The Role Of Gender In Photographic Works: Do Men And

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The Role of Gender in Photographic Works:Do Men and Women Capture Different Photographs?Mohammad Sattari,1Sadegh Mousavi2Abstract: Gender usually plays a significant role in the works of photographers andcauses men and women to take different photographs. Nowadays, photographsand photography have a crucial and pivotal status in societies. The majority of theevents and accidents unfolding in various parts of the world are communicatedto the people via newspapers, magazines, internet and television, and undoubtedly, photographs play an imperative role in all of these media. It is not surprisingthat photography is called ‘the eyes of modernity’ and imagining the world without photographs is very difficult. Additionally, one of the topics that researchershave paid a lot of attention to in the past century is the subject of gender, andthe similarities and differences between men and women. Female photographershave always been an irrefutable part of the history of photography, and today, weare seeing a dramatic growth in their presence and success in different genres ofphotography. Hence, this question is raised that ‘do men and women capture different photographs?’ Some valuable researches have been carried out in the pastdecades on the subject of gender and also the differences between how men andwomen see, but only a few have focused on the differences between male and female photographers. In this article, the hypothesis was accepted by assessing thefollowing aspects: studying the differences between men’s and women’s point ofgaze (where one is looking); examining the differences between male and femalephotographer’s emotions; studying and comparing the works of various photographers; examining the working conditions of photographers; reviewing the differentreactions a single subject might have towards a male or female photographer; andfinally, studying some of the interviews and memoirs of successful photographers.Generally female photographers are more drawn to story, narrative and emotion, but many males are also drawn to such subjects; male photographers are1- Assistant Professor, College of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, [email protected] -M.A. Student of Photography, College of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, [email protected] Journal of Women’s Research, Vol.2, No.2, Fall 2013, pp. 73 - 88.Received: June 14, 2013 , Accepted: July 19, 2013

International Journal of Women’s ResearchVol. 2, No. 2, Fall 2013more drawn to technical and action-filled subjects, but many females are alsodrawn to such subjects. Hence, for each stereotype regarding photographs andgender, numerous photographers or photographs can be found that challenge ordefy it. Men and women capture different photographs but this should not give usthe excuse to impose our stereotypes and clichés on a particular photographer,whether male or female.Keywords: Photo, Men, Women, Gender, Eye TrackingIntroductionNowadays, photographs and photography have a crucial and pivotal status. Themajority of the events and accidents unfolding in various parts of the world arecommunicated to the people via newspapers, magazines, internet and television,and undoubtedly, photographs play an imperative role in all of these media. Forexample, a major part of an Iranian teenager’s perception and idea of the VietnamWar is formed by the pictures that he or she has seen from that event. Furthermore, since in the minds of ordinary people, a photograph is considered very convincing and seemingly trustworthy, and is also incorrectly treated as innocent andunbiased, its effectiveness and advantage is multiplied. In the words of David Bate(2009, 17) “photographs give the illusion of a transparent access to ‘reality’ as thereal ‘language’ of photography”. It is not surprising that photography is called ‘theeyes of modernity’ and imagining the world without photographs is very difficult. Inthe past two decades and after the spread of digital photography and mobile phonecameras, the general public has more than ever photographed everyday events,street life, trips, and tragic accidents, and some of them are newsworthy images.On the one hand, one of the topics that researchers - psychologists, sociologistsand physicians in particular - have paid a lot of attention to in the past centuryis the subject of gender, women’s rights, and also the similarities and differencesbetween men and women. In Iran, some fruitful researches and also initiativeshave been carried out, especially after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. On the otherhand, women photographers have always been an irrefutable part of the history ofphotography, and in recent years, we are witnessing a steady rise in their presenceand success in different genres of photography, such as photojournalism, fine art,74

The Role of Gender in Photographic Works:architecture, portrait, commercial, industrial, and even war photography. In thefield of art and photography education around the world, the number of femalestudents is also constantly growing; for example, at prestigious universities suchas The Rochester Institute of Technology and The Art Center College of Design inPasadena, women now outnumber men (Mitchell, 2009). Hence, this question israised that ‘do men and women capture different photographs?’This article’s hypothesis is as follows: Gender usually plays a significant role in theworks of photographers and causes men and women to take different photographs.The research subject of gender is an important, endless and multidimensionalsubject, and when the difference between men and women is examined, the research becomes even more interesting; especially when this comparison is performed in an ever-growing field such as photography. Some valuable researcheshave been carried out in the past few decades on the subject of gender and alsothe differences between men and women’s point of gaze (where one is looking),but only a few have focused on the differences between male and female photographers. In this article, first a review of literature will be presented; subsequently,in the research statement’s section, a description of how the research is carriedout will be presented and some of the differences between male and female photographers, such as their point of gaze (where one is looking) and their workingconditions will be discussed. In the discussion section, a handful of examples thatchallenge the hypothesis will be analyzed; finally, the article’s hypothesis is testedagainst the findings of the research and the conclusions are stated.Literature ReviewA myriad of researches have been carried out in the field of gender and a limitednumber of those studies focused on the differences between the sexes, but only afew have concentrated on the role of gender in the works of photographers.Vassalo et al. (2009) study the difference between how men and women orienttheir visual attention to the image of various portraitures containing a particularstatic emotional facial expression, using a technology by the name of eye tracking(the method which human’s eyes look at a scene / image by recording and analyzing the eye movements). In this study, 50 healthy participants (23 male and 27female) view a series of six universal facial expressions, while the participants’ eye75

