Skip to main content

Depictions of the Feminine

Black and white square photograph of a bedroom vanity with the mirror reflecting a nude figure's back. The square is located at the top of the photo paper. Below the photograph, large text reads:

Black and white square photograph of a bedroom vanity with the mirror reflecting a nude figure's back. The square is located at the top of the photo paper. Below the photograph, large text reads: "IT WAS CLEAR, I WAS NOT MANET'S TYPE PICASSO -- WHO HAD A WAY WITH WOMEN -- ONLY USED ME & DUCHAMP NEVER EVEN CONSIDERED ME". Bottom of photo sheet empty space with artist signature.

May 24 - July 2, 2021

Virtual Exhibition

Inspired by Carrie Mae Weems Not Manet’s Type, this exhibition features ten photographs that contend with varying depictions of the feminine. Weems has long traversed inquiries of social constructs and institutions through her chosen medium of photography, engaging in visual discussions of the intersections of gender and race. The images on display here depict subjects of various ages, races, socioeconomic statuses, and sexualities, and it is these identities that operate in conjunction with gender that have determined the perceptions and ultimate depictions of the subjects — throughout history, in their contemporary time periods, and in our viewings of them now. We urge you to consider the extremes and the in-betweens on the range of sexualization and objectification. Though many of the subjects here would not typically fit within the strict beauty standards of Hollywood or high fashion or other popular culture venues, the display of their images still invites you to engage in the act of looking at them, watching, and observing them — and is that not just as objectifying? From the historically ignored to the oddities to the voyeuristic to the parts of urban life we would rather not see, this selection of images calls to mind what Carrie Mae Weems has considered herself and urges others to evaluate: what is one’s place within this constructed society? And how will they be photographed?

Read the entire student essay: Depictions of the Feminine Essay
 
Image above: Carrie Mae Weems, Not Manet's Type, 2000, photolithograph, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Santa Clara University, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, work selected by students in SCU Professor Bridget R. Cooks' winter 2006 class, ARTH 147: African American Women in the Visual Arts. Funds for this purchase were made possible by SCU's Center for Multicultural Learning, 2006.2.1
May 20, 2021

Not Manet's Type

Black and white square photograph of a bedroom vanity with the mirror reflecting a nude figure's back. The square is located at the top of the photo paper. Below the photograph, large text reads:

Carrie Mae Weems, Not Manet's Type, 2000, photolithograph, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Santa Clara University, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, work selected by students in SCU Professor Bridget R. Cooks' winter 2006 class, ARTH 147: African American Women in the Visual Arts. Funds for this purchase were made possible by SCU's Center for Multicultural Learning, 2006.2.1

Curator and author Adrienne Edwards writes that Carrie Mae Weems is renowned for her black-and-white encapsulations of Black love and life. Charmaine Picard writes that Weems contends with the nuances of individual belonging within social constructs, and engages with this interest in activism through her art. Not Manet’s Type is the second in a series of five images, collectively captioned with the following: “Standing on shaky ground, I posed myself for critical study but I was no longer certain of the questions to ask / It was clear, I was not Manet’s type. Picasso -- who had a way with women -- only used me, & Duchamp never even considered me / But it could have been worse. Imagine my fate had De Kooning gotten hold of me / I knew, not from memory, but from hope, that there were other models by which to live / I took a tip from Frida, who from her bed painted incessantly -- beautifully while Diego scaled the scaffolds to the top of the world.” The image seen here depicts the artist nude and viewed from the back through a mirror reflection. Though Weems appears as the subject here and in several of her other photographs, she says that most of her images are not autobiographical — her closest attempt was her series Family Pictures and Stories (1981-1982). Not Manet’s Type takes on the proverbial “I” and her lack of appeal according to the presumed tastes of famous white male artists and tells a tale of the absence of Black female bodies in great art and the taking advantage of blackness and Black women committed by great artists throughout history.

