In this essay, I aim to identify how the image of women is portrayed in mass media, especially via a male’s perspective through the work of Cindy Sherman’s performed photography and still images and Juno Calypsos staged self-portraits.
Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, as a historical artistic reference, extend from 1977 to 1980 in which she explores the stereotypical roles of women in mass media and films in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This series is composed of 69 black and white images in which Sherman adopts multiple characters which represent different interpretations of women in the media industry and how they were perceived.
Juno Calypso’s work, I believe, holds a distant monologue with Sherman as she too explores women’s roles in mass media and production, but delves into the ritualistic routine and labour that women will perform on themselves in order to be seen as acceptable in the modern idea of ‘beautiful’ which is the main focus on her work, however, I think that Calypso’s work looks more at the modern perception of beauty and I believe it will be interesting to contrast and understand the changing cultures.
When observing Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film stills, I often notice that many of her images present different archetypes of the female identity, such as a dumb blonde or businesswoman or housewife or movie star, all different identities which she seems to have combined into one in a way. In a paper published in 1983 by Judith Williamson titled ‘Images of Woman,’ she explains how Sherman ‘undermines your little construction before you can build it up’ as referring to the man’s conception of a female stereotype.
I would compare this concept to that of Juno Calypso’s photography included the two series, Joyce and The Honeymoon. Calypso demonstrates the ritualistic routines that the stereotypical women go through, for example, there is an image where the subject (Juno Calypso) is covered in green paint while standing in a pink heart-shaped bathtub completely naked. I think this shows the type of crazy trend many women follow in order to improve their appearance. I can find a relation to Sherman’s work as Calypso seems to be relating to many women who fit into a certain stereotype of constantly worrying about their looks and appearance.
Figure 3, Juno Calypso, A Dream in Green from the Honeymoon series, 2015, Archival pigment print, flush-mounted, 99.8 × 150.7 cm
When researching Calypso’s influences, she mentions how Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still were a significant inspiration consciously and subconsciously as she had studied her work a lot in school. I find this interesting as you can visually see the comparison of both artist’s work, as their work is both star in and create their own work. Calypso seems to take inspiration from Cindy Sherman’s work as Sherman portrays herself as different alter egos which I think is similar to Calypso as her alter ego imagery centre’s around the character of ‘Joyce’. Also, I think that they both show very strong female characters and I think that the way they portray women is not in a demeaning manner such as an object for men to be aroused by.
I feel like I personally relate to Juno Calypso’s concept as I often experience the pressure of society and the need to improve my appearance. I have gone through almost painful experiments such as seaweed wraps and waist trainers in order to give myself a smaller waist. For as long as I can remember I have always been insecure about my size and by starving myself, becoming bulimic and experiencing many physical and mental issues and problems, I have begun to understand that these were caused by the extreme pressures of the media, shaming women for having stretch marks or not looking like a super model or being too short or ugly. These issues have petrified me and so many other young girls and women into thinking that we are not adequate and forcing us to make severe physical adjustments, which all boils down to how the man writing the article in the Sun, for example, sees us and is not attracted to us. I relate this to how Calypso’s series displays what rituals Joyce goes through behind the bathroom door in order to change her appearance.
I find it interesting how Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills are ‘Untitled’, because as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term untitled, is defined with three definitions, ‘Not named, not called by title and obsolete: having no title or right to rule.’ I found this intriguing as the fact that untitled literally means no right to rule and to be obsolete and I see that this can be portrayed in the women of the 1950’s and 1960s and earlier, as women had very little rights and especially very few women would rule anything. I think that Sherman is therefore demonstrating the status of the female identity and self as being irrelevant and almost anonymous.
Juno Calypso’s image titled ‘Sensory Deprivation’ in her Honeymoon series, published in 2016, displays Calypso in the foetal position naked in a pink heart shaped bathtub filled with soapy water. The image is taken from above. This sparked the interest of the love heart and what it may symbolise. The results were fascinating. I found an article on Listverse.com titled ’10 theories on the origins of the Valentines heart’ Posted by FlameHorse on the 8th of February 2013. One theory explains how the love heart symbolises female genitalia as some people think that it perfectly reflects an upside-down vagina. The theory then goes on to explain how vaginas are inscribed on the doors to brothels in Pompeii but to save time they just inscribed hearts, which is, according to the post why it was very popular for sailors to get hearts tattoos on their bodies. Other theories include that the love heart symbolises a pair of breasts or a woman’s buttocks. I found this interesting and the heart shape is incredibly prominent in the image and it shows that Calypso is comfortable with expressing imagery of the female form as she is in the bath naked, although shows to be somewhat insecure or embarrassed and she is seen curled into a ball looking almost afraid and distraught.
