PhotoFictions of the Female FormIsabsence more powerful than presence in feminist photography?Exploring use ofabsence as a strategy of resistance to representation attached to thefemale form within the social, political and cultural understandingwomen and the photograph.
Thedepiction of women within photography, and art as a whole is by nomeans a new topic; but rather a constant debate revolving around therepresentation of women in history, politics, philosophy, society andculture. In short how women are represented within the (Western)world. It is instinctive within this instance to explore the theoryaround ‘representation’ and ‘women’ before any attempt in practicalanalysis or understanding of photographic discourse of femalerepresentation. Thus through the work of feminist authors; LauraMulvey, Joan Scott and Griselda Pollock – Representationconveys meaning within culture through the use of language.Language in this case referring to the theory of structuralistlinguistics and anthropology(STUHALL REF). That is to say a collection of meaning constitutingsystems used in order to organise cultural practices and how theindividual relates these to the world around him or herself. JoanScott writes in relation to deconstructing the ‘Qquality/ Difference’debate; (FOOT)”Withoutattention to language and the processes by which meaning andcategories are constituted, one only imposes oversimplified models onthe world, models that perpetuate conventional understanding ratherthan open up new imperative possibilities.”(SCOTT)With Scott’s words in mind one comes to Sigmund Freud and Karl Marxin a possibly inefficacious yetcompulsive attempt to traverse and link two of the most famous andinfluential thinkers of the past two hundred years.
Marxist andFreudian ideology and appropriation appear repeatedly within feministdiscourse; both as a structure for understanding and as a point ofopposition. Insofar as representation is concerned it becomesrelevant to centre on the hypothesis of Fetishism with relation andIn correlation to both men. Firstlythere is the possibility of a link in concept; as explored throughMulvey’s 1996 book ‘Fetishismand Curiosity'(MULVEYREF).In the second instance exists a connection through the terminology inthe way of language and semiotics. Fetishism with relation to Marxrefers to commodity fetishism- the communal view that it isineluctableto measure worth of commodity through an abstract medium of exchangesuch as money. (MARXREF)In Freud’s work the fetish refers to the sexual behaviour orattraction within an individual which Freud deems deviant from socialnorm.
(FREUDREF) Thedeviance occurring from the displacement of sexual desire due tocastration fear (FOOTNOTE).Marxist fetishism deals with the exchange-value of commodities ineconomic production and consumption by society as a group in mass-Freud’s Fetishism contrasts with focus on the individual’s sexualdesire and consumption of a product (TIMDANTE REF) Atfirst glance the two concepts appear to correlate solely throughname, and understandably for as Mulvey states ” the differencesbetween the two invocations of fetishism are as, or more, significantthan their similarities”. In other words it is easier to findcomparison in the differences than similarities. Whenone shifts into the position of examining fetishism primarily withregard to representation- additional territory for creativity informing a structure of understanding appears. Considerfetishism, now, through eyes of Ferdinand De Saussure (footnote)and semiotics. Through which we understand that to represent is notonly to ‘depict’ or recreate mental ‘likeness’ but also to symboliseor substitute (HALLREF). Thus in this sense fetishism is a system of representation, for inboth cases the physical is replaced with a conceptual representedmeaning.
In Marxist terms it is value. The value of a tangiblecommodity is replaced by the conceptual value of an abstract monetarysystem with no basic physical worth. It is a representation of valuethrough what it can be exchanged for in contrast to the objectitself. Turningonce again to the concept of language and anthropology it becomesimperative to examine the theories posed by Griselda Pollock’s’MissingWomen: re-thinking thoughts on images of women’.In order to discuss women as a category of representation Pollockbriefly touches upon Cloude Levi-Strauss (FOOT)about whom she writes ” For Levi-Strauss, society, which issynonymous with culture, is a series of systems of exchange”. Withmore in-depth reflection it is again possible to relaterepresentation back to Marx and fetishism.
For instance theproduction of meaning through differences seen in both structuralismand post-structuralism. With regard to Levi-Strauss the understandingof family (kin) is through the juxtaposition of social or culturalfamily through the alliance of marriage. Of which constitutes social,sexual and economic practices along with the exchange of wealth andfinally reproduction- in this case the woman, in her roles asdaughter, wife and mother becomes fetishised into a commodityexchanged by men to which the prior mentioned values are equated.
(REFRubin,Gayle)Inthis instance the woman holds value outside of the value of a human-and furthermore represents an exchangeable object which bring us tothe idea of ‘Women as a Commodity’. Inpsychoanalysis women is defined as sign in a phallocentric model ofsignification