Minna Pöllänen: ‘Female Gaze and Photography:
Problematics in Feminist Context’
Friday 7.6. 2019, 6pm – 8pm,
in MayDay Rooms,
88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH
In her workshop, Minna Pöllänen explores the concept of the female gaze. Through practical examples from the field of photography, Pöllänen questions the adequacy of this concept from the feminist perspective. The talk is partly based on her experience in teaching photography in higher education, where students often conceptualise their own practice through explicit reference to the concept of the female gaze. However, Pöllänen argues that this concept is problematic for the politics of speech and image within the field of contemporary feminist practices.
Respondent: Maija Timonen. Free admission.
This workshop enquires into the recent proliferation of the concept of female gaze within the field of photography and explores its complex relationship with feminism. I question the gender essentialism of the concept and its relation to internalised male gaze, discussing the individualisation and capitalisation of ‘female empowerment’ through a selection of recent photography books and the hashtag #femalegaze.
‘Female gaze’ emerged as an alternative to ‘male gaze’, a concept coined by Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Utilising Freud’s concept of scopophilia, Mulvey explored the patriarchal power structure and objectification of the female subject within cinema which emanated from the man behind the camera, the spectator and the characters in the film. Like the male gaze, the concept of female gaze quickly transcended its cinematic origins into the realm of photography. I argue that the lack of critical framework and ambiguity surrounding the female gaze stems from the abundance of different interpretations– which are manifestations of its inherent essentialism.
My interest in this issue originates from a pedagogical standpoint, as I teach photography in higher education. In this context the concept of female gaze frequently appears in essays and tutorials, referring to something that is ‘feminist’, or ‘authentic’. Its popularity amongst students is partly due to several recent publications: Girl on Girl: Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze (edited by Charlotte Jansen), #Girlgaze (edited by Amanda de Cadenet) and Virtual Normality: The Female Gaze in the Age of the Internet (edited by Anika Meier and Alfred Weidinger). I examine the discussion on female gaze through a reading of Jansen’s book that presents a selection of works by female photographers who have photographed female subjects– this subject being themselves on occasion. Furthermore, I will re-visit Mulvey’s essay, as well as engage with The Oppositional Gaze by Bell Hooks (1992) and Dial P for Panties (1999) by Lucy Soutter.
Minna Pöllänen is a London-based visual artist and a lecturer in Photography at UCA Farnham. She is starting an MPhil/PhD by project in the School of Arts and Humanities in Royal College of Art in 2019. More info: www.minnapollanen.com , @minna_pollanen