According to a Wikipedia entry Sensory Deprivation is defined as ‘the deliberate reduction or removal of stimuli from one or more of the senses.’ I feel like Juno Calypso really demonstrates this as the images shows her floating in the bath of water and many people who wish to experience sensory deprivation use the method of Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST). This method is often conducted by floating in a pool of warm water and bath salts and be completely deprived of light and sound. This is a technique which is intended to heighten your other senses that the participant is not depriving themselves of such as smell or sense or touch. This is similar to the rituals and routines previously mentioned that people go through in order to improve their lives in general.
Figure 4, Juno Calypso, ‘Sensory Deprivation’, 2016, Archival Pigment Print, 102 x 152 cm, London
When researching Cindy Sherman, I found her more recent work incredibly interesting to see how her practise has developed majorly although her concept has continued along the similar lines as it represents the growth of the eminence of women from the 1950’s and 1960s compared to the 21st Century. I think that her 2003 Untitled (Self Portrait with a Sun Tan) shows how women in society have gone from caring so much about how they look to how much they do not feel the pressure as much to constantly look beautiful but instead give women some leeway to relax and not put themselves through so much obligation and time in order to constantly fit into one idea of what beautiful is.
During my research, a TV documentary was recommended to me by a fellow student titled Ways of Seeing written, presented and based on the book by John Berger. In the first episode, Berger explains how the invention of the camera and advances in modern technology and especially the very easy accessibility to the world wide web has enabled images the possibility of traveling across the world instantly and, whereas, before these advancements, artwork was only able to be viewed in the gallery it was displayed at the time and the atmosphere that came with it, now it is possible for images to be mass produced in any size, place or on whatever device desired. This is, therefore, altering the circumstance which a piece of artwork is viewed in and can be entirely customised. I can relate this to Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills as, by imitating but not entirely replicating images taken from films in the 1950’s and 1960’s and by recreating them to be displayed in the 1970’s and 1980’s she is, therefore, changing the context of the images from previous decade to more modern era to show the contrast of the changing of time and image of the women that Sherman is presenting in her images. By doing this Sherman takes the images seen as natural and the ‘norm’ in the 1950’s and 1960’s to actually shock and make a statement in the 1970’s and 1980’s as this imagery of women was changing and evolving.
With the continuation of my research from Ways of Seeing, in episode 2, Berger elaborates on the female nude in an extensive manner. He begins with stating that “Women constantly meet glances, which act like mirrors, reminding them of how they look or how they should look. Behind every glance is a judgement.” For example, if one woman catches the glance of another woman looking at her with a disgusted or displeased expression, she would then feel the need to observe her appearance as the expression from the other woman displayed the fact that she may have had something wrong with her. Similarly, a woman could see another woman’s hair looking untidy and therefore feel the need to check if hers looks ok or better. Berger then continues to explain how women are from a young age taught to survey and judge themselves constantly in everything they are and do. (Refer to quote in figure 1) I can see how this is shown throughout Juno Calypso’s staged self-portraits as she is demonstrating how women are continuously altering themselves in the hope that it will eventually please the male gaze because that’s how they are measured for success.
To summarise this essay, I can compare Juno Calypso’s modern work to Cindy Sherman’s more historical work in many ways, such as they both express different ways of seeing (Refer to Figures 1 & 2) they both are inspired to create by the idea of the male gaze and explore how women interact and react with male figures in society. They do have their obvious differences on how they represent the image of women, as Sherman presents majorly very sophisticated and educated women in public and how society observe women and how they expect women to obtain the standard, whereas, Calypso expresses the ‘behind the scenes’ view of women and what they do and go through in order to live up to the social pressures. I would suggest that even though both the
Artists concepts are relatively similar, I think that due to post-modern third wave feminism, Women are shown in a much more serious and empowering way and not shown as the typical archetypes that Sherman suggests that they were in the 1950’s and 1960’s.