 

Torso, Part of the Portfolio, Early Years 1920-1927

Black and white photograph of nude woman sitting with back toward photographer, clasping her knees. A floral arrangement in a vase to the left. Woman's knees are reflected in a small round mirror in the upper center.

Edward Steichen, Torso, Part of Portfolio, Early Years 1920-1927, 1902 (photograph), 1981 (print), photogravure, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Santa Clara University, Focus Gallery Collection, Helen Johnston Bequest, 6.75.1989.4

Born in 1879 in Luxembourg, Edward Steichen spent most of his youth in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he was introduced to the German- Scandinavian-Socialist movement. Much of his early work on landscape photography reflected this influence as he contrasted the simplicity of nature and rural living with the difficulty and suffering of modern capitalist societies. During a two-year stay in Paris from 1900 to 1902 Steichen first engaged with figural photography, but retained his anti-capitalist stance, writing in his biography, A Life in Photography, “I did a number of nude figures in Paris...in none of these is the face visible. For many years everyone had prejudices against posing in the nude and even professional models usually insisted, when they posed for nude pictures, that their faces not be shown”. Torso reveals the plight of the female nude model by conserving her anonymous identity and shielding her private features yet still inviting the viewer to gaze at her. During his lifetime following his years in Paris, Steichen became a prominent member of the Photo-Secession movement seeking to establish photography as a fine art, pioneered the genre of fashion photography, and served as the director of the Department of Photography at the MoMA from 1947-1962.

 

Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite

Judy Dater is known as a feminist photographer and much of her work challenges perceptions about the female nude. Dater was born in Los Angeles, California in 1941 and moved to San Francisco, California to complete her masters at San Francisco StateDater is a member of the West Coast School of Photography and says that Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Wynn Bullock, and Imogen Cunningham are the artists she is most inspired by. Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite is her most recognizable photo -- partially to Dater’s dismay. When interviewed, she reveals that she does like the photo but that she likes other photos better and wishes they too received recognition. While the photo looks unposed and natural, it was actually an outtake from an Ansel Adams workshop titled “The Nude in the Landscape,” which Dater helped instruct. Author Robert Atkins explains the relationship between 91-year-old photographer Imogen Cunningham, who was a mentor and friend to Dater, and Twinka Thiebaud, a young model and the daughter of artist Wayne Thiebaud. The two figures alone are iconic and their age difference presents interesting themes about a woman’s sexuality as she ages. Author Donna Stein posits that this nude “stimulates the female gaze” because it appropriates “a subject that was continuously favored by male photographers, sculptures, and photographers.”

Black and white photograph of old woman carrying a camera and a nude woman standing by a tree looking at each other.

Judy Dater, Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite, 1974, gelatin silver print, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Santa Clara University, Focus Gallery Collection, Helen Johnson Bequest, 6.28.1989

 

Elizabeth, the Living Doll; the Smallest, Perfectly Formed Woman on Earth

Sepia toned photograph of small petite figure dressed in a long gown standing next to an ornately carved wooden chair.

R. P. Whigham, Elizabeth, the Living Doll; the Smallest, Perfectly Formed Woman on Earth. Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, 1915, 1915, sepia photograph, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Santa Clara University, Gift of Leo J. Friedberger, 6.255

As a San Francisco-based studio photographer, R.P. Whigham (1866-1932) fortuitously found himself at the center of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition of 1915 which celebrated the rebuilding of San Francisco after the devastating earthquake of 1906 and the completion of the Panama Canal. The fair exhibited scientific achievements, exotic cultures, and human oddities which drew crowds of over 18 million visitors during its 10-month run. In the practice established by his predecessor P.T. Barnum, Whigham capitalized on the public fascination with “freaks.” In this case, Elizabeth Weiss, a woman twenty-seven inches in height, nicknamed The Living Doll. Whigham portrayed her image on souvenir postcards, always with the caption “the smallest, perfect-formed woman on earth.” Dressed in elegant clothing next to regular-sized household objects, the emphasis on both Weiss’s femininity and status as a human oddity reduce her to a spectacle, put on display for the public eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Auto Eroticists

Black and white photograph of figure draped with a sheer veil over their head with their left hand on top. Left side of image is a Greek ionic column. On right side of image is a window frame.

