For a long time, I did not call myself a feminist. I thought that looking at things with an unnecessarily gendered perspective was unlikely to fix a problem stemming from doing just that.
Obviously there was some ignorance there.
But these last few years brought so many of the inequalities in our society into an undeniable focus. Whether we’re looking at race or sexual orientation or gender, as a culture we seem to want to put almost everyone into the very big box labeled “other” and I don’t think we need to spend more than a minute or two looking at the news or at Facebook to see the danger of this.
I love this image by Horst P Horst. It was made for Vogue magazine in 1939 when fashion photography was still new and was closer to its roots in artistic portraiture. The shadows and shapes of body are just exquisite. There is no environment in this image, so we’re left looking at this abstracted moment of dressing (or undressing) and that is all of the story we get to see. It’s beautiful and I bet it helped sell a lot of corsets.
I do wonder how much we should celebrate the beauty of the body. We are a big mess of experiences and opinions and ideas and values and relationships… but we are also bodies. Bodies that are beautiful and amazing and sometimes really complicated. And I think those should be celebrated, along with everything else that we are. So I took some inspiration from Horst and his corset, and created this image – my homage to the body, and the mind, and the half of the world that is too often disregarded – “Knowledge: Bound and Unbound”.
When I look at pieces like this and the work of photographers from fifty or a hundred years ago, I see both that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”1 and that we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. We have come far, but I wonder how much farther we could have gotten if we valued fully half of the population for something more than youth and beauty. If we empowered women, and everybody, to be fully engaged in science and government and culture. If we could get rid of that silly idea that, based on some unimportant biological quirk like genitalia or skin color, that someone else is less than. How much farther could we be?
Prints available here
1. Martin Luther King, Jr. 1967 speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference