This is the final Essay/Dissertation that I submitted – Attached is a PDF version with the images included & bibliography.
Charlotte Emma Bass – 1109860
Photography & Video Art
Does objectification of women still exist in 21st Century photography?
The purpose of this dissertation is to access and analyse if objectification of women in photography still exists in the 21st century. In times as early as when the Aphrodite statue was unvailed objectification was amongst society. “Aphrodites nudity itself justifies the statues violation : the female nude as such seems to invite; the young notion of young men hiding out on the island of Knidos too touch, fondle, masturbate on a statue” – Art Porn, Kelly Dennis (2009) The statue itself was seen as an object to satisfy the men around it more than an art form which is what it was. Ironic as its true meaning is to be the goddess of love and beauty.
Artists such as Lara Mulvey cited in Charles Senyasamore (no date) “Visual Pleasure And Narrative Cinema” writes about how woman are only objects to be gazed upon rather then admired by men. Men are seen as the spectators whilst women are more known as the spectacles, Spectacles being the objects of pleasure. Over the last century in particular women have been objectified in the world of advertisement and in the world of media. “In an add for reebok shoes the woman see’s a naked female torso, eyes averted. In an ad for Lily of France Lingerie, she sees a naked female torso; eyes shut; for opium perfume, a naked woman, back and buttocks bare, falls facedown from the edge of a bed” – The beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf (1990) The idea that women are a sexual object to sell a product, not just to men but also to the reader, making them feel like they have to look a certain way to be the woman on the advertisement. The way in which the advertisers use the models involved is in a way that the model is put in a desirable pose, but is it desirable? Or is it just objectification for the woman?
Although magazines in modern day sociey such as Nuts & Zoo are not as popular as once were when they first were published, their influence is still as real as ever. Although when launched the belief was that the magazine would be a ‘mans best friend’ full of articles to do with cars and other male specified subjects, but then as the magazine got more popular the idea of the naked girl to lure them in and the glamour modelling arose, and now the whole magazines profit thrives on just that subject alone. Society today is to blame for this, we make the descisions. Woman today are being objectified because society has made it popular using all these adds and photographs, we are all to blame for what we now deem now as being damaging and immoral, by purchasing these magazines and photo’s we are all playing our part in this.
So objectification still happens in media, but it also happens within artwork. Analysing Artist Bearni Searles work and looking at how she uses herself and her female body in the form of self portraits in an ironic way. The messages she sends to the viewer rely heavily on her own body and how its percieved. Shown below is an image of her most recent work – Photo for video Proposal (2000) The image see’s her in a posistion of the dominated, on her knees, all fours, eyes averted to the floor, covered in what seems powder. The position of her body is one of someone below the male gender, of someone taking orders perhaps? By using her body in such resistive manner, as a parody and being ironic; using the female form to do this she is objectifying her own body ironically.
Illustration 1: – Bearni Searle’s (2000)
Over the last century, sexually objectified images are how women are all shown and portrayed in the media. According to Sukumar Snigda (2011) several analysis of various media that a higher insidence of women are often portrayed in a more sexualised way. Considering we are living in a world of emancipation, where woman have rules to protect them, it makes you wonder why woman choose to be obectified? Or is society making them feel like they have to be objectified? If the media around us wasn’t hinting woman had to act a certain way then maybe women wouldn’t be objectifying themselves?
According to studies by Brit Harper & Marika Tiggemann (2007) women that see comercial images of thin and beautiful woman being touched by a man whom himself is attractive, suggest that the woman may feel objectified by looking at another woman being sexually objectified. This is infact true, if women are’nt looking up to these images or trying to become whats in these images, then they self objectificating themselves over them.
When it comes to women objectifying themselves you can see this its full glory in magazines such as Vogue or Elle, any gossip, or weekly magazine. The women in those magazines are all airbrushed; a certain age; a certain body type and a certain weight. How can women be expected to live up these images that are portrayed in these high fashion magazines? Celebrites that have their photo’s taken for magazine shoots struggle to do so without having the pictures manipulated in photoshop afterwards. The first thing you see when you go onto an Elle Website is an advertisement for loosing weight and getting your body in too shape, making the viewer automatically feel insecure and inferior to what they see in front of them. Refering to Natasha Walter (2010) – Wanting to be attractive and desirable is and always be a natural to both males and females, however within this generation certains views on the female sexuality seems to be celebrated through all types of media.
