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This Is Not The Red Carpet

The scenes of this project, taken during the Cannes International Film Festival 1993, are unthinkable now. For some, it was also unthinkable and unbelievable then.

Before me was a microcosm of the unequal power distribution of a time in history between men and women. No matter how loud feminists shouted, the dominant culture was deaf. Feminism was a dirty word.

During the film festival, while the famous graced the red carpet above, the photographers traversed La Croisette below finding subjects willing to be photographed.

I’d observed the photographers the year before. Returning in 1993 and immersed in feminist literature of the time, five months pregnant, armed with my own camera and the only female with one, I followed these events for the duration of the festival.

Before me was a manifestation of the fundamental unequal power relations between men and women within a wider dominant culture that perpetuated the objectification of women’s bodies and images that the culture of that time absorbed. It was something women had become socialised into wanting to embody and men possessing women who wanted to embody it.

While this project got some attention at the time in my home country, New Zealand, and the conversation was fierce, I personally faced drowning in a sea of domesticity. I too felt powerless. Dreams of being a documentary photographer were lost. This was a time when motherhood, femaleness and being a documentary photographer were unaligned.

Through the domestic world I was living I lost all confidence personally and as a photographer. This Is Not The Red Carpet got shelved. It’s taken this long to shake off the inequalities of a past, to value its worth and for this project to find the life it missed out on.

This was my pioneering project, a response to my immersion of third wave feminism. It’s black and white. A historic document of how things were, and a reminder of how far we’ve come when confronted with a glimpse of culture that gave rise to the Weinsteins of now.

Excerpt from 1993:

“There is a photographer in every bush, going about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (Samuel Butler)

This series of photographs depicts one aspect of a diverse range of hype, excitement and glamour aside from the cinema during the Cannes International film festival. The photographs were taken on the beaches around La Croisset during the two week festival of May 1993. La Croissette is an area full of activity, musicians, performers, ice cream vendors, merry go rounds, beaches and bathers.

Men could be seen walking the beaches daily ‘spotting’. Sometimes their subject would be oblivious and sometimes she would be aware. Most of the ‘targeted’ females were willing subjects and would respond accordingly. Within minutes one photographer would be joined by another and then by an entire crowd. The photographers ‘could have’ been journalists. Fashion photographers, talent spotters. Glamour (pornographic) photographers or ‘photographic enthusiasts’ the subjects would never know. It almost didn’t matter. This was Cannes and anybody could be somebody.

There is a greater need to understand that this is not necessarily about the individual but should be seen within a wider sociological context. It is an ideology that determines what constitutes an event. It is no coincidence that one is exposed further to images of fully clothed men behind their camera’s, and half naked women posing for them. It can be seen as a manifestation of fundamentally unequal power relations between men and women within in our culture.

It is part of a wider dominant culture that perpetuates the objectification of women’s bodies and images that our culture absorbs through our language, literature, media, advertising, magazines, pornography and so forth. It is something women have become socialised into wanting to embody and men possessing women who want to embody it. It can be seen as a result of the unequal distribution of power and wealth where women are predominantly in positions of low economic reward and status. Female models are the only industry where, proportionally, they are paid more than men.

Unequal nakedness almost always expresses power relations (examples can be made: the black slaves in the antebellum south were naked serving their white masters, prisoners in modern jails are made to strip in front of clothed prison guards). We live in a culture where we are constantly exposed, particularly through advertising, to images of half-naked or naked women and men who are fully clothed.

The camera is a very powerful tool. It is a tool that can be used to explicitly encourage whatever is going to keep on happening. It would not be possible for the photographers to approach a woman and stare at her for 10 minutes without a camera (video). The camera has transformed one person into something active, a voyeur and another into something passive, an object. It has also become more than an act of observation, girls and women have been turned into objects that can symbolically be possess.

Each still photograph is a privileged moment, turned into an object that one can keep, reproduce and look at again. It is participating in another person’s vulnerability; the observer has knowledge of this subject that they in turn may never have. The subjects have had a moment of being the centre of attention, they have made their bodes available and now it is all over.

Like guns and cars, cameras have become fantasy machines whose use is addictive. There seems to be no limit to what they can do. The terminology of ‘loading’, ‘aiming’ a camera and ‘shooting’ a film can be likened to that of a gun. Instead of looking through a telescopic sight to aim a rifle, there is a view finder to shoot film *1

We are given to understand male sexuality, desire and fantasies are harmless that it ‘let’s off steam’: that the images depicting the objectification of women’s bodies, whether for persona use or advertising is ok. The reality is, however, that the sexual abuse of women and children, endemic in our culture can be seen as a logical extreme end of the spectrum of the inequalities between men and women and this is not ok,

“….and after the event has ended, the image will still exist”

Sara Orme 1993

View more images here

All enquiries regarding this project are welcomed

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