Clarence John Laughlin, The Auto Eroticists: 1941, 1941, black and white photograph, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Santa Clara University, Gift of David B. Devine, 6.386.1986

Clarence John Laughlin (1905-1985) was born on a plantation in Louisiana and moved to New Orleans in 1910 where he grew up and created most of his work. According to author Richard Woodward, Laughlin is known as the “Father of American Surrealism” for his imaginative photos of crumbling antebellum buildings. A self-taught photographer, he began photographing in 1935 by imitating the work of Paul Strand and Edward Weston. By the end of the 1930’s, however, Laughlin began to pursue his own self inspired work. He focused on architectural photography, especially crumbing structures, plantations, and graveyards of the American South. Author Jack Woody calls this “the third world of photography.” Laughlin often used the contrast of light and shadows to create fearful illusions. He would also photograph masked or veiled figures, especially women. Author Donna Seaman argues that these were choices meant to represent spirits and the weight of history.

 

 

 

 

Ancient Lodger and the Plank She Slept On, Eldridge Steet Police Station

Black and white photograph of figure with eyes closed standing by a plank that leans against the wall. A hand holds a match on the right side of image.

Jacob Riis, Ancient Lodger and the Plank She Slept on, Eldridge Street Police Station, 1890s, gelatin silver print, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Santa Clara University, Focus Gallery Collection, Helen Johnson Bequest, 6.76.89.1.30

Jacob Riis (1849-1914) is best known for his influential images of immigrant and ghetto life in America during the 19th century. As a Danish-American immigrant who arrived in New York City at the age of 21, Riis thoroughly understood the cramped, impoverished living conditions of the Lower East Side and sought to undermine views that immorality and poor genetic stock of the slum dweller, were the chief causes of poverty. Through his position as a police reporter, Riis established the genre of documentary photography and disseminated his shocking images across the US to raise awareness and advocate for housing reform. Images such as Ancient Lodger and the Plank She Slept on give insight into the conditions faced by immigrants in urban areas while simultaneously raising ideas about the intersections between gender, age, and socioeconomic status. As a second-class citizen with limited rights and few opportunities to increase her social standing dictated by both her statuses as an older woman and an immigrant, the woman faces obstacles not shared by other classes of people. Yet, in the absence of sexualization, the male gaze, in the form of shadows and the hovering hand on the right side of the image, still permeates the photograph pointing to the only thing the woman has to offer - her miserable condition.

 

Folsom Street Fair

Color photograph of a figure dressed in a black leather bra and corset. Background of people standing at a street festival.

Janey Delaney, Folsom Street Fair, 2012, archival pigment print, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Santa Clara University, work selected by students in SCU Professor Bridget Gilman's spring 2016 class, ARTH 197: Photography and the American West. Funds for this purchase were made possible by the Marmor Foundation, 2016.11

 

Janet Delaney grew up in the 1970s, and in her youth became committed to the idea that photography could be a force for social change. According to an article in the British Journal of Photography written about the artist, her dedication to anti-gentrification has led her to photograph in “unconventional” locations, such as gay bars, in order to document the local vibrancy of San Francisco and hopefully prevent the displacement of the local culture. She sees her work as a bridge between the now and the before as well as the affluent and the poor, educating younger generations about the space they occupy and the local histories that preceded them. The Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco is a particular annual highlight of the city’s counterculture. Despite the lighthearted nature of the Fair’s festivities, Folsom Street Fair is a rather stoic portrait. It depicts an alternative projection of gender and empowerment, particularly of femininity and leatherwear subculture. Though the subject’s body turns slightly away, their straight posture and direct gaze is engaging, almost challenging. Though scantily dressed and heavily made up, the age that shows through on their face in conjunction with their apparent challenge distinguishes the subject of this photograph from pop culture's demand for a certain feminine type.