There are artists out there that push the boundries when it comes to what photography is and isnt objectifying the women involved. Artist Thomas Ruff is just one of these, his work consists of appropriated imagery sourced from internet pornography sites. Like many artists he is fascinated by the human body and form especially the female body. By taking low resolution images of about 72 pixels Ruff removes any of the extraneous details, changes the tone, contrast and colours and enlarged the images vastly, thus creating a blurred but very refined image.
Illustration 2: – Thomas Ruff (2010)
The image above is just one of his more explicit images from the ongoing series ‘Nudes’. The image itself is clearly pornographic and explicit, although meant to have been blurred to give the effect of censoring. The womans position is one of someone who’s being dominated, on her front, face down in the blanket which is seductively draped over the bottom half of her legs. This position is one of a woman thats being sexually objectified, all off the morals taken away. Although I dont believe Ruff is purposely using images in which this is the case as they are not his own images. However any pornographic images used would be objectifying the woman as its an industry in which the woman doesnt have a choice in how shes really treated, or looked upon. The images are Analytic and objective, gives the viewer a sense of detachment. When the viewer stares upon the images with desire they are infact themselves in a way objectifying the woman in the photo, looking at her as an object rather then as a person.
We are meant to live in a world of emancipation, a world in which women have the rights to do as they please and be as free as what men are. To earn a living like a man does, to work like a man does, to be able to do anything in which a man can do aswell. So why do woman still get objectified in the 21st century? According to Lukhona Mnguni, In a recent report she wrote, the notion of women being submissive to men is historical, even the holy bible mentions it! However the notion in the 21st century is being challenged by women; Of course women are only expected to be submissive to their other halfs or husbands, but the reality of it is that they show this submissive behaviour towards all males or present men, as a show of respect or further submission. This statement itself is objectifying for a woman to read, to know that women out there feel like they have to act this way, be a certain way for their partners and in the presence of a man. In the 19th century it was only common courtesy to be raised with the mannors of a lady, if a man was in the room for example the man would tell the lady when to sit and she’d wait on the man, however in the 21st century although all other ways of women being treated equally have changed and been allowed, this one of the women being objectified and treated as being below the man is still in full motion. This generation is not as equal as made out to be when it comes to women, the influence of generations before is starting to take its toll. According to Naomi Wolf; Todays childrens sexual identities are formed around paper and mobile phones, from half naked women in music videos too body features being obscured and changed through surgery.
This is true, However Childrens minds are also being imprinted with a sexuality in which is massed produced, one of which is deliberately de-humanizing and demoral to who they are. Childrens view on mainstream culture in todays society is that sex is violent, a degrading act in which the woman is to be dominated and used to the mens satisfaction. Statements like ‘Shes asking for it’ and ‘Its good to be bad’ are ones of which have been created by the generations before the 21st century and their acts.
One artist whos believed to play on such statements would be Terry Richardson. An artist whos work is so controversial that on many occassions he has been accused of sexual exploitation of young girls in modern photography. His work not only being controversial but suggestive plays on the idea of desire and what men want to see a woman look like or how to act. His work explores the themes of sexuality, usually depicting full frontal nudity of some type, sexual poses and stimulating sexual acts.
