Tim Mantoani, photo of Donna Ferrato

Beyond the Male Gaze: Photography and Feminist Theory

Instructor: Rotem Rozental
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

In the late 1970s, women artists seized the camera, “wresting,” as one critic put it, “the means of production of the female image” from the hands of men. These feminist photographers turned a medium used traditionally to reinforce gender norms into a powerful tool of transformation and emancipation, reimagining not only the possibilities of photographic self-expression, but also the kinds of subjects and environments thought to be deserving of aesthetic representation. Self-portraiture became a strategy of dialogue and critique—as in Cindy Sherman’s provocative and playful recreations of generic female stereotypes and performances of femininity—as well as one of protest and rebuke, as in Jo Spence’s and, later, Hannah Wilke’s depictions of the ailing female body. The photography of Nan Goldin and, later, Laura Aguilar illuminates the intimate experiences and domestic spaces in which women’s lives are lived, precipitating radical shifts in how the stories of these lives are told and in how women can be seen in art institutions and the media. How did the medium of photography impact and partake in women’s struggle for visibility, self-definition, and equality in the 1970s and 80s? And, conversely, how did feminism shape the practice and discourse of photography in the same era? How do image-driven projects generally work to dismantle and also rebuild identity in the public sphere? And what are the lessons we can learn today from this generation of feminist photographers at a time when female bodies and bodily autonomy are (once again) under attack?

In this course, we will trace the complicated path these pioneering feminist photographers cut through the art world and beyond, observing the systemic resistances that confronted them and which they confronted in turn. What were the particular uses that artists like Sherman, Wilke, Spence, Goldin, Aguliar, Judy Chicago, and others, made of visual technologies, and what has been their impact and their legacy? We will examine how these works were seen and celebrated—or overlooked and ignored—at the time: what accounts for the meteoric rise to fame of some and the only very belated reception of others? In asking these questions, we will consider specifically the form of the self-portrait, the performance of the body, and the presentation of domestic spaces in these works. How have feminist photographers contributed to shifts in the status of photography, as both creative medium and subject of scholarship in the late 20th century? And how have these histories shaped the status of feminism, in photography and more broadly, today? Readings will be drawn from works by Lucy Lippard, Laura Mulvey, Amelia Jones, and Martha Rosler, among others.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 4:00-7:00pm PT (7:00-10:00pm ET)
September 13 — October 04, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Open