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Object Women: Looking again at women in photography

22 March 2018

African American woman wearing white gloves, ca. 1855
Unidentified maker. African American woman wearing white gloves, ca. 1855. Daguerreotype with applied color. George Eastman Museum, gift of Eaton Lothrop. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum

Cardiff University academic Alix Beeston seeks to reimagine how women have been pictured through the history of photography in a new digital project.

This innovative new project, Object Women, features new images each weekday on Instagram. Over the next two months, it will move from the beginnings of the photographic medium to the present, drawing extensively from the collections of the George Eastman Museum.

The images are accompanied by brief written reflections exploring the depiction of women, as well as the way in which photographs make us aware of their own moment of encounter, the moment when photographer and subject meet.

Object Women is the brainchild of Dr Alix Beeston, Lecturer in English Literature. Dr Beeston has just published her first book on photography and literature in the early twentieth century. She is also currently teaching an undergraduate module on the representation of women, “Object Women in Literature and Film,” that picks up on some of the issues central to the Instagram project.

Dr Beeston places Object Women in the wider context of art history. As she explains, “For many years—and quite rightly--critics have focused on how the camera has been turned on women in ways that objectify them, turning them into objects of male fantasy and desire."

“This perspective has great resonance in our cultural moment, especially as the #metoo movement has cast a very public spotlight on how women are often treated as objects within patriarchal society. But I think it’s important for us to recognise how the objectified women, or the object woman, is not only an object woman, but also potentially a figure of resistance or protest—even if only in limited or symbolic ways."

“This new project on Instagram is an attempt to use a popular online medium to look in new ways at how women have been represented—as well as how women have represented themselves—through photography.”

Launched on 1 March, Object Women unfolds on Instagram until early May.

Dr Alix Beeston is a Lecturer in English at Cardiff University. Her first book, In and Out of Sight: Modernist Writing and the Photographic Unseen, is available now from Oxford University Press.

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