Last week I went to a small exhibition of the Benine photographer Erick Christian Ahounou. I had just read the chapters 'The Portrait in Photography' and 'The Body in Photograph' from Graham Clarke's 'The Photograph' and realized how much of what is discussed there was strikingly reflected in Ahounou's pictures.
The chapters discuss the way the relationship between photographer and subject are depicted in the photograph and how, especially visible in portraits and nudes, photography is an extension of preoccupations and attitudes towards male and female. Photographs of women are based on the way men look at them, passive and subjects of sexual fantasies (p125), beauty and passivity, (p105) whereas men in photographs are attributed power, strength and action (p105 and p130).
Now have a look at some of the photos that I saw at the exposition. The men:
I actually got pretty upset when looking at the photographs, perhaps even more after having been made aware of the way women and men are portrayed differently after reading the book. The photographs of the males show their individuality, strength and fighting spirit, whereas the photographs of the female mainly focus on their tits and bits. Their faces are covered or completely expressionless.
I wondered if the photograph had intended his work to bring about this reaction, because if so, it sure worked! But when I read more about him, I learned that in his images of African women, he wants to show the women's sensual, hidden side, especially since in a lot of African countries sexuality is a taboo and women's bodies are not portrayed in any erotic way. In a way, I'm okay with that, but why not do the same for men? I doubt his sincerity even more when I see the contrast between the photos.
In African countries, an extremely high number of women suffer from gender discrimination, sexual and domestic violence and have to struggle really hard to take care of themselves and their children. I wish mister Ahounou had shown the strength and value of the women, not just their bodies. But obviously, he doesn't really look at them in that way.
E.C. Ahounou 2013 <<3 : photos >> Pour l'amour du Sénégal. Dakar: La Musée Boribana. 01 Jan - 15 January
Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph. Oxford: University Press