html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Not impressed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Not impressed.

I was looking through Slate’s slide show for Women’s History Month. I didn’t like it. They’re all so still, just sitting or standing or posed. The only dynamic picture of the bunch was of novelist Han Suyin, who looks vivid and engaged with the wind and the pier and photographer; they somehow made Martha Graham look still. A full four pictures had women with their heads thrown back, and I can just barely hold back a nasty comment accusing us of only wanting to see women in orgasm-like abandon. I do get that many of these women were extraordinary in the only way they could be in their times and that piercing thought is hard to photograph. But the only person who looks to have a useful skill is Amanpour. She is certainly the only woman portrayed with an actual tool. From the rest of the pictures, you would think Uncommon Women sit all day, pouting, smoking and looking directly at the camera (although a couple of them seem to entertain people). Fuck that.

And then today Slate had a bullshit slide show about women athletes. They managed to take one of the most dynamic possible subjects for photography and still show mostly women standing around. The fuck? Where is the flying layout contest for a disc? Where is a huge arcing spinkick about to descend on someone? The wheelchair racer and the diver have a sense of motion in their pictures and the wushu practioner shows some nice extension, but why all the pictures of pansy-ass flexibility? There was some teamwork, but only a bare nod to real competition, and certainly no sweaty, all-out, face-distorting aggressiveness, which is what athletes do. I've no doubt that those women trained ferociously, and are capable of feats that would make me gasp, and I want to see pictures of them going all out. No fucking portraits of their faces. I don't care what their muscular bodies look like in repose. I say bullshit.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Julia Child is *surrounded* by her tools.

I like the way you make your nasty comment by way of holding it back.


6:38 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

The WHM photos were certainly a weird bunch. Some odd choices of subject (Isabella Rossellini?) and some odd choices of picture (Jane Fonda as Barbarella rather than e.g. campaigning or demonstrating?). Not exactly inspiring.

12:43 AM  
Anonymous bill said...

Yes, the women's sports pictures had a fair number of curiosities/Arbus-like shots. And as a fan of the US women's national soccer team, I love Kristine Lilly, but a good picture of Abby Wambach heading or Kate Markgraf (with black eye) tackling would be a lot more fun.

6:55 AM  
Blogger PG said...

I thought the picture of Gloria Steinam was pretty dynamic. Not so much of Steinam herself, but of the women who surrounded her, and especially the upraised hands holding signs where you couldn't see the person holding the message -- which may have been the point. And Graham didn't look still to me; you can see the tension in her body. But I would have liked a picture of Chanel actually in the act of designing or evaluating clothes.

As for the athletes, I'm really not getting your thing about how most of them are just standing around. If you know a way to be hanging still in the air over a pole (pic 11), do tell. The one picture that unambiguously sucked was of "basketball outside a shelter" -- if this weren't in the context of a slideshow of female athletes, I would have thought the woman was picking up the basketball to put it away, not playing the game herself.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what's wrong with sitting around all day pouting? Especially when you look like Isabella Rosselini. I would sit around all day watching her pout, and be perfectly happy.


1:39 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

The high jumper was impressive, and I left her out because she didn't support my argument. But really, since they could have selected shots of, for example, two women high above the net, spiking and blocking a volleyball, why didn't they mostly show pictures of women intensely doing their sports.

Male basketball pictures would have lots of shots of two people going up, or jostling for the ball. Women athletes do that; show us. Even the one of Comanici had her standing still in preparation, when she could have been flipping way the hell over something. I didn't like those picture selections at all.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Because if people are going to be uncommon influences on us, then I want to see them using some agency. I know those women did remarkable things, but for the most part, they look still and passive in those pictures.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Like that first picture of the boxer. I have no doubt the picture is of the woman they say it is. But since she isn't actually boxing, she might as well be a model dressed up like a boxer and looking meaningfully at us. Since she is an accomplished boxer, I would like to see a picture of her whaling on a heavy bag and the heavy bag all distorted from the strength of her punch. That would be a vivid demonstration of her athleticism. In a slideshow of women athletes, show them doing athletic things.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here (NOT WORK SAFE) are some female athletes in action. Assuming I got the URL correct, I'm not trying to pull it up here.

I love those pictures though. If they weren't just calendars I'd hang them up on the wall.


1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to see impressive females, go here:

Click on "Nasty Girls" on the lower right-hand side. That's the name of the song, btw. It shows impressive women. Very inspirational.

Perhaps Slate should have done a video-show instead of a slide-show. Motion is what's impressive, to me anyway.


1:57 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Motion could have been conveyed from the still shots, and in too many of the ones from the Slate slideshow, they didn't even try.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bah, it screwed up my link.

I love those pictures.


11:43 PM  
Blogger ScottM said...

Brutal Women has a lot of good, active photos running along the right side of her blog.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Spungen said...

Hmmm. I can agree with your overall point about female athletes being valued more for their appearance and less for their athletic ability than male athletes are. I agree that, in general, it's a lot harder to find dynamic photos of women, even athletes.

I don't know that I'd criticize Slate for this, though. It looks like they didn't take these photos. They had to look through photo archives and pick the best of what was available. There may not have been good action photos available of these athletes that still showed their faces well.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Since I've seen more spectacular pictures come out of an afternoon of taking pictures at a local Ultimate tournament, I am fully ready to fault Magnum pictures for not having a better selection. And I don't agree with the editorial selection either. When I want to see pictures of incredible athleticism, I am not interested in their faces.

Besides which, looking deeply into an athlete's eyes is not often rewarded. The medium ones are thinking things like "I'm gonna leave it all on the field."; the good ones are thinking things like "higher wrist angle means I can switch grips sooner in the transition to..."; the spectacular ones aren't even thinking words. No no. I want to see what they have taught themselves to DO.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Spungen said...

I wonder how much of it is a male view v. female view thing, and how much is an athlete reader v. non-athlete reader thing.

Because I'm more likely to be lured by a photo of an athlete if it's a personal portrait, rather than an action shot. As an athlete, though, you want to see the action. Maybe it depends on which audience they're trying to target.

I still think there is more of a social prejudice against showing a woman in a dynamic situation that isn't 1) emotionally intimate and 2) flattering to the face. Then the question is, are the media just giving people what they want, and should they do this?

8:17 PM  

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