My first day of grad school–a getting to know each other sharing of our work. I presented the six cigarette card photographs I had made. The conversation was light, and triggered some useful readings. And then, one of the new cohort, voiced her disgust. In these images, she saw an outdated version of how women were meant to be, and for her, a mature student, my images did nothing to intervene on that historical imperative for women to be appearance, and nothing else.
My first year at grad school was really grappling with this negative reading of the work, and doing a lot of critical feminist reading, mainly film theory from the seventies and eighties. I am not saying this negative reading is wrong, but what became clear was my lack of sophistication in the articulation of what I was making was faulty. I had not built up a robustness, nor was I critically aiming the work. I had difficult conversations with the faculty–did I want to develop aesthetics without politics? Because that was the danger, that was what was at stake for me.
I was also learning to read deeper into images through the semiotics and Freud & psychoanalysis classes. So for example I realised that only a couple of the images I had recreated returned the viewer’s gaze, in the rest, the subject was looking off to one side–giving the viewer greater access to look, unchallenged.
Before I left Sheffield I was beginning to access burlesque and seeing that live. At school, I found it impossible to continue to see live burlesque. I started to read more about the scene, but I also was feeling so ashamed of my interest in glamour, it was difficult for me to access my own pleasure. That’s a sad thing to say, but that’s where I was at. I was feeling shame.
My images captured something, captured a look, but they were also about replacing the original woman, as much as it was about my becoming.