 

 

Marilyn Monroe, Life Cover

Black and white photograph of Marilyn Monroe looking directly to the viewer. She is leaning to the right and wearing a white dress with a brooch in the center, dress sleeves worn below the shoulder.

Philippe Halsman, Marilyn Monroe, Life Cover (unsmiling photograph), 1952, silver gelatin print, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Santa Clara University, Gift of Teresa Gabriel Harbaugh, 1997.4.2

Black and white photograph of Marilyn Monroe looking directly to the viewer. Figure is leaning back and wearing a white dress with a brooch in the center, dress sleeves worn below the shoulder.

Philippe Halsman, Marilyn Monroe, Life Cover (Magazine Cover photograph), 1952, silver gelatin print, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Santa Clara University, Gift of Teresa Gabriel Harbaugh, T#1997.4.1

Philippe Halsman (1906-1979) was born in Riga, Latvia. According to the artist, at the age of fifteen he discovered an old camera in the attic of his family home, and quickly became obsessed. He gained fame in France as a portrait photographer after opening his studio in Montparnasse in 1934, and in 1940 joined the list of writers and artists in Europe granted visas by the Emergency Rescue Committee — organized by Eleanor Roosevelt — by obtaining a visa through the help of Albert Einstein. His big break in America came with the advertisements for Elizabeth Arden’s Victory Red lipstick, which used his image of young model Connie Ford lying on an American flag. His work was featured on 101 LIFE magazine covers throughout his thirty-year career in the United States. These images of Marilyn Monroe are from the photoshoot for the first of her six LIFE magazine covers. Though neither of these images was selected for the final April 1952 cover, the other outtakes from the shoot may be seen on Philippe Halsman’s website, where he dedicates a folder to his images of Monroe. Author Liz Ronk writes that one cannot help but consider Monroe’s central position in the American discussion of celebrity, media, and sex in the 1950s. The memory of her overt sexualization by Playboy magazine as well as her iconic pop-art persona by Andy Warhol factor into the commodification and objectification of Marilyn Monroe’s idealized feminine image, which is continued even here as we put her on display and encourage the viewer to look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nude Model (Male)

Andy Warhol was born in 1928 and passed away in 1987. As a successful commercial illustrator, he was best known for his contributions to the pop art movement. Some of his most recognizable works include colorful silk screen paintings of Campbell soup cans and Marilyn Monroe’s face. Later in life, Warhol began to focus on fine art, including photography. Warhol was a gay man functioning within a very homophobic society. According to author Brian Bethune, only a few weeks after his 20th birthday in 1948 Pittsburgh created a 36-man "morals squad" charged with extracting gay men from the city -- they arrested 800 men over three years. So, in 1949, Warhol left Pittsburgh for New York where he worked as a commercial illustrator but made the switch to fine art by the end of the 1950’s. Much of the art Warhol produced explored themes of male sexuality -- especially that of a gay man amid the HIV AIDS pandemic. For example, as explained by Anthony Morris, the Oxidation Paintings, for which he urinated onto canvases, and the Torso and Sex Parts Painting, for which he transferred photos of male genitalia and torsos onto large canvases with silk-screen stencils address this disease. The pornographic nature of these works, coupled with the anonymity requested by some of the subjects, leads author Bradford Collins to argue that “Andy Warhol made his ‘erotic’ art to provide relief from the problem created by his erotic longings... These works may have helped him manage his desires, and even find alternative pleasures, but they never managed to quench those desires or the psychological pain they entailed.”

Black and white photograph of male nude wearing a penis ring standing in shower. Left arm raised and looking towards a figure in front of him. Other figure on the right is partially shown from shoulder to pelvis.

