Posted in Contextual Studies Year 2

The Body and The Gaze

Gaze is the pleasure of looking and is often predicted to be looking as a male spectator, allowing the idea of women to consistently be admired by the audience, regardless of gender. It is suggested that women appear and men act, allowing us to see the relationship between male and female and females to themselves – the male gaze.

1487 paintings were made of nude females for the pleasure of males. This idea continued through the centuries. In 1863, painting a female having eye contact with the painter was classed as controversial and had connotations of lust, sometimes even going as far as suggesting prostitution. Paintings were often made for the pleasure of rich people, suggesting the control they had. If a female was painted holding a mirror this gave the idea that the individual was vain and enjoyed the attention of being looked at by male spectators. These ideas have continued through to the modern day – women being depicted differently to males. Males are commonly demonstrated in a very heroic powerful way, where women are shown in a sexual way. This is argued to be the reason why there is a lot of pressure on men to act a certain way and to show their dominance and power.

The concept of the gaze is about the relationship between pleasure and images. The camera itself represents a controlling gaze – the photographer has control over what happens in the front of the lens which often suggests that the photographer objectifies the model. They are essentially a director but with more considered actions to create context to the work. The camera can sometimes be seen as a blockage, making models tense up in front of the lens so the photographer has to direct the model well enough to make them relax for the camera.

In modern films the male if most commonly represented as the hero that forwards the story while the female is the beauty of the film and the damsel in distress, for example in superhero films. As times have continued, this idea has been questioned more by films such as Alien where the female takes on the masculine role and is the hero of the story. It is argued that females may have been allowed the masculine power but are still dressed in a way that sexualises them to maintain the beauty and admiration that females have.

In 1975 Laura Mulvey suggested that the male gaze consisted of 3 things – The camera which records, the spectators and the male characters that formed the images. The way we see things is split into what is called Voyeurs and Scopophelia. A voyeur has a desire to see sexual connotations whereas a scopophelia has a desire to see and can be linked more to the idea of sexualisation and perversion but not always. It is suggested that 80% of middle class white males, and people with money and control build up the stereotypical male gaze. Many ads have been banned for being too voyeuristic such as the underwear advert for Elle Macpherson, which was suggested to be a “peeping tom” connotation, encouraging the perversion of males on women.

As times are modernising, there has been an increase in androgyny and the introduction of gender fluidity which has leveled out the playing ground between males and females, introducing more power to females. However it is argued that the sexualisation of men is just a marketing technique in order to sell, encouraging the male gaze in females. Various photographers, such as those involved in Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze SOMArts, 2011 have tried to reverse the gaze to show men in a sexualised way, but this seems to be a more comical idea and not taken as seductively or seriously as when it is a female being sexualised. But is there any such thing as a female gaze?

Artist Phebe Schmidt is a commercial photographer who has a subconscious feminist approach to her work but has admitted she uses her work to explore the idea of beauty which is deemed normal by gender, social and cultural ideas. Her work aims to explore identity and how the identity of gender is recognised in society with the contributing factor of media and the way gender is represented in this. She uses a lot of plastic in her work which is easily manipulated and can be made into different forms – the same way gender can be manipulated and formed. Arguably this could objectify the idea of gender but I perceive it as a way to engage the audience into thinking differently and openly towards an idea that is so commonly encouraged by stereotypical ideas of beauty and perfection where gender is concerned. Her work shows how women can be self concious and conform to society’s “rules” to fit in and gain positive attention – similar to that of the male gaze.


This image holds strong connotations of sexualisation, particularly the act of snm during sex. This is a dominant act of sex which shows the lack of power the female has – the woman is an object to sex and would be looked upon as an appearance like the male gaze suggests – women appear and men act. Schmidt uses a lot of vivid lighting and colour in her work to aim for a lot of attention to engage the audience enough to see past the beauty of the image and read more into the serious context behind it.


This image makes the female not even seem real – wrapped up in plastic as if she is going to be sold almost like a doll. The lighting in the image adds to this affect, making her seem blemish-less and perfect like that of dolls. The idea of her being sold could link back to the history of paintings where the rich people would have paintings done to show control and power the same as if they bought the model.


This image gives me the impression of an older woman aspiring to be young again with the face mask and make up. The idea of looking beautiful and only being able to do this by looking young. The use of older models is very scarce which promotes the idea of young = beautiful making me feel this way about this image. This woman would not fit the male gaze as she is not sexualised in a way that is seductive and lustful for the audience but in a way that promotes younger beauty over natural aging.


The final image that caught my attention was this one which I feel is very seductive and promiscuous. The eye contact with the audience is very inviting like that of the historical paintings. The smudged make up suggests that of sexual connotations like prostitution which links to the scopophelia view on the image.

Pitchzine. (2014). PHEBE SCHMIDT. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].

Schmidt, P. (2016). Woman and Neck Chain. [image] Available at: [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].

Shmidt, P. (2014). Girl in Plastic Bag. [image] Available at: [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].

Schmidt, P. (2016). Woman and Face Mask. [image] Available at: [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].

Schmidt, P. (2016). Woman and Smudged Make Up. [image] Available at: [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].


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