You might have already come across the photographer Caroline Ruffault in the Lomography Magazine where she previously shared her creative photos. Women's History Month and International Women's Day provide us a new opportunity to interview Caroline. For 2021, the theme of this global day is #ChooseToChallenge, and it is through her magazine SheGazes that Caroline decided to challenge herself and question the photographic image, as well as society and its depiction of women.
Hello Caroline, could you introduce your project SheGazes to our readers? Why did you feel the need to create this magazine?
SheGazes is an art zine that tackles the representation of women in the photographic field. In 2016, I lived in Austin, Texas, an effervescent city with an important art scene. I probably was taking my first pictures for a clothing brand, and the barefaced model, a Jean Seberg lookalike, kept posing with a duckface. I wondered why she posed that way, in a desiring and charming way, and why as a photographer I also seemed to seek after desirable women, posing like so. At the time, an essay that I previously studied during my Erasmus in Liverpool came back to my mind. Already famous in most English-speaking countries but way less in France, the essay is named Visual pleasure and narrative cinema by Laura Mulvey. She describes the process of the male gaze through her studies of Hollywood films. I realized that the male gaze did not only exist in the film industry and was also present in fields such as photography or literature...
Once that I started thinking about the political dimension of images, I realized that it was difficult to capture a woman without sexualizing her. When I came back to France in 2017, I slightly copied my dear American friends and created SheGazes in order to show other types of women in photos, with also the intent to help women and photographers realize the existence of a whole ideology behind a picture. We see so many photos of women in bikinis, looking straight at the camera with an open mouth that it became regular for all of us. It is not. Nowadays, I even believe that those photos feed into the rape culture, a culture women participate in without even knowing.
SheGazes, the name is hence a reference to the term male gaze, but is it possible for a female photographer to bear a male gaze on the world?
Yes, of course! I am also a big fan of music, so I like the similarity with shoegaze.
A lot of female photographers reproduce the male gaze because of the photos surrounding us and the images people usually like to see. On the contrary, male photographers can have a female gaze on the world. The female gaze is not the perspective of a woman on the world, it is a way to film and capture women without objectifying them. It is to look with empathy, comprehend a woman in its wholeness, or even adopt her point of view and embrace her experience, it is not a matter of gender.
Is SheGazes a self-publication? What are the challenges of such status?
I had to invest a bit of money at the beginning, but now the sales cover the printing costs. However, I do not make money from it, so I cannot pay the participating artists, which is a downside.
Movements such as body positivism are taking a bigger turn however, the perception of women's body remains quite standardized. Different perspectives are often censored on social media, such as some photos posted on the Instagram of SheGazes. What do you think of that societal paradox, that we can't help but notice?
It is frustrating and rather stupid to censor a work of art because of a visible nipple, or because too much skin is showing. In the meantime, I feel like it points out our limits as a society, which leads us to react. We all are - men and women - locked up in intellectual schemes dictated by our society and our education, what matters is to be conscious of it and to keep on asking questions.
In your opinion, how does analogue photography gives freedom to female photographers?
From the very beginning, photography was a feminine medium. However, history only highlighted men. Nowadays, we can find the work of Gerda Taro, dead on the front line. Her photos of the Spanish civil war were unfairly credited to Robert Capa. The female pioneers of photography have strongly contributed to shaping the collective comprehension of women's rights and challenges.
We can observe the development of feminism within the art sphere, according to you, how could we take it one step further to denounce the gender inequality in this field?
If we take the example of the Guerilla Girls, a group of female artists founded in New York in 1985 in order to promote the place of women and people of colors in the world of Art, it is very clear that the evolution is rather slow. They started in the streets as a reaction to a MoMA's exhibition, which covered contemporary art throughout the work of 169 artists, of which only 13 women. Nowadays, the Guerilla Girls moved to the other side, and their work can be contemplated in museums. To be optimistic, there actually are several female initiatives to rehabilitate the works of females artists, erased and rendered invisible through history. The next step would be to include women in the newer history of art books.
As a female photographer and editor, what is your experience? Do you believe that gender has its importance? Do you have positive or negative experiences to share with us?
Personally, I never had to deal with a negative experience as a photographer. I cannot help but notice that we tend to lock up women with women-centered questions, while on other topics, men are much more voiced out and listened to.
What are the themes covered in the latest edition of "Growing Up Female"? What is the message you wish for SheGazes to send to younger generations of artists?
Growing up as a woman, what matters is to appropriate your own gaze. We look at ourselves in the mirror to question what we need to look like, and often it is through the male gaze. I believe women became the creator of a new gaze. We can learn to look at things differently, the important is to keep on questioning ourselves in order to not mimic what is expected from us. I also believe that the notions of both the female gaze and male gaze need to be taught in school, more particularly in middle school. On social media, young girls should know what a selfie can narrate and they need to be conscious of the political dimension a body and photos can hold.
Do you wish to share any news or incoming projects with us? Maybe the theme of your next edition?
The female gaze is not only about looking at women. For the next edition of SheGazes, I wish to open new perspectives. The theme is "Look at the world". The world has turned particularly strange lately, so it feeds numerous incredible perspectives.
We would like to thank Caroline Ruffault for sharing a moment with us. We hope that this interview inspired you! You can also follow Caroline activities on the Instagram as well as Website of SheGazes.