Text on method / Marieke
My text is still a mess but I mostly tried to externalise the most important thoughts I currently have about my work and theoretical research.
Text on method
My research was at first mainly focused on the physics of photography. Because of my interest in the electromagnetic spectrum and the capturing of infrared light my readings were mainly focused on the scientific part of this. My interest mainly went to texts like how night vision in the army has evolved into the use of thermal imaging to detect enemies. I analyzed photographs by photographer Richard Mosse and questioned what his images would mean without his use of infrared.
The readings about the history and manifestation of the electromagnetic spectrum in relation to camera’s was crucial in the beginning. Since it gave me a feel of why I myself picked this particular method of recording for my practice. I started with analogue and digital photography: still images. This was mostly to get a grasp of how the capturing of the infrared light works, as I am more interested in moving images.
My interest in the light that we cannot see led me to the book Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison. I still haven’t finished this book but am planning to do so. The idea of objective research interested me because it shows our incapability of humans to register in a non-subjective way. This is of course partially because how we are built physically but it is also related to our own mental state.
I think that this thought about subjective registering led me to the adding of a self-created narrative to my video’s. The viewer in the end is not aware or sure of what actually happened during the recording.
Let me elaborate on this further by taking the example of the film I created for the Eye Research labs: Look at the Video. In this piece I created subtitles that serve as a controlling gaze/director. While in reality the woman in the film was not directed whatsoever, she created her own choreography. Because of the way I edited and narrated the video, I created a reversed choreography.
Look at the Video was shot in Night Vision, a choice that came from my research to infrared. Night vision in particularly interests me because of its use in hidden-object detection. When you film in night vision there is a light source coming from the camera that projects the phosphor light with a spot on the subject. With the light that comes from the camera you can find your subject in the dark. Which to me very much relates to voyeurism; observing from a secret point, out of a need to see the desired subject.
So how does this use of night vision relate to my research questions: How can you create a narrative/discourse? Why do some become more accepted as truth? Because in the end what does this truth even mean if we process and create images from a subjective mindframe?
These questions made me aware that you can manipulate the viewer by looking through a certain gaze. Like we pick the lens we want to look through, you also do this with the perspective from which you view your subject as a filmmaker, in my opinion. This theory of viewing with a particular gaze comes from Laura Mulvey’s essay: Visual pleasure and Narrative cinema, here she discusses how the male gaze is engrained in mainstream cinema’s history. Where usually the woman is just a spectacle for the spectator.
In her essay she also explains the meaning of the word Scopophilia: The obtaining of sexual pleasure by looking at nude bodies, erotic photographs etc. She speaks about how this scopophilia when aimed towards other people, subjects them to a controlling and curious gaze.
This is where the gaze becomes interesting to me. When does this curiosity cross the boundary from pleasure to violation? I already discussed earlier that we process and create images from a subjective mindframe, if this is the case then how are we able to decide where a violating gaze starts? As in the end this is in the eye of the beholder.
Can we still speak of a ‘’male gaze’’ in 2019? I am not sure.
For me living in an age where identity and especially identifying ourselves becomes more and more important, I feel often very unsure if this identification of gender is either helping us to detect a problem, or if it divides us even more. Do we have to identify our gender, race, sexuality and economic background and keep this in mind when we think of our place in society?
From one perspective I would say: yes, because we need this in order to see who is being oppressed in our society based on these identifications.
As Jessa Crispin states in her book Why I’m not a Feminist:
Feminism is: A fight to allow women to participate equally in the oppression of the powerless and the poor. Crispin rejects the idea of contemporary feminism because it, ‘’focuses dementedly on ‘’self-empowerment’’… and requires no thought, no discomfort and no real change’’.
This is why excessive identification/self-empowerment becomes problematic for me, because in the end how will that serve society and the way in which we connect with each other?
Some would argue that feminism wins the day that we will think in non-binary terms, but to me feminism wins the day that there will be no oppression anymore based on our gender, race, sexuality and economic background (I don’t think that will ever happen but this is just the aim for me).
Many of the works that I made during my bachelor dealt with the subject of womanhood, but even then, this did not necessarily mean identifying as a woman. It was more about how we view womanhood/femininity and how we objectify, violate and sexualize images. Because anyone can be vulnerable to violation not just women.
This realization came back to me very strongly when I visited the Symposium: the Female perspective, in Amstelveen. Mary F. Calvert a photojournalist who had a talk there, impressed me very deeply. She did a photojournalism series on male rape in the military. She described the men she photographed as the living dead, since because of their ptsd they were not able to live their lives anymore. They were all afraid to sleep, had extreme nightmares, felt robbed of their manhood and dealt with alcoholism and drug abuse.
During her talk it felt like my heart crumbled, I remember that I said in my motivation letter for the Master program that still images never made me cry and that an image needs to move in order for me to have a strong emotional reaction like sadness.
I was wrong because during Mary’s talk, not only did I have to try really hard not to burst into tears, I also had goosebumps, a fast heartbeat and nausea as she showed the photographs and told the veterans stories.
One image in particular of an old veteran with a tear run down his face, followed by an image of him visiting the graves of deceased veterans with his veteran dog devastated me.
Because for me her project really hits the mark on how sexual violence can ruin a person’s life and how often at best people learn how to live with it but never forget it. The veterans identity of being white straight men did not protect them from this violence, and this was for me a big reminder that no matter what your identity is, in the end no one is immune to (sexual) violence and cruelty. It made me realise again that sexual violence is not a ‘’their’’ problem but an ‘’our’’ problem in society as a whole.
This is why when I research this violating gaze, I prefer not to call it ‘’male gaze’’ in my work because it feels unfair to me now. Even though I am not completely against the term ‘’male gaze’’ especially in a historical context, it is just a choice I made for my own work based on these recent findings.
I would like to redirect what I have written so far to the work that I am making currently. In my current project I am filming myself when I am not able to sleep in night vision. By doing so, I am collecting recordings of my insomnia. This project started out of an impulse when I was again not able to sleep. Not knowing what to do with myself and the extra time I have because of my insomnia, I decided to film myself.
When I observed the results and spoke about my findings in a tutorial with David, he noticed that my critiques about what is and isn’t working in the image could be in a way the narrative of my project. I mostly criticize the poses if they look either real, fake, too constructed or too vulnerable. Filming myself is interesting to me because the boundaries between the camera, the operator and subject become blurred.
My own perspective of myself is directly related to how I operate the camera and act in front of it, becoming an added gaze in a way. I have this feeling that I want to keep recording until the footage is good enough, this is why I want to call this project: I’m not there yet.