Who me?

A Couple of weeks ago, Salon.com featured a story by Haley Morris Cafiero, a Memphis photographer and Head of Photography at the Memphis College of Art, whose work was on view in the Mallory/Wurtzburger exhibition, Wait Watchers. Cafiero’s body is the focus of her work. Posing herself in public spaces, she captures the reactions of others to her presence. In recording often judgmental, mocking, or critical glances, Cafiero in effect turns the lens back onto those who are watching her. Thus, she reverses the gaze. See Morris-Cafiero's article here.   

The act of watching or looking was frequently explored in French Impressionist painting. The gaze of the flâneur—a casual observer of the streets, cafes, and salons of nineteenth-century Paris is perfectly described in the work of Impressionist painter Jean-Louis Forain. In characterizing her own work, Cafiero states “I was thrilled I could capture a gaze that is so fleeting and quick.” Her words—fleeting and quick—remind me of The Look, a watercolor by Forain in the Dixon collection.  Forain’s nimbly-executed studies of interactions between women and men often record the briefest glance like those that Cafiero captures in her photographs. The Look, in which a gentleman leans toward a woman and peers unabashedly at her, was published on November 15, 1892 in La Revue Illustrée with the caption: “I haven’t been stared at like that in years!”   

Both Forain’s and Cafiero’s perspectives consider the implications of the gaze. Not surprisingly, they come to opposite conclusions. Forain’s female subject finds her admirer’s forthright stare exhilarating; whereas in Cafiero’s photos, the subjective gawking of her unwitting onlookers reveals the negative possibilities that reside within the gaze. 

JEAN-LOUIS FORAIN French, 1852-1931 The Look, 1892 India ink, conti, and watercolor on wove paper.  Museum purchase with funds provided by Brenda and Lester Crain, Hyde Family Foundations, Irene and Joe Orgill and the Rose Family Foundation, 1993.7.6

Posted by Chantal Drake at 12:24 PM
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