He is an artist that usually works with celebrities, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Kate Moss to name a few. Usually getting the celebrities to dress in a revealing way or in a certain luring pose. Usually a female celebrity in which Terry can direc, telling them which poses and looks inparticular will sell them to the public.
llustration 3 & 4 (Above):- Terry Richardson
These images above just a couple of many celebrity prints in which Terry has produced. The images were chosen because of the content within them. Although at first glance you might think ‘Its just another celebrity’ these images are both extremlely objectifying towards the models. Starting with the first image above, the two girls are looking seductively at the camera, both their mouths open, giving the impression of a sexual act being performed, however on an ice cream which is slowly dripping down Blake Livelys hand. The image itself is made to be looked at and enjoyed by the opposite sex, two girls both licking one object, just might get them being looked at as objects and not as young women. The second image is of Lady Gaga. Known for her unique dress sense and makeup this is a very toned down look for her, however not in a good way. The image itself shows her naked, with any private parts of her body covered up with a skateboard. Her body in the right image being leant forward, making an assumption of sexual act waiting to be performed. The image on the left she is grabbing her crotch whilst giving the assumption of pleasuring herself. Dripping wet and sweaty in a white see-through shirt looking seductively at the camera. Everything a guy would want to see, everything that is desirable yet demoralising. The images themseleves are objectifying to the girls in them for all the above reasons. Making it worse is the fact that they are all celebrities in which young girls of this generation look up too, who’s music they listen too; And programmes on tv they watch, but yet they are acting in such a crude mannor considering they are constantly in the public eye. Now celebrities are well known for doing things like this for attention, to almost outdo each other, however in the process are self-objectifying themselves and loosing all morals in the public eye. Images like these are why young girls are growing up before their time and doing simular things, like taking ‘selfies’ in a simular fashion and sending them to the opposite sex, it makes them desirable all of a sudden, makes them wanted. But most importantly makes them fit in with all other girls of this generation doing the same because of what sort of self objectifying imagery is in the media these days.
Another series for an add campaign from 2009-2010 called ‘Sisley’ is also branded in the media as being too risky for fashion. The images were photographed for a fall/winter collection for a high fashion brand, however the content of them shows a lot more then fashion. The images are higly objecitfying towards women and are basically selling sex. One of the images in particular shows a girl lying on her front, mouth gagged and feet tied up. This in no way relates to fashion at all or the product being sold, it just gives men something to look at and is highly degradable. Another of the most memorable images would be one of two girls that seem to be snorting a ‘vest top’. This image is taken and interpretated by the reader however they choose, although most responses are that it seems to be like snorting cocaine. Having an image of such content in the media which is shown in not only magazines but online is not only risky but also is promoting the use of drugs within young children. What they see is what they want right? So by seeing two famous, skinny models doing the motion it enables them to believe they can do the same. The advertisement also gives the impression of the girls being ‘off their heads’ and not in the right mind, making them not only vunerable to male objectification but also putting themseleves and their bodies in danger.
Terry Richardson himself is not only taking objectifying imagery of woman and causing controversy but is also in the public eye for all the wrong reasons in the last year. A petition which is available to look at online reads the following – ‘More awareness needs to be brought to light that Terry Richardson is negatively influencing media with his supposed exploit & abuse of certain models, mainstream degrading pornographic imagery, and inappropriate and unproffessional behavior.’ The petition is aiming to Ban Richardson from working with Big Clothing Brands, celebrities and or models anytime soon. Being branded the ‘Jimmy Saville’ of photography in the last few years he is a bad influence on this generation and demoralising and obectifying woman in any way in which he can. A figure in which the young generation are meant to look up to being branded in such a bad way.
Its not only clothing advertisements that are demoralising too woman in this century, its areas such as perfume, underwear and other campaigns too. Over the last few years many campaigns have been brought up as being both objectifying towards women, promoting violence, or selling sex. One for example would be the (2007) – Dolce and Gabbana campaign for their ‘Ready To Wear’ collection, although being well famed for their sexy advertisments, they took this one too new levels. The ad feautures a young, hazy looking girl being painfully pinned down by one man and surrounded by five more. The ad itself almost glorifies Gang Rape and violence. However when questioned about the advertisement Stefano Gabbana stated the following ; “ the advert was intended to show “an erotic dream, a sexual game”. Despite the unclear nature of the ad, the controversy only went on to raise Dolce & Gabbana’s profile in the fashion industry” Not only is this one advertisment which demoralises any woman completely, it’s one in which makes a woman feel uncomfortable and offended. However despite this it has gone on too be one of the companies best adverts known to the public and has raised their name in the fashion industry.
