Week 5 - Gazing at Photographs

The steady intent look post-surfing    Zoe , April-2018. Sophie Bradley

The steady intent look post-surfing

Zoe, April-2018. Sophie Bradley

Oxford dictionaries defines “gaze” as a “steady intent look”. In relation to my project I would say my steady and intent look, my gaze, is at the representation of women in advertising, in particular advertising by surf brands. To extend from that I realise I look at many other areas of writing, T.V, and film, with that same mindset – how women are represented in and by the media. Through my project I am intending to show an alternate view of the women in surfing, than that which is portrayed in advertising. I hope to positively show that differences do exist throughout the population of female surfers, but in doing so I wonder whether by taking more photographs of women I am merely adding to the practice of judging women on how they look rather than what they do, or who they are. The nature of my own photographic gaze is perhaps voyeuristic in that I am asking for and recording glimpses into their lives, lives that I am not a part of and cannot have. This could be said about all photographs we take of other people. All photographs of others could be viewed as voyeuristic, they all record other peoples lives for our, and our viewers, consumption and judgement.

As above, I am hoping my project will show that not all female surfers are the ones seen in magazines and advertisements, that the reality of who female surfers are is different. From the gaze of some female viewers I have spoken to, this is something that comes across. However that is not to say that all women will react the same way to the work. Some may see the work as just another way to judge women on their appearance, or as not a true representation of female surfers depending on the variety or breadth of women in the project. Others may see it as a negative view of female surfers in the UK or surf culture in the UK when viewed in comparison to the glossy brand/magazine-edited social media lives of professional surfer-models that live (or are at least photographed) in the seemingly exotic pacific islands. Perhaps in turn leading to viewing the female surfer as something “exotic” and “other”. Perhaps the view of female surfers hasn’t moved on a great deal from the 18th century, when British explorers first witnessed and recorded native Hawaiians surfing; equating surfing to the pacific islands. Perhaps also leading to equating surfers to those same, genderless, pacific islands.

Bright (1985)[i], wrote that media, including the advent of cowboy movies in the 20th century established the American wild west landscape as a masculine construct. The image of the wild west American landscape, a genderless geographical feature, is now synonymous with the rugged cowboy image; with what it means to be a man, someone who can tame the wild west. In a similar respect the sea, also a genderless geographical feature, has long been thought of in a feminine construct. Much of nature is often thought of as feminine, the idea of ‘Mother Nature’, for example, (I believe from the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth; Gaia). Thus the idea of the sea as woman is a life-giver, a creator, the wild nature that cannot be tamed. Hemingway wrote in “The Old Man and the Sea”[ii] that the protagonist thought of the sea as a woman, “He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her.” (pg.19) and “the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.” (pg.20).  

This view of the sea as a woman may influence the reading of my images of women surfers. Viewers may equate the images of these female surfers with the wild and tempestuous nature of the sea; as strong and powerful women. Or they may liken the images to the life-giving nature of the sea and read the women as creators and nurturers, keeping the image of them in the home rather than as sports women.

This could be a possibly very interesting take on the project and I wonder whether my images would be read in this way, and whether perpetuating the judgement of women but in this respect, rather than the more one dimensional advertising images, would change the judgements made about women surfers. Whether it could change the conversation about who female surfers are, and how they are seen by other surfers or the wider non-surf community. 


[i] BRIGHT, Deborah. 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men. exposure, 23(1).      

[ii] HEMINGWAY, Ernest. 1952. The Old Man and the Sea. London: Arrow Books