The Janes are back

In last year’s Head On Photo Festival one of the most talked-about exhibitions was a collective work of four female photographers called See Jane Run at Depot 2 Gallery in Danks Street, Waterloo. This popular exhibition focussed on the representation of women and girls in art and in the media.

“After Midnight” (Photo: Jennifer Blau)
“After Midnight” (Photo: Jennifer Blau)

“We wanted to start an open dialogue, a conversation on the feminine ideal, body image and gender expectations,” says Julie Sundberg, one of the photographers from last year’s exhibition.

This year, under the name of See More Janes, two more photographers have been invited to exhibit – Sydney artist Jennifer Blau and New York artist Sam Heydt. “We are continuing the emphasis on ideas of body image and expectations but this year a key theme of the exhibition is the important transitions of womanhood,” says Julie.

This focus on transition begins with the work of Emma Phillips who documents one of the hallmarks of change, the dramatic change in dress code that occurs when girls start high school. “The shift is minor for boys but for girls it’s an enormous psychological adjustment,” Emma says. “Girls who wore shorts and t-shirts in primary school, and ran around kicking a ball or playing in the mud with their male peers, learn very quickly that once they reach high school, this is no longer okay – and the dress becomes the symbol of this limitation.”

Part of a 14-year series documenting Julie Sundberg’s own daughter from ages 7 to 21, this year Julie’s exhibit deals with her daughter’s coming to maturity at 14 years of age and her rapid physical development around that time. Entitled “The Tipping Point” Julie sees this age as a pivotal time for girls. “I felt compelled to photograph my daughter at that age because it was so important to capture that particular time of transition. “The Tipping Point” was made 10 years ago. “I am very conscious of how much life has changed for young people since then, due to the influence of the internet and social media.”

Julie will also be displaying a slideshow she has put together with her now 24 year-old daughter Sheena. “We are looking at media images of women and men, girls and boys, advertisements, gendered products – the same things we see when we watch TV, go to the movies, open a magazine or just leave the house. The sheer volume of images speaks to a superficial culture which has an accumulative and destructive effect not just on women, but also teenagers and children.”

Jennifer Blau’s work, “After Midnight”, looks at the other end of the spectrum, the emotional landscape of women in their 50s. Jennifer became fascinated with this stage of womanhood and began documenting it through a series of intimate and poignant photographs and conversations with women. “Living in a society obsessed with youth and beauty, many women fear invisibility and fading of their looks as well as the fading of their role as a mother,” Jennifer says.

Despite the barriers and perceptions that go with turning 50, Jennifer’s photos are both sincere and inspiring. “Everyone has their individual story to tell. This mid-life crisis is often an opportunity, as women reflect, take stock of their achievements and accumulated wisdom and discover a time of liberation and possibility. For many, it’s a window of opportunity that women in previous generations were not afforded.”

Other photographers deal with the period in between these transitions.

“Anna Warr always works in photo essays,” says Julie. “Last year she did a wonderful piece of documentary photography on women in rodeos. This year Anna has photographed female body builders at body builders’ competitions with scenes from backstage as well as in competition mode.”

In “Defect”, Fiona Wolf looks at her own inner conflict of accepting womanhood, and the constant fight between being a strong woman yet part of the so-called “weaker gender”. Using photographs from her work for last year’s show to create etchings from solar plates, this exhibit questions whether it is necessary to take on a more masculine identity to have success as a woman.

In “Skin Deep”, new exhibitor Sam Heydt looks at the way the female body has been turned into a commodity. Its meaning keeps being rewritten to suit market forces. Sam, a New York-based artist with a vast international academic and exhibition history, uses the visual language of the media itself to turn our attention to the irony of how big business creates fear and unattainable standards of beauty for women.

Last year the show attracted a wide variety of people who were visiting the Danks Street area.   Because of the location of the show among the many cafés and shops of the precinct there was a broad cross-section of visitors. “Many people who came through the door probably hadn’t planned to come but they were really stimulated by it.”

This year Julie expects the interest to continue: “We want this exhibition to encourage a conversation. This will be an exhibition for everyone, women and men of all ages. We want to talk to men as well as women because this affects us all.”

See More Janes opens on May 28 and will show at Depot 2 Gallery at 2 Danks Street in Waterloo until June 8.
Head On Photo Festival opens 17th May, view the full program at www.headon.com.au.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *