my work displayed. In the case of Audrey Totter, we were aiming for a certain period nostalgia and a sexiness called up by the femmes fatale of the old movies. In the case of a more relaxed shoot, I think he often snaps pictures when I don’t expect it, capturing small, personal moments that are taking place between two people with the consciousness that they will eventually be shown to a larger audience over which we have little control. In this picture from 2010 (sweater is Liesl, by Ysolda) I am talking to my husband and looking down, not a moment I think I was expecting to be captured, but I think it’s a rather nice picture, though truly not my own view of myself. I’ve never seen my head from that angle, and I don’t have that picture of myself in my own brain.
It is, in a way, a romantic picture, a moment between two people who were talking and joking around, but with the self conscious awareness of capturing that moment for others. I don’t think the gaze in this photo is exploitative, but it is other, and it is the gaze of a heterosexual male.
Liz Abinante, designer of tons of amazing things, but probably best known for Traveling Woman, is another knitwear designer who often uses herself as a model and her significant other as photographer. In her case, her fella actually is a professional photographer, and between them, they get some truly beautiful photographs. What I most like about these pictures is their playfulness – again, I think, the moment between two people who are comfortable together.
I wouldn’t say the gaze in this picture is explicitly male or female, but it is intimate in the sense that we don’t often get to see this sort of sweet goofiness from someone we don’t know well. It introduces us as good friends of Liz.
At the same time, this points out that a male significant other as photographer does not automatically introduce an explicitly male gaze. And I think a lot of what we’re seeing in that photograph is Liz as Liz, a combination of how she is choosing to present herself and Liz as she is seen by Colin, but not Liz as she is seen by an unknown and universal male gaze.
I don’t have any photos to present of male knitwear photographers taken by their spouses or significant others, or at least none known to me to have been taken by significant others, but I’d be curious to see if the familiarity apparent in many photos taken this way remains the same and what details are captured. The spouse as photographer can bring his or her gaze as an admirer and lover of the photo’s object, but can also stand back to capture the object as a friend.
How the photograph is set up and posed can draw from art and film and photography that is explicitly informed by the male gaze, but there’s still room to move around and allow for a more playful view. And, depressingly, I suppose it’s also possible to capture the sourness of a relationship that’s gone south, with the spouse as an angry or depressive photographer.