anny lutwak explores the artifice in taking ‘natural’ photos of young women
The young photographer looks at the ways women’s problems are aestheticized and ignored.
Anny Lutwak began taking photographs when she was a 13-year-old living in Manhattan, experimenting with her first rolls of color film. Now a sophomore at Bard College, the artist is using photography to explore female sexuality and the ever-complicated issues of how it can be expressed, and also muffled. Her new series, "Female Trouble," looks at the physical struggles that women face and the way that gendered issues such as domestic violence, sexual oppression, and body image can be covered up, aestheticized, and trivialized. Lutwak paints a black eye on one subject, and adorns a penis with sparkles on another. Some of her images show the gory and graphic realities of abuse, while in others, the effects are much less discernible. Here, the artist discusses the ways that the female experience is portrayed visually, and how women are regaining control over their own photographic representation.
What was the thought process that led to this series?
The photos themselves triggered the thought process more than anything else. I started photographing this project with the intention of making a study of performance, and relating that to the way many of the issues women face are ignored or seen as false. As I began putting together the ideas and the photographs, I began to question my authority in the situation. I don't believe I have the qualifications to talk about some of things I'm dealing with in these photographs — which is difficult because I took them and take full responsibility for the images I created. It definitely made me think a lot about how far I can and should go with my photographs in terms of ethics.
What made you want to shoot staged situations? And in particular, why did you want to stage situations that showed the effects of violence?
I switch between staged situations and organic ones in my work, depending on the project. This one is centered on the idea of fabrication (or the belief that something is fabricated), so it only made sense to me to exaggerate that in retaliation. It's a way of saying, "Ok, you think we're making this shit up? Here it is, fake and pretty and wrapped up nice with a little bow." Our problems aren't pretty or easy to deal with. They're real, they're awful, and people need to start taking them seriously.
When women are captured on camera, do you think there's an expectation of fabrication or falseness?
I think there's definitely an expectation for women to be sexy, or particularly to act as a sexual character or object in photographs (as well as in real life). I think it depends a lot on the subject's relation to the photographer as well. Personally I look for moments where the person I'm photographing is less "on" for the camera.
Who are the women in your photos?
They're my friends, serving as models. For the most part I know them all pretty well, but I wasn't really thinking about their personal experiences in terms of the narrative of the photographs. What I did take into consideration was who would be comfortable doing what. We've all had our experiences with not being taken seriously because of our gender, and this project addresses that idea as a whole rather than my friends' specific experiences.
Why did you include a male nude, and why did you decide to decorate his penis in that way?
I wanted to include a sort of feminine objectification of the male body as a way of turning the male gaze in on itself. This collection of photos exists in a world for me where everything has a sort of aestheticized, classically feminine touch. There's a stigma against this in the art world — feminine art is often seen as less valid, crafty, or kitschy even — so I wanted to play with that and use it in a way that's hopefully empowering.
Do you see photography as an empowering tool for self-representation? Can it also aestheticize female struggles, and further victimize women?
I think it can really go either way. I have definitely seen problems women face aestheticized in photographs, but I've also seen photography as a tool for self-representation, and this project comments on that. Lately, I have been seeing an incredible amount of impressive work made by female-identifying people that are towards the empowering side of that spectrum, so I think as long as we are in control of how we portray our own experiences, there can be an extremely positive outcome.
Text by Blair Cannon
Photography by Anny Lutwak