It’s hard to make generalizations when it comes to art but we can assure you that a generalization about the perspective of female photographers won’t hurt.

Social media’s power of self- explanation and the brands’ interest in the female gaze – now women are more powerful than ever! Journalist Charlotte Jansen examines the “female gaze” which currently dominated the world of photography through works of 40 female photographers in her book “Girl on Girl.” We talked to Charlotte about women’s role, how we’ve come here, and where we’re headed.

What does “female gaze” mean to you?

To me the female gaze is a different way of seeing the world, as a place where identity is more fluid and the connections between us are more flexible. I think it’s a way of seeing that’s an alternative to the dominant, rigidly structured ‘male gaze’. That’s not to say it’s better or worse, just different — and a perspective we’re not used to seeing in the mainstream!

What was your starting point for the “Girl on Girl”?

I’m an arts journalist by day, so I was already writing on the kind of topics and artists that are discussed in the book — but the idea crystallized after a debate I had on Twitter about feminist selfies. I was quite against this idea — I didn’t think a woman posting a sexy picture of herself could be a feminist statement – but my argument was really challenged and that prompted me to want to investigate this more. From there I started to look at all the different ways women photograph women, not only with a political agenda.

When you see a photo, is it possible to know it was taken by a man or a woman? Can we talk about a specific feminine approach or aesthetic?

I don’t think it’s always obvious, but the ‘gaze’, is usually clear, if you look carefully. I think there is such a thing as a ‘feminine’ approach, that’s not exclusive to females. Many of the women I spoke to work closely with their subjects, for example, they tend to shoot women they know well or are at least acquainted with, or take more time to make their subjects comfortable. It’s less predatory somehow. That said, I’m sure there are plenty of women too who also have a ‘male gaze’ point and shoot approach. It’s always hard to generalize when it comes to art as each approach is very different. I think what’s really important and interesting to me is to look at the way we respond as viewers, as a society, to ideas about gendered photography and to investigate the way we treat bodies in photographs.
Do you think that a woman photographing a woman is a political act?
Sometimes it is, but sometimes not — I think what’s interesting is that even when it’s not, it’s usually interpreted as a political act. Female bodies are not treated as neutral.

What do you think about the body shaming?

It’s disgusting — it’s a sign of how hypocritical our attitudes towards women are, and how absurd our demands on their bodies are.

IZUMI MIYAZAKI, Izumi Miyazaki Bread
An artist that inspired you the most lately?

I’m inspired every day by artists! Lately I’ve been talking to an Angolan photographer, KEYEZUA, who makes really compelling work. I hope if I do another volume of Girl on Girl she’ll be in it!

How did you select the artists for the book?

The research process was quite lengthy — I took almost two years compiling a list of artists I already knew, and adding more by talking to other artists, curators, galleries, and writers. I read a lot and went to lots of exhibitions — and of course, I trawled Instagram! My main criteria were to find artists from different fields, contexts and backgrounds, who had been making a significant international impact in the last 5 – 7 years. I really wanted to capture what’s happening in our moment with this movement!

Do you think the ‘female gaze’ has been co-opted by brands?

Inevitably it has become a commercial thing — the commercial gaze is stronger than everything! But at least it means its something that is being discussed, it’s out there, and ultimately, brands using it to sell products will mean a few more people get interested in the deeper issues, so I’m not completely against it. I don’t think you can stop anything being commercialized nowadays.

PINAR YOLAÇAN, UNTITLED
Do you think social media had a role in this?

It’s definitely played an important role in the female gaze: more women have been able to publish their work and to be seen than ever before thanks to platforms like Tumblr, Snapchat and Instagram. It means women don’t have to wait to have their work ‘approved’—a lot of the most influential photographers of our generation have emerged by building their own communities first online and that’s really important I think, their validation and purpose has come through collaboration and through discussion in public. For me that’s another aspect of the female gaze.

Undeniably, social media makes our moment in photography unique, too. There’s a whole new way of photographing, and new aesthetics, that have arisen out of the format itself.

What has been the best advice you’ve received so far?

Always keep a beginner’s mind — in the expert’s mind, there are only a few possibilities, but a beginner’s mind is open to many…

Sui Zhen – Secretly Susan
What is the question you are tired of hearing the most about photography?

Anything to do with selfies…

What do you think about the body shaming?

It’s disgusting — it’s a sign of how hypocritical our attitudes towards women are, and how absurd our demands on their bodies are.

An artist that inspired you the most lately?

I’m inspired every day by artists! Lately I’ve been talking to an Angolan photographer, KEYEZUA, who makes really compelling work. I hope if I do another volume of Girl on Girl she’ll be in it!

How did you select the artists for the book?

The research process was quite lengthy — I took almost two years compiling a list of artists I already knew, and adding more by talking to other artists, curators, galleries, and writers. I read a lot and went to lots of exhibitions — and of course, I trawled Instagram! My main criteria were to find artists from different fields, contexts and backgrounds, who had been making a significant international impact in the last 5 – 7 years. I really wanted to capture what’s happening in our moment with this movement!

PETRA COLLINS, Sarvida
Do you think the ‘female gaze’ has been co-opted by brands?

Inevitably it has become a commercial thing — the commercial gaze is stronger than everything! But at least it means its something that is being discussed, it’s out there, and ultimately, brands using it to sell products will mean a few more people get interested in the deeper issues, so I’m not completely against it. I don’t think you can stop anything being commercialized nowadays.

Do you think social media had a role in this?

It’s definitely played an important role in the female gaze: more women have been able to publish their work and to be seen than ever before thanks to platforms like Tumblr, Snapchat and Instagram. It means women don’t have to wait to have their work ‘approved’—a lot of the most influential photographers of our generation have emerged by building their own communities first online and that’s really important I think, their validation and purpose has come through collaboration and through discussion in public. For me that’s another aspect of the female gaze.

Undeniably, social media makes our moment in photography unique, too. There’s a whole new way of photographing, and new aesthetics, that have arisen out of the format itself.

What has been the best advice you’ve received so far?

Always keep a beginner’s mind — in the expert’s mind, there are only a few possibilities, but a beginner’s mind is open to many…

What is the question you are tired of hearing the most about photography?

Anything to do with selfies…

The book you can read over and over again without getting bored?

There’s an essay from the 1990s by a Japanese feminist artist called Yoshiko Shimada “Escaping Oneself” that I think is the best bit of feminist writing I’ve ever read. It’s my manifesto. I also really like the radical feminist French writers, Annie LeClerc and Marie Cardinal, from the 1970s for how much they tried to do something totally new, and even if it’s slightly crazed, Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto is never boring. She really goes the whole way with it!

ISABELLE WENZEL, Rotation 2
If you were a character from a series, which one would it be?

Ha ha, I’ve never ever thought about this before, so off the top of my head, Daria, the protagonist of the old animated series of the same name.

Your favorite word?

Tatterdemalion.