… Nothing is more important than looking at female body parts. The boys in these movies will employ any method, except sincere courtship, to get an eyeful. They will leer though holes in the girls’ locker room (Porky’s, The Last American Virgin). The Porky’s shower peep is to the teen sex comedy what the graceful airborne duels in The Matrix are to modern movie fights; they both set examples for their medium. In the Porky’s peep, the boys are voyeurs, crouched in darkness, and the girls snap each other with towels and do nude shower-room calisthenics (“Up! Down! 1-2-3-4 Up! Down!”). And when they realize they’re being watched, instead of feeling violated, the girls wrap towels around themselves and start flirting with their secret admirers. As Pee Wee, the antsiest scopophiliac of the bunch, declares, “They’re hot! They’re hot! They want us to look! They want us to look!” Thus any compunction about unauthorized looking is washed away. Women feed off the male gaze. Why else would the girls’ swim team of T&A High (they might be the cheerleading squad — it’s unclear) stand in a field stretching their arms while chanting, “We must, we must, we must develop our bust. The bigger the better; the tighter the sweater; the boys depend on us”? This feels a little like the overconfident, if not solipsistic, thinking behind Empedocles’ theory of vision, which posited eyeballs as the source of light. That is, teen sex guys are able to project their own notion of reality. So of course women will exercise in the shower and work toward a breast-expansion that could only hinder their swim times. It’s a man’s world; women cavort in it.
That (above) is from They Want Us to Look by Andy Selsberg in The Believer (May, 2006)
This next is from an essay, A Phantasmagoria of the Female Body by Laura Mulvey (1991). This paragraph is referring to Sherman’s Untitleds of 1983:
… She grotesquely parodies the kind of feminine image that is geared to erotic consumption, and she inverts conventional codes of female allure and elegance. Whereas the language of fashion photography gives great emphasis to lightness, so that its models seem to defy gravity, Sherman’s figures are heavy in body and groundedness. Their unselfconsciousness verges on the exhibitionist, and they strike professional poses to display costumes that exaggerate their awkward physiques, which are then exaggerated again by camera angle and lighting. There is absolutely nothing to do with nature or the natural in this response to the cosmetic svelteness of fashion. Rather, they suggest that the binary opposition to the perfect body of the fashion model is the grotesque, and that the smooth glossy body, polished by photography, is a defence against an anxiety provoking, uneasy and uncanny body. From this perspective the surface of the body, so carefully conveyed in the early photographs, seems to be dissolving to reveal a monstrous otherness behind the cosmetic facade. The “something” that had seemed to be lurking in the phantasmatic topography of femininity, begins, as it were, to congeal.
Cindy Sherman; Untitled #258, 1992
The following (below) is from an essay Cindy Sherman: Burning Down the House by Jan Avgikos (1993):
… Can photos be porn if they don’t pass the ‘wet test,’ if, indeed, the bodies are plastic? … is the social economy of pornography different from that of art? Is porn antithetical to feminism? Do women see ‘differently’?
By framing such questions as dependent on distinctions between artifice and the real (distinctions on which she has long staged her investigations), and by inscribing them within the pornographic, Sherman integrates female identity; representation, contamination, and taboo. By presenting images that ask what’s OK, and what’s not, in picture-making, fantasy, and sexual practice, she opens wide the Pandora’s box that polarizes contemporary feminism. The women crouching as if in fear of discovery, and the plundered female bodies abandoned in vacant lots, in the earlier series, and now the titillating p.o.v. shots of dry, cold sex can only partially be explained by moralizings on the victimization of women in society. For the problems of oppression and objectification that surround pornography do not reside exclusively in the image, but in the very act of looking, in which we ascribe sexual difference.
… when it comes down to it, we know that what censorship really protects is the so-called majority’s self-image of normalcy, and that woman, as [Avital] Ronell observes, is merely a symptom of the law. We know, too, in Pat Califia’s words, that within the narrow range of acceptable sexual behaviour, nobody comes out looking normal once you know how they fuck and what they think about when they’re doing it, and that the totalitarian insistence on sexual uniformity does hidden violence to all us dissidents and perverts, making us ugly before we have even seen ourselves.
… In the ’60s and ’70s, women using their bodies as subject and site of their art tended to explore feminine identity in relation to nature. Carolee Schneeart, Mary Beth Edelson, Ana Mendieta, and others displayed their sexuality as both natural and empowering. The problem, then as now, is the assumption that we were ever goddesses in the Garden, or, for that matter, that there is a pure state of nature to get back to, a state prior to our contamination by language, or representation, or law. The desire for an ‘uncontaminated’ expression of female sexuality appears in other guises today, particularly by women who seek to make ‘sex-positive’ pornographic images that in effect project backward to nature and purity. In adapting pornography to female audiences, this clean-up operation rejects the ‘demoralizing’ impurity of the excremental, the improper, the dangerous and disgusting.
Sherman’s representation of female sexuality, in contrast, indulges the desire to see, to make sure of the private and forbidden, but withholds both narcissistic identification with the female body and that body’s objectification as the basis for erotic pleasure. Her mechanisms of arousal — rubbery tits, plastic pussies, assorted asses, dicks, and dildos — may deceive momentarily, but finally defeat the proprietary gaze of the spectator, whose desire can only partially be satisfied by the spectacle of artificial flesh.
Finally, this is from an essay, Closer by C.D. Wright. It’s in the book, Proud Flesh which is a collection of Sally Mann’s photographs of the body of her husband, Larry, who has muscular dystrophy:
… So used are they to one another. The frame does not concern us because we are brought near enough to imagine calibrating our own breath to theirs. The frame tautly composed yet not claustrophobic. Instead, resolutely inward-moving. The mechanical activity scarcely noted. Like something grafted … This time spent together doing this, photographing, being photographed. They postpone the ending. As if every second counted though not every second is on a par. They are on a continuum. No other body will do. He is not a figure. This is not a life study, but a chronicle of them. They are in this together. They are in this for the long haul.
… When one is no longer emerging, one is vanishing. The dream of withdrawal dissolves in the dream of belonging. Whether or not one loathes this paradox, it is ungrudgingly carried out. The aphrodisiac of silence. Sprawled on the woven floor there. It is Storyville. He is “the fallen one.” She is Bellocq, disinterested, except in the outcome. Then you can get dressed. Then there is some talk, not a lot. A rod of intense light enters or exits the head. Trust is a given. Once earned.
… How is it that their privacy is not penetrated by the audacity of our stare? How is it that these frames add up to an enactment, not a series of stills of him? Let’s all sit down in our broken chairs with our broken hearts in our laps and clap. Anticipation of movement, of a sudden shift. The body’s betrayal, dignified by its bearing. Just some window light, some cloth, a worktable, a man lying quietly, or standing with his foot on a stool. The mystery, thought the optimist’s daughter, in how little we know of other people is no greater than the mystery of how much. The converse is also true. Do you need to stretch now? Can you open your legs more? Can you get closer to the edge and recline in the air a little more? Can you stay on that brink? Were you dreaming again? Of being choked off? Limb by limb? If she knew what he was thinking, would she turn away? Would regret trickle in, shame maybe? A spill of unsaids? Speculate, as you will, on the meaning, but not the upshot. Every frame, evidence of deep true control. Clear, beautiful, frozen. His face, finally. Pain-free. Like a patient etherized upon a table. Would she turn away? Never.