In Conversation with… Eugenie Shinkle

I met with Eugénie Shinkle, Reader in Photography in the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster in London, to ask her about her current research on fashion photography, focusing on what she has coined, ‘the feminine awkward.’   

Esmeralda, New York, Hart+Lëshkina. The plastic chair is made into an extension of the body.

Esmeralda, New York, Hart+Lëshkina. The plastic chair is made into an extension of the body.

How would you define your concept of the ‘the feminine awkward’? 

It’s a way of thinking through changing representations of the female body and femininity as these are linked to shifts and developments in the creation and sharing of images.

Does it relate to specific fashion imagery? 

Yes, certainly. It relates to contemporary fashion imagery, work of roughly the last ten years where you’ll see a shift from images that specifically try to deal with grace and beauty, to images that try to deal with discomfort, awkward angles, a fragmentation of the body, what you might call gracelessness. It is different from the sort of alternative photography that was going on in the 1990s: Corinne Day’s images for example, images of real people in sometimes quite down-market surroundings. That was about a certain type of lifestyle. The newer work that I am thinking about is very much focused on individual bodies. So I am thinking of SynchrodogsHart+LeshkinaRen Hang to a certain extent. And certainly someone like Viviane Sassen.

How do these images affect the relationship between the viewer’s body and the model’s body? 

This is where it’s really interesting to start looking at models from the point of view of neuroscience, in which the basic idea is that what we experience visually is not just about vision, but that vision has various tactile stimuli incorporated into it. It’s about something called ‘sensory crossover’ and the fact that none of our sensory inputs are experienced in isolation. The one area that interests me a lot is ‘mirror neuron theory,’ which is the idea that when you look at an image of pain, the same neurons in your brain are firing as if you were actually experiencing pain. It’s the foundation of human empathetic response.

Sensory crossover is a fact of all image perception, but it’s particularly pronounced in fashion imagery, which incorporates sensations of touch, movement, and pose. Images that are ‘awkward’ are those that grab you, that give rise to a certain visceral response quite quickly. It’s a different way of catching and holding a viewer’s attention than, say, ‘shocking’ imagery.

Can they be seen as reaction to the idealized beauty of traditional fashion photography?  

I don’t like to see them simply as a reaction to conventional fashion photography because a lot of it has to do with technology as well. It has to do with the speed at which images of the body are disseminated, the rapidity with which they are received, the relationship that we have with images of our own bodies and other bodies. Part of this idea of awkwardness is not just a rejection of beauty it is an acknowledgement of the relationship between bodies, observers and images. That relationship is changing quite profoundly. I certainly see it as something that belongs to more than the limited contexts of fashion.

Synchrogos is a photography duo formed by Tania Shcheglova and Roman Novan

Synchrodogs is a photography duo formed by Tania Shcheglova and Roman Noven

How do they affect notions of femininity? In Viviane Sassen’s work for example, there is something very liberating in the fact that the bodies do not bear the conventional attributes of femininity; the body is made into a prop and becomes part of a broader formal experimentation. 

There is a kind of subversion of feminine identity through purposeful awkwardness, through the making of the body into featureless blobs. I agree with the idea that you can look at them as liberating because all the signifiers of femininity that fashion photography has traditionally exaggerated and made the essence of the feminine are made into something else in quite a humorous way. You can also see how this could be problematic, however. Erasing it, making it invisible is not necessarily a constructive way of challenging notions of femininity.

CALL FOR PAPERS – Posing the Body: Stillness, Movement, and Representation

Gazette du bon ton, 1921, History of Dress Collections, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Gazette du bon ton, 1921, History of Dress
Collections, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Friday 6 May 2016, Regent Street Cinema, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW

Saturday 7 May 2016, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN

CALL FOR PAPERS

Posing has been central to art, dance, and sculpture for thousands of years. In recent years, the growing interest in fashion media and modelling has also focused attention on questions of pose and posing. Incorporating notions of movement and stillness, posing can be understood in terms of historical modes of representation, as well as contemporary media and rapidly evolving relationships between bodies, subjects, and technologies of representation. Posing incorporates symbolic and semiotic meaning alongside embodied action and feeling. Recent coverage of the work of choreographer Stephen Galloway in 032c magazine, and new publications such as Steven Sebring’s Study of Pose: 1000 Poses by Coco Rocha testify to the growing interest in the cultural significance of posing and the pose – yet both remain under-researched areas with little discussion of their significance.

This symposium will assert the importance of pose as both a creative practice and an emerging area of critical inquiry. It will bring together multi-disciplinary academics and practitioners to discuss and develop new ways of understanding pose and posing in a historical and contemporary context. We encourage proposals for papers that address pose from global and diverse perspectives. This event represents a potentially fruitful and exciting moment to bring these strands together to the benefit of researchers within practice and theory-based media, historians of dress, photography, art and film and allied disciplines.

The keynote lecture will be delivered by David Campany, internationally recognised writer and curator, and Reader in Photography at the University of Westminster.

Possible themes include (but are not limited to):

Modelling (fashion and artistic)

Gesture Dance (popular and classical)

Pose and the everyday

Movement and stillness

Posing, corporeality and the body

Posing and social media (Blogs, Instagram, etc.)

Submission process: Please submit abstracts of 150-200 words in English, along with a short biography of approximately 100 words to Posingthebody@gmail.com by 2 October 2015.

Organised by Rebecca Arnold, Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld Institute of Art; Katherine Faulkner, Study Skills and Widening Participation Academic Coordinator, The Courtauld Institute of Art; Katerina Pantelides, Visiting Lecturer, The Courtauld Institute of Art and Eugénie Shinkle, Reader in Photography, University of Westminster.