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Week 7+8: Challenging the Gaze, Part 1

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

In my last article I discussed gaze in photography and mentioned a few artists who had explored gaze in their practice. I also shared a photograph of mine from 2017 which had sparked an idea for my Final Major Project.

This week I would like to share some new work of mine and discuss gaze in my practice.

My work is mostly revolved around the human body and capturing myself nude. My aim has always been to portray the human body in a desexualised way and rather convey the connection of human and environment , explore identity, etc. However the viewer’s perception of my work does not always resonate with my intention. My work has often been read as female nudes and I can quite understand why. Some of my photographs are exposing the body to the voyeuristic gaze of the viewer, regardless of my intention. But I also think that being a female standing naked in front of the lens automatically labels my work as ‚female nudes‘ because people learned to read it this way due to a long history of using women to create nude art work.

I have decided to take more control over how the viewers read my work and produced a small body of work. Below I present some of the images. My intention was to make it more challenging for the viewer to look at the body in my photographs. I wanted to make it clear that the body is there but only show a glimpse of it. In this case (Fig. 1) I used a white plastic bag to cover the body and stood still with my arms down near a white wall to blend in with the background. By doing so I hoped to steer away the borders between the body and the background. There is a presence of nudity, although very obscured. The second photograph (Fig. 2) is very similar to the first one, however here I am striking a more feminine pose with my arms up. In my opinion it makes the photo look quite sensual as it emphasizes the curve of the body. The edge of the plastic bag gives a sense that I am wearing a dress which also adds another layer of femininity. Therefore I consider the first photograph more successful in terms of challenging the gaze.

Fig. 1: Lucie Nechanicka, Untitled, 2021

Fig. 2: Lucie Nechanicka, Untitled, 2021

In these photographs (Fig. 3, Fig. 4, Fig. 5) I used a white wall and plastic bags again, but this time I experimented with a slow shutter speed in order to turn my body into an obscure figure. During the exposure time I moved around aiming to blur the foreground of the scene and partially blend the body and the plastic bags with the wall. I consider the image in the middle (Fig. 4) the most successful one as it demonstrates the best the ambiguity of the form.

Fig. 3: Lucie Nechanicka, Untitled, 2021

Fig. 4: Lucie Nechanicka, Untitled, 2021

Fig. 5: Lucie Nechanicka, Untitled, 2021

These two images (Fig. 6 and Fig. 7) are both taken by using the same technique; slow shutter speed. However, I chose a different approach for each photograph. At the first glance the first image (Fig. 6) seems to be still, lacking any motion, but the contrary is the case. I struck two different poses during the exposure time – one facing the camera and the other one facing the wall. My intention was to combine the front and back of my body in a single shot in order to make my appearance unrealistic and perhaps unappealing.

In the past I have got a lot of compliments from people/viewers on my appearance, either on the beauty of my breasts or bottom. Here I was playing with the idea of attractivity as a response to those compliments. I wondered what I would look like if I combined the ‚best‘ parts of my body together. The result is a strange alien-like form. Will I still get the same compliments now when I ‚improved‘ my appearance?

In the second image (Fig. 7) I wanted a very small portion of my body to remain unchanged – I chose the feet. My aim was to remind the viewer that the blurry smudge in the photograph is a human being. Besides the feet it is very difficult to see anything else that would resemble a human form in the traditional way of what a human looks like. In my opinion both images are successful as they are both challenging gazing upon, but each of them in a different way.

Fig. 6: Lucie Nechanicka, Untitled, 2021

Fig. 7: Lucie Nechanicka, Untitled, 2021 These two images (Fig. 8 and Fig. 9) are an elaboration on one of the previous images (Fig. 7). However, this time my intention was not to turn myself into an ambiguous form, I wanted to partially remove my body from the photograph. By moving quickly around during a long exposure time I made my body almost invisible except from my hands that I deliberately left unchanged. I engaged with the environment in a way to make my hands look like they are rather part of the wall than part of my body, and they work as a link that connects the foreground with background. My intention was to draw away the attention from the body itself in order to focus on the image as a whole. In my opinion, the first image (Fig. 8) demonstrates my intention better as the body is far more blurry than the hands, unlike in the other image (Fig. 9) where the levels of blurriness are quite similar for both, body and hands.

Fig. 8: Lucie Nechanicka, Untitled, 2021

Fig. 9: Lucie Nechanicka, Untitled, 2021 The Environment

In the first couple of images (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2) I was looking for a very simple environment and a white wall and natural light were just perfect for the purposes I have already mentioned above.

In the second set of images (Fig. 3, Fig. 4, Fig. 5) I used a corner in the living room which I chose for aesthetic purposes; I liked the lighting there. The corner itself was dark, but there was light coming from the left which lit up the wall on the left side but also my body in the middle of the photograph. So even though the body blends in with the wall thanks to the blurriness, at the same time it also stands out because of the different tonality between the body (with the plastic bags) and the dark corner. In my opinion, highlighting the whites in the foreground makes the photograph more enigmatic and ghost-like.

I chose my dining room in the third set of images (Fig. 6 and Fig. 7) for a couple of reasons. My idea was to use the lines of the beam and the column to lead the eye into the middle of the photograph. The ‚messy‘ elements in the background; radiator, plug socket, bulb, etc., suggest this space could be someone’s household, however the room seems empty and uninhabited. I tried to create a sense of alienation, and make myself appear as a non-human form in a domestic environment that does not look very inviting.

The last set of images (Fig. 8 and Fig. 9) have been shot in the same room as the previous images (Fig. 6 and Fig. 7) but from a different vantage point. I decided to exclude the floor from the images in order to make the environment look obscure. I wanted the viewer to question what the place is.

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