I have periodically been staring quite intensely at Botticelli’s Venus since the start of UVC. Perhaps it is the demure (or is it insipid) look on her face, her gaze turned slightly away from the viewer, her hands and hair delicately protecting her vagina from the shame of being on show, but naked everywhere else, which I am trying figure out. When I first started working on my Girlhood images, it was this picture that I continuously referenced in my mind – always comparing the expression in the girls’ faces to this version of Venus. I also compare her now to this image from the Nexus Project, Honor’s Dance, in which a young girl is seen as wilder, caught up in her own enjoyment, perhaps oblivious to the viewer.
I was so cross I missed the V&A project which celebrated and explored all the many iterations of Venus, including Rineke Dijkstra’s 1992 image taken in Poland of a girl in her yellow bathing suit. When I first discussed photographing Mandy, Venus was one of the images we looked at – and I reminded her again recently when she first told me about the pond at Hampstead. (I hope we can return there in the spring or summer for a longer shoot). Every time I looked at it I was minded of the way in which women have been framed and portrayed in our society.
Tonight historian, Bettany Hughes, is presenting a documentary about Venus and I can’t wait to see it. There was a taster in this morning’s Guardian, in which Hughes writes: Venus-Aphrodite was never just a goddess of romantic love – for millennia she represented something much stronger and darker. The stories that the ancients told about her were appropriately shocking. Aphrodite, they declared, had a gruesome birth. Gaia, Mother Earth, was sick of the god of the sky, Uranus, eternally copulating with her. So Gaia persuaded her son Cronus to slice off his father’s penis and testicles with a serrated scythe. The amputated genitals were flung into the sea with a roaring splash, and out of the gory foam emerged an “awful and lovely maiden” – the goddess Aphrodite.. (2017)
I have been discussing female sexuality very briefly on facebook with people who didn’t mind answering my slightly probing questions, after watching some of (I’m not quite finished) Lars Von Triers’ Nymphomaniac Vol 1. I will write about this soon, specifically in reference to a photobook made by Casper Sejerson called Belongs to Joe, which was made separately but in homage to Von Triers’ script (not the finished film). Sejerson was employed to do the publicity photography but asked if he could make his own artistic response to the film. There are some beautiful things about this book but is it ultimately just another male expression of what they think/hope female sexuality is all about and cut through too with barely suppressed homosexual fantasies? I want to learn from and emulate some of the aesthetic qualities but have no desire to contribute to or continue a narrative by now desperately worn thin. I do have every desire to confront, question and deconstruct what is going on here though, and elsewhere in so much popular culture where women are continuously rendered commodities, packaged, produced. I don’t want to make assumptions, and my brief, less than academic study on Facebook into the reality of females masturbating in public (as happens in a scene in the film) immediately made me confront some of my preconceptions. But more of that another time as I try to delve deeper.
In the meantime, I am very much looking forward to the documentary this evening. I think I will have to use A3 as a study/research point for A5 if I head this way, and hopefully A4 too. This might be possible in the following S&O question;
Discuss the blurring of self & other within the work of a photographer of your choosing.
Refs: All accessed 15/11/2017
Botticelli, S. 1486 Birth of Venus from The Guardian Photograph: DEA/ G.Nimatallah/Getty Images/DeAgostini