Another advertisement which dissmisses the boundries would be ‘Tom Ford For Men’ (2007). [Shown above] ; Illustration 5
The Photograph is from the campaign which is to promote a frangrance back in 2007, The photo see’s a woman lying there open legged, holding the bottle in which is to be advertised, in a way luring the viewer in, inviting them almost, Its not only borderline pornographic, but really crosses the line in the fact its selling the womans body rather then the fragrance. It objectifiies the woman involved just to sell the product which is not only again demoralising but way too controversial for the family friendly household. However again this didnt stop the product from selling, the avert was highly viewed both online and on television.
Although women are constantly objectified in the way of photography, in the last few years more men have been introduced to the world of advertisement and objectifying photography. Men are now models are taking jobs just like women, fitness models and catwalk models, however they dont seem to get the treatment in which women get in the fashion industry, There isn’t a local well known knowledge of a certain weight or height a man has to be, whereas the public are well detailed with all the knowledge they need to know on a woman, depicting what weight, hair colour or fitness they have to be. In magazines its always about the woman and never about the men, why is that? Because the self objectifying is aimed at women of this century, thats the norm and no matter how hard feminists try and change this its what the next generation are brought up to believe as being right aswell. So feminists can’t win really.
In a Gucci Advert in 2003 featuring model Carmen Kass, where she was pulling down her knickers to show a shaven G out of pubic hair, there was also a male models full head in the shot, caught in the act of objectifying the woman in the photo, of treating her like an object. One advertisement in which you see the word ‘Objectification’ in its full glory. The advert known as ‘Public Enemy’ was believed to be not only degrading to women but too provocative to both sexes and too be viewed on daytime television, although never banned from being streamed.
Although its a world of which women who are not necessarily consious activists, its also one in which women are constantly fighting to be equal in. As Natasha Walters refers to in her book “Living Dolls”(2010) – Women have the right to make free choices, choosing the reading material they read, what colour toys and clothes they buy for their children, the challenges they create at work depicted on behaviour – They have the right to change the status quo, to change what is seen in society as a normal way to treat and see a woman. And although over the last 200 odd years women have been fighting for their equal rights in society and such areas as work and jobs it hasnt seemed to make a difference on the objectifying photography still around in todays society, if anything Its urged advertisers and photographers to step it up a gear and fight back for what they think will sell their products. Mass producers dont care whats in the adverts as long as it sells, and that in itself is sex, degrading and immoral but true.
The 21st century has been filled with ad campaigns and photography unbearably and continuously objectifying women just to sell products or make things seem better then what they are. Not only has it made this generation we are in self-objectifying and self judgemental but it has made people loose all morals in what they believe in and what is and isnt right. More and more ad campaigns like the ones above are being promoted yearly and it is causing this generation too change drastically. Children and young adults growing up before their time and reinacting things in which they see in the media, believing not only are they being told to be like that, but thats its right. Vanity and self obsessity has never been as bad as what it has been in the last 10 years and its only going to get worse. Objectifying woman has become the norm in 21st century photography and although looked down upon by many artists and people it cannot be changed, the world we live in is one in which sex sells, demoralising women sells and self objectifying sells. Until the media and society stops representing glamourised degradation amongst women and they are looked upom as women and not objects then the world isnt going to change. Its a well known tradition and lifestyle which this generation has conformed to as will the next.
Total Word Count – 3624
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Walter N (2010) Living Dolls, The Return of Sexism. Great Britain.
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Accessed 10th January 2014
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Accessed 3rd January 2014
Illustration 4 – Terry Richardson – Date Unknown [online] available at:
Accessed 3rd January 2014
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Accessed 12th January 2014
Quote – Stefano Gabana – 2007 [online’] Available at:
Accessed 14th January 2014
Illustration 5 – Tom Ford Ad Campaign – 2007 [Online] Available at:
Accessed 14th January 2014
Gucci Advert – Mentioned (2003) [online] available at:
Accessed 14th January 2014