I was commissioned to write this a few years ago for the Central European House of Photography in Bratislava (and thank you to all the photo...
Monday, 25 February 2019
Laura Dodsworth's Womanhood
Perhaps the most viewed pictures in the UK this year have been Laura Dodsworth's Womanhood. It's a series of 100 images of women's vulvas and it follows her other series of images on penises and breasts.
The pictures have featured here there and everywhere including a tv programme dedicated to them but interestingly they don't quite figure in the worlds of photography that this blog is concerned with - art, photobooks, festivals, documentary, photojournalism.
The theme is there. Magazines and galleries have dedicated issues to the Girl Gaze and ideas of reclaiming the body that go back to the very powerful ideas of Carolee Schneemann and beyond into the distant, distant past.
It fits a particular theme and articulates ideas of the body, gender, agency and how perceptions of self are formed and can be changed. It's a good thing then, but still it doesn't quite hit the mark. It might well be because the photographer doesn't quite speak that same language (if it is the right language), is too mainstream, has a past career in publishing and marketing that has kind of stuck, or simply has bigger fish to fry. Or doesn't care.
Maybe it's because her pictures of breasts, penises and vulvas are so descriptive. There's the idea that is endlessly repeated that all the stories have been told (and they have), and everything has been photographed (and it has)... the conclusion of these ideas is that you can't photograph something without ending up in banal repetition. That perhaps is the cause of the endless overcomplication of things. I do sometimes end up looking at photography projects wishing that I was better at puzzle solving, because that is what so many books read like. They are a mystery for the viewer to solve, with the subtext that the more pain the better.
There isn't any mystery in Dodsworth's projects. Perhaps that's the point. And the point is also that even though the story has been told, it hasn't been told in this way. Dodsworth latest project focusses on vulvas. They have been photographed by photographers (and written about and exhitbited) and you'll see them in porn. All Dodsworth did was photograph them slightly differently, possibly not all that 'well' - and they don't fit into a typological grid because that's not their concern. Their concern is to show something unadorned and unfiltered. That's waht made them appear new to people, to women in particular, and in various publications they were accompanied by interviews and confessions that felt quite liberating.
It's a kind of stating the obvious. Anyway, I like them I think. I'm still struggling to grasp exactly why they don't really figure in the micro-photographic scheme of things. She just has the wrong voice, she's not an artist, she's simply operating in that world. I think that's interesting on so many levels, and indicative of so much, not of Dodsworth, but of the failings that shut her work out. It's indicative of a definite conservatism, quite a limited way of thinking. I wonder what little twitch of visual, verbal or personal expression would change her work from something that has been viewed by millions to something that could garner the praise from photography's more precious, if less-visited, worlds. Not much I'm sure, but then if you're getting shows on mainstream television, why really would you bother?
I remember when I was a kid and there were certain records you could buy, and certain records you couldn't (even if you liked them). It's that basically, but in photography...