No one seems to recognize that Winogrand’s beliefs are shared most seriously by the kinds of men who haunt Reddit subforums like “Creepshots.” On those forums, the chorus is “Rape her.” Thanks to his superior sense of aesthetics, Winogrand’s moments of lechery show up at SFMOMA, where the chorus is that he’s a visionary.
I’ve been explicitly wondering for a while about the Women are Beautiful images. I’ve always liked a lot of them. I particularly love the image of the woman in the La Guardia lounge. I also know that, while I like them as art, they also embody the male gaze and I like them for this reason too. I rationalize this by thinking that what makes the women beautiful is that Winogrand’s caught a lot of inner beauty, grace, and power and isn’t just focusing on “pretty.” At the same time, yeah. I know that what I like is probably what caught Winogrand’s eye too.
—My post on Winogrand
One of the things I found most interesting about the Winogrand show is how it forced me to think about my male gaze. There is definitely a lecherous side to many of his photos of women. Looking at those photos forces me to decide why I like the photo and whether I’m reacting to just the subject or if the entire photo is working for me.
As I mentioned in my Winogrand post, what I like about the best of Winogrand’s photos of women is that, despite being lecherous, the moments he captures are not the pure creepshot moments. The creepshot phenomenon tends to objectify women into body parts—heads are cropped off, butts are focused on, the only timing is in getting the photo before being noticed by anyone. Winogrand on the other hand captures things that are more evocative of personality. A hint of grace here. A genuine smile there.
This distinction isn’t something I would chalk up to aesthetics. It’s deeper than that and speaks to the way the male gaze works. Or at least how my male gaze works. I’ve long since grown past the point where I feel like ogling at anyone. Creepshots, and most paparazzi images, are trophies for ogling.* Do I still notice the kinds of things which trigger creepshots? Yes. But not as much as I used to.** And I definitely don’t find myself remembering anything in this area.
*That paparazzi images tend to be for a female market unless they’re creepshots is a completely different post.
**My wife can attest that I really don’t. I think she notices more than I do now.
Instead, I find that I notice women the way Winogrand’s best images do. Movements. Gestures. Expressions. Personality and moments which stick in my brain long after they occurred. I have a hard time calling them objectification since the appeal to me isn’t women as objects or specific items to be desired. I enjoy the images because the remind me of what I enjoy and am attracted to at an emotional level.
Is this splitting hairs?
Maybe a little.
Am I protesting too much because I don’t want to think of myself as a creep?
Yet I think the distinction is worth making. They’re not photos of beautiful women, they’re photos of women being beautiful.
Every woman in here, ever since you was thirteen, every guy you met has been trying to fuck you.
That’s right. Women are offered dick every day. Every woman in here gets offered dick at least three times a week.
At the same time. Yeah. By being male I’m lucky enough to be able to make this distinction. Women are not so lucky and I don’t blame them for treating every male as an ogler. I can’t claim to understand this. I can only claim to be aware of it and that I agree with that point of view.
If all the photos showed just the women, I would have a harder time defending Winogrand. But he also includes some “who watches the watchers” images too. These photos are great fun to look into. It’s not defined whether we’re supposed to be looking at the girl or everyone else. Looking at the girl is easy. Looking at everyone else is where the fun begins.
The step backwards which allows us to decide what point of view to take and whether we want to critique or be part of the crowd is another key distinction in determining how creepy photos are.
Winogrand definitely plays with the ambiguity of the choice. But I don’t see the image as being that much different from Ruth Orkin’s American Girl in Italy. None of these photos show physical harassment. They do show the male gaze and invite us to comment on and critique it.
And lord knows that the male gaze needs critiquing. Though in critiquing the gaze, it’s important to focus on holding men accountable for their actions. I don’t think it’s possible for men to turn off the gaze. There’s something deeply fundamental about seeing the world this way.* But seeing and acting are two very different things.
*For an interesting take on the male gaze from someone who has been on both sides of it, I highly recommend this post. Even if it’s fiction it’s worth reading.
*FWIW, I kind of find the Philip Lorca DiCorcia approach more disturbing than zone-focused wide angle street photography. But getting into the ethics of Heads and the resulting lawsuit is outside the scope of this post.
If you are going to be like [internet photographer] and take photos of pretty girls, please avoid objectifying them as pretty objects. Let them show us how they can be beautiful.