In early October YEP was invited to the opening of the SEEN exhibit. SEEN is a collection of works by Crooked Images – a body-positive, boudoir photography studio in Perth, for women. The exhibit took place in Whitespace Gallery Studios in Fremantle.
Walking into the opening night it was like any other hot event – the crowd was buzzing, drinks were in hand, and women were posing and posting selfies on their insta accounts…but this was no ordinary art exhibit.
This exhibit illustrated how boudoir photography could enable women to have a voice, to be heard, to share their stories, and to gain power. You wouldn’t be alone in wondering how on earth could taking your clothes off achieve all these things? Well, it all starts with unpacking the constructs of how female bodies are portrayed in art.
The owner and photographer of Crooked Images, Lauren Crooke, discussed how her art studies at TAFE lead her to research Renaissance art. She uncovered that this art played a significant part in where the oppression and sexualized representation of women originated from in Western culture. She realised that this lead the way for how women were painted and continue to be portrayed. She spoke about how the Renaissance paintings were made for the male gaze, painted by men, and with a general overview of women as merely a subject-matter. She went on to discuss how at the time of the Renaissance, women did not have a voice in their communities.
Crooke wanted to design a space for the female gaze – a space created by women for women. Crooke is passionate that her work is for ALL women – those assigned female at birth, trans women, or non-binary people that identify with being in a female space. Crooke spoke about how she wanted the exhibit to represent all bodies, in their truthful beauty.
Crooke chose the medium of boudoir photography to develop the work. The term boudoir is a French word, originating from the 18th century. It was used to describe a woman’s bedroom or private room. It is an intimate place that she has all to herself. In the same way, boudoir photography is an intimate photography session taken for the subject and her own personal reasons. Crooke chose to use the medium of boudoir photography, to rewrite the style of Renaissance art she sought to reject, and created a space where women were no longer a subject matter – they were in control.
The exhibit showcased highlights of work developed over 18 months by the company. The exhibit separated into two main categories – individual closed boudoir shots (which included people both semi-clothed and naked) and group nude shots.
The individual boudoir shots were accompanied by women’s written stories. These were unedited accounts of women discussing their life in relation to their bodies. Women talked about shame in their bodies, disappointment, a disconnect, a hatred. Some women talked about how their bodies may have had been used or had experiences that were out of their control and then how this disconnect between their bodies and their sense of womanhood was greatly impacting them moving forward and affecting their general lives. – Then enter boudoir photography! Many of the women signed up to the Crooked Images shots after seeing adverts for the exhibit in women’s groups. The adds promoted a safe female boudoir shoot and an exhibit where proceeds from the shoots will go to women’s organisations. To date over $7,000 has been raised for Zonta House, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance and Warrawee Women’s Refuge. The stories accompanying the individual shots at the exhibit ranged from people arriving at the studio being timid or apprehensive, to feeling ready. Crooke spoke about many women feeling ‘terrified’ when they arrived, but that it was important to her and her team that this was a women’s space where each woman who volunteered her body to a shoot was in control – she was in control of how far things would go. ‘Some women didn’t make it – and that’s ok’, she went on. But as you could read from the personal stories on the walls of the exhibit, and as Crooke discussed, ‘every time someone attends, they have this crazy exhilarating experience…it’s a transformation.’ Women spoke about how the shoots had radically changed their perceptions of their bodies and in turn their lives.
In contrast to traditional exhibits where the subject matter and material are clearly named, Crooke chose to leave the pieces untitled – allowing the women in the shots to speak for themselves. The pieces illustrated a large cross-section of communities and experiences and were at undisclosed locations – this allowed women viewing the pieces to somehow see themselves in the work – and in turn, they themselves could also be seen. This exhibit had managed to rewrite history, where women were in charge of how their bodies are displayed, and how they are viewed.
As you looked around the gallery at the group nude shots, you could begin to identify that the women that were posing in front of the images, in bunches of what looked like old school friends, updating their social media accounts, were in fact, the women in the shoots – strangers united by how similar they all were, but also by how different they were. United these women laughed, hugged, and clinked cocktails, but most of all they praised and held each other up in their newfound sisterhood. This boudoir shoot had created a place for women to unite and bask in their distinct power.
Crooke’s comments summed up the night: ‘I want to show anybody and everybody what women’s bodies look like and how beautiful and what pieces of art they are’.