Hi, my name is Tomas Gunnarsson and I call myself a gender photographer. But really I think that’s a bit silly. Because we are all gender photographers. It’s hard not to capture gender in images.
Gender means socially and culturally constructed gender. When we see another human being, the first distinction we make is: Man or woman? It’s takes us – most often – a tenth of a second to decide. And just as fast we have expectations and prejudices about the person in front of us. Preconcieved notions that decide how we related to that person and that affects how the person view itself.
What’s seen as “male” in society has a higher status than what is considered “female”, and what men do is generally valued higher than what women do. Other things that have high status are having white skin color, being heterosexual and being without disabilities. What has a high status usually blends into society a little more smoothly and also has more to say about how society looks than what is attributed to lower status.
We correct ourselves and each other daily for invisible rules and expectations about what is “feminine” and “masculine”, and in this way we are with and recreate and stabilize these categories ourselves.
Gender is also something that is created in images every day. Whether you’re shooting gender in the wild or in a studio: you have a lot of choices as a photographer. You choose or influence the angle of the human object, body language, pose, gesture, posture – you choose light, focus, environment, distance, whether the person is smiling or not, if it is several in the picture – what roles you give them, you might have a say on clothes, makeup and props. And you also select the image. What is it that makes you choose just that picture and not the 500 you leave in oblivion on the hard drive? What is it that looks “right” with that particular picture, really? What would happen if you did “wrong”?
We have plenty of pictures of how the gender roles “should” be played. Pictures that limit us. That limits our imagination, our beliefs about who we can be. But we can create new rules. We are more malleable and changeable than we think. To show that this is possible, I see as my primary task as a gender photographer. To tickle the imagination.
It would require an army of gender photographers to erase all the images we have on the retina and instead fill them with images reminding that male and female, masculinity and femininity, are free to anyone to express. But somewhere you have to start.