Determined not to let another nice sunset go to waste, I decided to have fun and just snap pictures with no real agenda. I drove out to a dirt road near a somewhat busy intersection with a roommate and freestyled while taking mental notes of possible future locations for my main body of graduate work. My friend was dressed in long sleeves and loose fitting (but colorful) clothing, and she was striking a semi-humorous pose when I heard what I have become quite accustomed to hearing when photographing women: A catcall. I generally tend to ignore these remarks but the next truck full of loud idiots froze me.
“Why don’t you take your clothes off, it would be a prettier picture!”
While I was amused that this guy managed a complete sentence in perfect southern drawl whilst literally hanging out of the passenger seat of a truck making a quick turn, I was aghast at the juvenile and blatant nature of the comment. I’m used to whistles and shouts for even the most innocent images involving women (and sometimes teenagers posing for senior portraits), but it’s still rare that someone actually goes to the extra-lowly “TAKE IT OFF!” territory.
While I can ignore and not dignify the idiotic remarks, I also have the convenience of them not actually being aimed at me, nor do I have to think about how it was my body being objectified or leered over. I notice often that the victim of the catcalls are somewhat disturbed, and at first I hoped to be able make things better by proceeding as if nothing happened at all. However, I can see how it’s often asking much more of her than it is of me.
I believe it speaks a lot about the hyper sexualized depictions of females and the effects a layer of semi-anonymity and distance can have on people. The fact that this man felt entitled to share his opinion because she was voluntarily being photographed makes me wonder what people sign up for when they agree to be in images. If I were photographing a man, it’s highly unlikely a woman would have said the same thing (unless maybe he was shirtless and we were attempting to be strongly sexually appealing). I also am aware that women get catcalled just for being in public. It certainly makes me even more acutely aware of the exploitative nature of portraiture.
I always want for a witty comeback when I hear a doofus yelling from a speeding vehicle, and often want to throw the middle finger or shout an remark. But I honestly don’t know if I’ll find a different approach to these situations. It does make me extra conscious of the subject matter of my photography, and it gives me material to play off of in my work. It’s helped me decide to directly confront the gender dynamic questions I’ve encountered in critiques of my work.
But I’m also still hoping that next time I’ll think of something cool to say.