Personal Portfolio Project: “Objects of Desire”

My background in photography is based in photojournalism. I am beginning a personal documentary-style portfolio project based on the theme of feminine beauty and the dual power/persecution paradigm it represents. I’m fascinated with the idea that physical appearance is both a tool for manipulating others and being objectified by others.

Darlene-Karst-artist-smI’m taking a closer look at the lengths women go to to seek approval and admiring gazes from the opposite sex and each other, as well as the double-edged sword that beauty represents when the attention becomes unwanted. It’s a fact of life that sex appeal is a currency of sorts, a qualitative trait to be traded for something of value. Research has revealed that those who display a certain symmetry of form or an alluring aesthetic earn more promotions at work, free drinks at the bar, etc., while those who do not achieve the societal ideal — either by winning the genetic lottery or working hard on personal enhancement — feel invisible.

With my camera, I will explore such topics as power dynamics, sugar daddies, “slut shaming”, how we reveal ourselves on social media, ways physical attributes are used to get ahead in society and the workplace, as well as the constant dangers of sexual assault. Women go to incredible lengths to look their best, spend hours in the gym shaping their bodies, get waxed and plucked, etc. Our society simultaneously encourages them to “flaunt what they got” and shames them for a lack of modesty when they do.

There’s a lot there to cover, and I want to capture a lot of it.

The resulting imagery, combined with short interview vignettes, will tell a powerful story of how we as human beings use one another and are used based on the societal construct of the all-powerful gaze of desire. I will be collaborating with willing female subjects on intimate snapshots into their lives.

seductionI am specifically seeking to photograph and interview:

  • An exotic dancer. Or perhaps a webcam model. To explore the ways female allure extracts cold, hard cash from men.
  • A feminist. To help me understand ways women are objectified. Ideally one who, at one point, was “gaming the system” herself.
  • A woman who has been sexually harassed because of her looks.
  • A lesbian couple, and how appearance affects them absent of the traditional, patriarchal male gaze.
  • A “squad” who go out partying and convince boys to buy them drinks — while struggling to keep their hands off them at the end of the night (or are perfectly fine with one night stands).
  • A young woman who goes on sugar daddy websites to find older men to help her financially in exchange for her companionship. And an older woman who embraces or loathes the idea of being a “cougar” capable of landing younger men who are, themselves, part of the power dynamic because of their physical attractiveness.
  • A woman who has suitors wanting to pin her down while she rejects society’s expectations of settling down into a monogamous relationship.
  • A female who frequently shares images of herself on social media and feels a rush from the attention she gets. Perhaps someone who is frequently trolled on social media because of her looks by boys behaving crudely or other jealous females.
  • A female who struggles with obesity. To talk about the feeling of being invisible. Or how she achieves self-love in spite of not being a size 2.
  • A teenage girl discovering her power over boys or struggling with living up to media images of females, and her parents trying to help her get safely through adulthood without being chewed up and spat out by the opposite sex or critics online.
  • A woman who is more confident in her 30s and 40s despite a society that society that treasures youth above all else. Or one who is insecure about the growing lines on her face and cellulite on her body.
  • A model who has spent years focused on earning a living based on her looks but is now transitioning to a different career. Or perhaps someone who was beautiful and popular in high school but is now disfigured due to an accident or disease.
  • Someone who experienced a change in how she is perceived by others after dramatic weight loss or plastic surgery.
  • Someone who practically lives in the gym and considers fitness/nutrition a lifestyle rather than a temporary fix.
  • Regular, everyday girls and women who spend hours to look their best.

Do any of these people sound like you?

This topic has been gnawing at me from multiple perspectives. Being the father of a daughter navigating her way through the rough seas of adolescence (wanting to be liked while finding her adult identity) is obviously one strong viewpoint. I’m also intrigued by my own vantage point as a not-so-young-anymore man who finds my own gaze shaped by the transitioning nature of my life situation. Depending on who it is, my attention may be flattering, repulsive, threatening, or completely unnoticed. I seek to understand how women feel and how they function.

I try not to go into documentary projects with a scripted story, but I obviously feel a narrative bursting at the seams to be explored and told. I will be thrilled if my exploration of this topic reveals surprises and is nuanced rather than hitting anyone over the head with the obvious.

If you are interested in being photographed and/or interviewed, please email me. I am willing to photograph you in a way that preserves your anonymity if you want to participate but are concerned about the stigma of discussing provocative topics. I cast no judgments. I merely seek the truth as I can capture and preserve it.