Andy Warhol, Nude Model (Male), 1980, gelatin silver print, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Santa Clara University, Gift of Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts 20th Anniversary Photographic Legacy Program. © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., 2008.4.111

 

Envisioned Installation Layout

The exhibition is set up in a circle, the idea being that someone would walk in, turn to their left, and then make their way around the room. They will first come to Carrie Mae Weems’ Not Manet's Type. This photograph inspired our exhibition, so it feels like an apt place to start. In addition, because it is a nude self-portrait, it immediately introduces the audience to the theme of sexuality. The next piece the audience encounters is Steichen’s Torso. This photograph depicts a nude woman sitting with her knees against her chest from behind. Once again, the audience is confronted with the female nude and all its implications. Immediately after this, the audience views Dater’s Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite. Once again, they are face to face with a nude woman. More importantly, however, they will also see Imogen looking at a naked Twinka, as captured in the photograph. Here they may stop to wonder what it means to be viewing a nude woman, to be a voyeur as Imogen is here. Hopefully, after having already seen 3 nude women, the audience will realize that much like Imogen, they too are now voyeurs. The next piece the audience would encounter is Elizabeth, the Living Doll; the Smallest, Perfectly Formed Woman on Earth. This will be a stark contrast to Weems’s piece since Weems is exploring how she is not the “perfect'' woman by societal standards. Placing this piece after multiple nudes also shows the audience that we will be exploring what it means to be perceived, or judged, by others based on one’s body.

This is an important realization as the move to the next image, Laughlin’s The Auto Eroticists. Unlike previous images, the woman here is completely clothed. Similarly, the next image, Riis’ Ancient Lodger and the Plank She Slept On, features a fully clothed poor older woman. These two photos together, after countless nudes, will hopefully make the audience consider how we view the sexuality of women differently based on what they wear, their age, and their socioeconomic status. The audience member would then move to the third wall to view Delaney’s Folsom Street Fair. More scantily clad than the last three women, but by no means nude, this woman represents a powerful older, but still sexual, femininity; especially when compared to the two images of Marilyn Monroe, taken by Philippe Halsman, immediately to the right. The images of Marilyn serve to remind the audience what American pop culture says is feminine and sexy. Lastly, the audience member will turn and see Warhol’s Nude Model (Male). We placed this image last since it is the only man. The audience will then have the opportunity to compare how they viewed nude women differently than they view this nude man. We also know that while this exhibition is intended to be viewed in a circle, not all audience members will actually do that. For that reason, the exhibition also makes thematic sense if viewed in reverse order, starting with the nude male model and ending with a nude Carrie Mae Weems.

Back to Photography in the U.S.
Kelsey Elinski

Student Curator

Kelsey Elinski

Kelsey Elinski, an Art History and Psychology double major and Urban Education minor, first became interested in the topic of intersectionality through her position as an Embrace Discussion Facilitator for first-year students. Kelsey is a volunteer at the Phoenix Children’s Museum and hopes to participate in an art museum internship this summer. After graduating in 2022, she intends to pursue a career in elementary education, advocating for better funding for the arts in public schools.

Persia Liu

Student Curator

Persia Liu

Persia Liu, a Communication/Art History double major, is committed to engaging with social justice through art history. She is particularly interested in Iranian and Chinese art, and her essay, “Chinoiserie at the Royal Pavilion,” was published in the Bowdoin Journal of Art in 2020. After graduating in 2022 she plans to pursue a career that will enable her to educate others about the vast and fascinating art histories of Iran and China.

Maggie Menendez

Student Curator

Maggie Menendez

Maggie Menendez is pursuing an Individual Studies Major titled “Intersectional Storytelling.” In her study of Art History, she is especially intrigued by the representations of women from different social classes. This summer she worked with a local photographer and has since started her own photography business. After graduating in 2022 she hopes to work at an arts organization with a social mission.