As a photographer who often photographs the female form, I am confronted head-on with the issue of objectification. It is easy to deny the issue and say that for tens of thousands of years man has been creating art of the female figure and that photography is no different. It's also impossible to ignore the arguments and evidence that show that the male gaze, my own photography included, harms women; that it objectifies them and contributes to serious problems in our culture. While I see first-hand the harm that can be done, I do not believe that stifling expressions of sexuality is the answer.
It’s My Body is a series exploring the objectification of women in our culture. For this series, each woman is photographed in a bikini (both a publicly acceptable and sexualized western attire) and also interviewed about their experiences and thoughts on objectification. A selected quote is presented along with each image, which often creates an interesting dissonance between the images and accompanying quotations. We first see a typical, sexualized image of a woman in a bikini, much like we might see in an advertisement, and we are then presented with the model's perspective on being objectified in such a way. The women often express, both visually with their posing (which is undirected), and verbally with their interview (which is unstructured and unlimited in length), a desire or willingness to be objectified, but often also verbally express a dissatisfaction with only being objectified. In other words, it's nice to feel desired, but it's unpleasant to only feel desired sexually.
If we are to help relieve women of the constant fear of being sexually preyed upon, begin to pay women fairly for their work, and begin to see more female leaders in politics; we must all (men and women alike) begin to see beyond women's physical bodies with every gaze. We must always first assume that they are more like us than not, and respect each and every woman as an equal, regardless of what they look like, or wear, or how they choose to allow themselves to be photographed. With this kind of constant respectful practice, I feel we can all become more literate with regard to women's issues in general.
This series is meant to be a tool for learning to more easily see beyond a woman's physical appearance. Presenting typical, sexualized images of women while also allowing them to speak directly to us about how they are depicted is a strategy meant to offer a direct challenge to our initial objectifying thoughts. Hopefully, with practice, we will begin to see art and media that celebrates a woman's sensuality and sexuality in a way that simultaneously honors and respects those depicted; regardless of the nature of the depiction. We can celebrate sensuality and sexuality responsibly, as long as we also actively recognize those things as just a small part of each of our identities. When our society is capable of seeing women as more than sexual objects, no matter what they are wearing or how they are photographed; we'll be better on our way to solving the gender inequality issues we suffering from.
Alex Buntin, Photographer