Gender, Photography, and Narrative: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Visual Narrative in Photographs of Gendered Space

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM
Suffolk Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Susan Close , University of Manitoba and St. John's College
In this paper, I argue that photographic images made by the noted Victorian photographer, Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822-1865) are significant examples of visual narrative made in gendered space.  Lady Hawarden is one the earliest significant examples of the photographic practice of women.  Most of Hawarden’s images feature her adult daughters and reflect gendered space in the private, domestic interiors of Victorian Britain.
            My analysis approaches Hawarden’s work from a perspective of cultural analysis wherein the act of reading an image is the final act of a collaboration between the photographer and viewer in which the photographer creates and the viewer decodes (Bal 2004, Mitchell 2005). In reading a photograph, one treats the image as a visual text.  It is widely accepted that that this reading of photographic images is informed by Semiotics, the study of the use and social function of signs, both linguistic and visual (Silverman 1983).  Photography is of particular interest to semiologists because of its indexical nature.  Semiotics allows for the consideration of texts resulting from combinations of signs that yield meaning.
My readings of Hawarden’s work will employ concept-based, semiotic analysis.  I will use a framework that reads a selection of Hawarden’s images in relationship to pertinent concepts such as gendered space, privacy, mise-en-scene and narrative.
Whereas there are studies of gendered space in relationship to architects and professional practice (Adams & Tancred 2000, Ainley 1998) and of photographic practice as it relates to design (e.g., Mitchell 2005), none examines the photograph as a coded message or visual text. This paper builds on studies from archival and geographic analysis of photographs as objects that carry social history and cultural memory (Schwartz 2008).  This study adds an important dimension by examining Hawarden’s images as artifacts that reveal attitudes and practices related to narrative in Victorian Britain.
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