An inside look at what’s between this book’s covers.
by Kaylen Ralph
During the height of 1970s second-wave feminism, Laura Mulvey, acclaimed British feminist film theorist, gifted the art world the lexicological ammunition it needed to call bullshit forevermore on Hollywood’s sexist tendencies. The “male gaze,” a term for the pervasive male perspective was coined by Mulvey in her 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” and it has largely defined critiques of contemporary art, and not just film. After Mulvey pulled the curtain on the sexist, voyeuristic tendencies in film, creators across all mediums began prioritizing the “female gaze.” More than 40 years later, artists are still reckoning with what the female gaze is, and who is allowed to produce work that claims to depict that perspective.
Girl on Girl: Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze, edited by Charlotte Jansen, freelance journalist and editor-at-large at Elephant magazine, celebrates the female gaze in contemporary photography while challenging widely held assumptions about what work of the female gaze must be. With National Photo Day just around the corner on August 19, it’s the perfect book to page through with the intention to challenge your own idea of what the female gaze begets.
“My project is pro-women, but that of the artists featured in this book isn’t necessarily,” Jansen writes in the coffee-table sized book’s introduction. “I wanted to embrace all kinds of photographs of women by women to bring them together— not to show how they are similar but to present how photographs of women are not always about feminism and femininity (although some of them, of course, are).”
Girl on Girl covers the work of 40 artists from 17 countries, featuring ambitious and sweeping projects such as Mihaela Noroc’s “The Atlas of Beauty,” the photographer’s mission to photograph women in every single country in the world as a means to portray different cultural standards of beauty, and Zanele Muholi’s ongoing goal to honestly and accurately portray the multifaceted lives of the black lesbian and trans community in South Africa.
In 2017, trading on the currency of the female form, and marketing it as depictions of the female gaze, is a daily transaction. Jansen’s collection defies, challenges, and delights.
Kaylen Ralph is co-founder of The Riveter magazine, a longform women’s lifestyle magazine in print and online. She works as a personal stylist and freelances for Rewire.org, Of a Kind and Girlboss.com. Born and raised in Rockford, IL, she currently calls Chicago home. Follow her on Instagram @kaylenralph for books and fashion. You can also find her on Twitter at @kaylenralph.