International Journal of Women’s ResearchVol. 2, No. 2, Fall 2013movements are recorded. Subsequently, their accuracy and reaction time in correctly identifying the expressions are measured. This study concludes that in identifying the expressions correctly, there is no difference between men and women;however, women recognize this expression significantly faster than men. Furthermore, for the first time this study proves that even though both sexes look morefrequently and spend most of their time at the subjects’ eye region, men spendmore time looking at the subjects’ mouth and nose.Anderson et al.(2012) examines sex differences in virtual navigation using eyetracking and concludes that men and women see in dissimilar ways and focus ondifferent parts during navigation.Among the relevant literatures that have been reviewed by the author, Mitchell(2009) concentrates more on the differences between male and female photographers. This research relies on studying the works of male and female photographers, interviewing critics and well-known photographers, as well referring toa couple of eye tracking studies. Mitchell concludes that most men, compared towomen, capture different photographs. One of the shortcomings of the aforementioned research is that it does not sufficiently address the working environment ofphotographers and how it affects men and women in various cultures.Research StatementThe International Center of Photography in New York held an exhibit of photos ofthe Spanish Civil war by Robert Capa and Gerda Taro in 2008. The two were partnersand colleagues. Capa became one of the most renowned war photographers of the20th century while Taro (one of the first active female war photographers) died atthe age of 26 in 1937. According to associate curator Kristen Lubben: “We had Taroupstairs and Capa downstairs. It was an interesting test case for some people - domen and women take different pictures? As I gave tours of the exhibition, I wasconstantly asked about it” (ibid). Thus, the present research is also interesting forthe general public. It is worth noting that in this section, arguments and examplesthat support the hypothesis will be presented, whereas in the next section (discussion),examples or so called exceptions that challenge or even reject the hypothesis willbe reviewed and discussed.76

The Role of Gender in Photographic Works:Eye TrackingThe first question that comes to mind is that do men and women physically lookat images or scenes differently? The answer to this question is to a large extentpositive. Because of the technological advancements in recent decades in the fieldof human vision and eye tracking, we can support this claim. Eye Tracking is themethod of recording and analyzing either the point of gaze (where one is looking)or the motion of an eye relative to the head. Some of the applications of eye tracking are in the fields of psychology, medicine, neurobiology, product design, cognitive studies and driving. When looking at a subject, our eyes scan it very quicklyand jump from one point of interest to another. Each of these rapid jumps, knownas saccades, lasts between 20 and 200 milliseconds, and the majority of humansare unaware of their pattern of looking. Scientists have proven that different people have different points of gaze and look at things differently, or in other wordshave different scan paths, which depend on the viewer’s characteristics and alsothe subject’s features. For example, when looking at a photograph of a landscape,if a human being is also within the frames of the photograph, most viewers firstlook at that person. Or if they are faced with a portrait, the majority of the viewerslook at the subject’s eyes. Some elements or features attract the viewer’s attentionbecause over time, the viewer has learnt to obtain a lot of information from theseelements; such as, eyes, mouth, writings, billboards, traffic signs and so on. Insome cases, these elements are also somehow related to the viewer’s emotions,needs, or wishes, i.e., cuteness, fear, fetish, desired objects, and religious elementsand symbols. Thus, the pattern a viewer looks at a scene / image and the corresponding reaction depends on many factors, such as the viewer’s characteristics,interests, feelings, beliefs and also education. For example, if a writing - even avery small one – is present in a scene or photograph, the first or second point thatmost people look at is the writing (Freeman, 2007, p. 60); however, an illiteratewho has had a different experience during his life, usually will not pay much attention to the writing and will subconsciously have a different scan path.Now the question raised is that ‘does gender also play a role in eye tracking?’An article in the Online Journalism Review in March of 2007 attracted a lot of attention when it reported an eye tracking study that examined where viewers lookedat on a particular online news page. When viewing a human figure, females usu-77

International Journal of Women’s ResearchVol. 2, No. 2, Fall 2013ally looked at the face whereas males glanced at the face and also at the sexualparts of the body (Mitchell, 2009). As mentioned in the literature review section,Anderson et al. (2009) using eye tracking concluded that men and women see indissimilar ways and have different scan paths. Vassalo et al. (2009) studied the difference between how men and women orient their visual attention to the image ofvarious portraitures containing a particular static emotional facial expression. Theparticipants viewed a series of universal facial expressions, while the participants’eye movements were recorded using eye tracking. This study concluded that in correctly identifying the expressions, there is no difference between men and women;however, women recognize this expression significantly faster than men. Furthermore, it concluded that even though both sexes look more frequently and spendmost of their time at the subjects’ eye region, men, compared to women, spendmore time looking at the subjects’ mouth and nose.In the year 2000, Life Science Magazine published a very interesting Japaneseeye tracking study that found a striking difference between the point of gaze of menand women. In this study, “when presented with an image, women looked for longerperiods of time at fewer places, while men’s eyes moved more frequently over theimage” (Mitchell, 2009). This result may confirm the common belief that women aremore detail oriented, lingering patiently over a scene, as opposed to men that quicklyscan the image. It is interesting to note that according to some scientists, eventhough such difference in visual beha