February 23, 2004


Then I look away, too much for one day....


Undercurrent takes issue with k-punk's Helmut Newton post.

I think it's far too quick, all this stuff about the male gaze and Newton. It has to be remembered that Newton was a fashion photographer and the primary consumers of his images were women. There's a case for saying that Newton's photographs were images of women for women. It's begging too many questions to assume that women's objectifying of themselves, the cruelties and privations they impose on their bodies, are done for the sake of men. Worth recalling the original meaning of glamour here: a spell or witchery dedicated to shrinking the penis. Newton's women are self-involved, narcisisstic, possibly masochistic, seemingly oblivious to any gaze save their own.



Ballard has some aposite obversations on this. 'I will only say that critics who tremble so fiercely at the thought of the voyeuristic male gaze miss the point that distance generates mystery and enchantment, and expresses the awe with which the male imagination regards all women, as we see so clearly in Newton's photographs. Far from debasing his models (most of whom are not naked), Newton places them at the heart of a deep and complex drama where they rule like errant queens, blissfully indifferent to the few men who dare to approach them.'

Swaying palms at your feet

In any case, the real elitism in Newton's images is not of gender, but of privilege and beauty. He lays down wreathes for a genetic aristocracy, whose magnificence we plebeians can either revere or resent. Satire: absolutey not. Newton comes to beautify and canonize, not to mock. He is a courtier dancing attendance upon these rare, insolently superior creatures, a fabulist constructing elliptical tales of their strange adventures beyond the pleasure principle.

On the shoe thing: there is an image (which I couldn't locate) in which Newton takes an x-ray of a foot in a stiletto. An almost medical interest, yes....

Final (biographical) note: I first became interested in Newton because of his photographs of a man (Steve Strange).

Posted by mark at February 23, 2004 10:08 PM | TrackBack

good points, wonder if perhaps there is something to be gained by contrasting mr. Newton to female counterpart like Ellen Von Unwerth? [ http://www.staleywise.com/collection/von_unwerth_revenge/von_unwerth_revenge.html ]

Posted by: Abe at February 23, 2004 10:53 PM

The more I hear about 'Newton's women', 'these creatures','errant queens','aristocracy', the more clear it seems that this mystery, awe and fear is the masochistic discharge of a suppressed will to control and attack: everyone knows that the creepiest, most oppressive lover, and the one most likely to transform into an abuser once yielded to, is the hideously fawning, feverish worshipper.

He made images 'for' women : The primary consumers of Slimfast are women too, that doesn't signify anything about the product. Men making images of women 'for' women is surely precisely the point at issue. Fashion photography 'for' women is at least partly a mechanism for the reproduction of an assemblage of image/desire ultimately benefiting male power, whether understood as micropolitical power dispersed through the socius or political/commercial power concentrated in the hands of the media/medical/cosmetic/pharmaceutical industrialist.

It's not germane whether 'the cruelties and privations they impose on their bodies' (whose invocation you so relish) are done 'for the sake of men': intention is both irrelevant and impossible to determine - it's rather whether these desiring-technologies are depotentiating, disempowering, humiliating traditions - in the case of buying shoes in which one is unable to walk, there would seem to be a pretty straightforward answer...(incidentally your aside here seems a mere gnomic reiteration rather than an argument)

Ultimately, I don't think you'll convince me...it all seems a banal, faintly embarrassing anachronism to me, belonging in the dustbin of misogynist history along with peter stringfellow, james bond films and pirelli calendars; not in the least radical.

Posted by: undercurrent at February 24, 2004 12:13 AM

Undercurrent makes the point that it's men who have the "desire" for images of contorted beauty, and women who undergo/impose on themselves the "cruelties and privations" . . . . That male desire is misogynistic. This is true, at least in many cases, but I'm not sure if misogynistic desires can be changed or reformed by any program of criticism, by "peeks into an alternative universe." I think that what we all desire, and perhaps men in particular, is determined by the time we attain puberty. Some of us have healthy desires, such that we can establish, supposedly, a fully developed relationship with another person. Others incline toward various kinds and degrees of "fetish," desire mis-directed away from the soul or inner beauty of the other, the woman, to the ways she transforms herself, damages herself, twists herself. For in so transforming herself, hurting and injuring herself, she works a magic, casts a spell over the male, who is a perpetual child, a stunted creature, unable to progress beyond his unnatural desires to experience love . . . . This is the dynamic. It's the modern state of affairs, as opposed to the ancient, at least according to the school books

Posted by: dominic at February 24, 2004 04:50 PM

Which is to say desire is highly irrational, destructive. Bad for the subject, and bad for the object. It imperils health, distorts the development of personality . . . . Yet without desire, there'd be no pleasure in life

Posted by: dominic at February 24, 2004 05:01 PM

Or rather, I take this to be the anti-Hegelian view on the nature and unfolding of desire = Bataille/Ballard. O/w, I suppose my comments would appear irrelevant, if not cracked out.

Posted by: dominic at February 25, 2004 01:40 AM

nb. This reply was better in its first and second versions, before your crappy comments box timed out !!

I wouldn't necessarily disagree with anything dominic says here, or say that it's irrelevant; nor would I argue that with a bit of critique the power-discrepancies of millenia will crumble. In fact it's incredibly difficult to break through this programming even on an individual level, but that doesn't mean it's not worth doing: So, my problem is with statements like 'desire is unhealthy' being presented so glibly, as eternal platitudes rather than cultural contingencies (no matter how deeply-imprinted); as gleeful proclamations, even. As if there's only one, eternally-determined 'desire' ('this is THE dynamic'), that must be 'celebrated'.

Essentially all Newton does is to add an exciting sheen on banal gender roles (in a nutshell, that is fashion photography defined). And an artist who merely repeats and confirms, rather than interrogates and critiques, can only be regarded as futuristic and radical if you believe the future has nothing to offer but more of the same (baudrillardian cynicism - incidentally baudrillard is another who repeatedly offers us a theoretically-glamorised - and sometimes not even that - version of traditional misogyny).

Someone such as Rego can effect transformations of individual's perceptions, surely a basis for cultural change (yes, those 'little peeks into alternative universes' do make a difference - I'm surprised a reader of k-punk, blissblog et al would find this controversial); Newton is incapable of providing these transformations, and has no interest in doing so.

Posted by: undercurrent at February 25, 2004 11:17 AM

Especially these days.

Posted by: sphaleotas at February 25, 2004 12:09 PM

pedantic bastard. I told you it was the third time of typing!

Posted by: undercurrent at February 25, 2004 02:06 PM