Is love really forever? And what’s really romanticism in modern society?
Growing up in Italy, where the mentality is still very traditional, social roles are very strict and those who are “not normal” can be judged very harshly. Women get sexualised all the time on tv and in advertisements, and men are expected to have a “hero” role model.
With this project, I tried to assert my interpretation of the narrative of capitalism, focusing on the dynamic of romantic relationships, with a critique on social pressure and the construction of personal relationships. I started with a broad concept, wanting to discuss topics such as women being sold as a commodity in the sex industry, how capitalism influences the dynamic in a romantic couple, and the power dynamics existing in modern relationships.
I started with images that presented capitalism, in terms of symbols of a pig mask, trying to reveal the truth behind intersubjective fiction. Pigs have numerous symbolic meanings, for example in “Animal Farm” by George Orwell they represent the government and leaders. In Homer’s Odyssey, the goddess Circe transforms most members of Odysseus's crew into pigs after they gorge themselves on a feast that she prepares for them (The Editors of, 2018) and that’s where the phrase “men are pigs” comes from. Another symbol I utilised was the Playboy Bunny, to symbolise commercialised love and sexism. Before the 1960s, sex was very much taboo and contraceptives were not very common. Playboy was first published in 1953, creating a controversial revolution in woman’s image. Women became accessories and status symbols, and a new sexualised role was created. (Eggert, 2017)
As I progressed, my goals slightly changed, and I focused more on exaggerating the narrative of commercialised love. The central idea is still the fiction and social construction in our culture. With the final project, I used the photos I took and adapted them to a romance novel format. Romance novels illustrate the gender roles engrained in mainstream society, better than any other form of media, as well as the power dynamic between them. Men are portrayed in dominant power roles, such as dukes, lords, and viscounts, who have money and land. They are empowered to do whatever they want. However, women are placed in subservient roles, depending on the men for their survival. The female lead will inevitably need the “male hero” to save her from something by the end of the book. Because no matter how much initiative the female hero has, she never has the power to solve her own problems (Townsend, 2015). The collective imagery of the romance novel greatly influences our cultural comportment.
What is the measure of photography’s influence on society’s behaviour, stereotypes and archetypes? Often photographic representation creates idealised expectations.
In his 2016 book “Homo Deus”, Yuval Noah Harari speaks about “intersubjective reality,” such as cultural beliefs, values, morals and institutions. The power is distributed in many ways by the fiction that we share. But there is a big distance between fiction and the idealised representation of the fiction that we see in media. For example, intersubjectively shared fiction of love is mediated by people with commercial interest, for example in jewellery advertisements, showing people on a perpetual honeymoon, not resembling the messy reality that is life.
Capitalism convinces us to share this fiction, by distributing and selling and normalising certain lifestyles, with the goal of selling a product.
Capitalism and romantic love are nowadays closely intertwined. The artist Anton Dymtchenko, in ‘The Twisted Relationship of Love and Capitalism’ states,
“We’re told we must be having fun, so we chase the highs of infatuation and orgasm. We’re told we deserve the best, so we keep swiping left until the perfect package pops up. We’re told more variety is better, so we jump on to the next person because we have to try that flavour. We’re told being alone is a problem, so we’re desperate to find someone.”
Everything is a transaction and to pursue that narrative, media creates relationship archetypes, roles, an idealised vision, and stereotypes, such as conventions of women being weak and needy, lesser than men. The man always needs to be a strong hero. A classic visual example of this stereotype is the romantic romance novels covers by Mills and Boon, Australia's undisputed market leader in romance fiction publishing.
As a society, our idea of what a real relationship looks like is already misconstrued, and social media only makes the problem worst.
It is no wonder that modern perceptions of what a relationship is supposed to look like are irrational, with famous couples brandishing themselves through unrealistic imagery.
For future generations, endless exposure to a "perfect" couple makes it difficult to realise that a partnership needs more than buying costly presents, going on lavish holidays or sharing intimate pictures together (Schmanske, 2018).
With this project, I anthropomorphise capitalism, acted out an analogy, and created a theatre and different roles and relationship dynamics. My intentions are to exaggerate, tear the dials up, reveal, uncover the fabric of social construction, and show a disingenuous representation of love. How many people suffer from a false ideal created in their heads, because of social pressure? Truth is not the story that is being sold. When you understand and recognise the construction of the fiction, you can be liberated from control, so I used my visual practice to unmask the constructiveness.
Reconstructive photography and collage are my techniques for this project. Other photographers, such as Erwin Olaf, use tableaux photography and studio lighting with hard contrast, which is also appropriate to my topic, so I adapted my own strategy by using light blocks, to recreate a strong contrast and theatrical atmosphere.
As Sarah Maple's artworks challenge notions of identity, religion and the status quo, my photography as well wants to challenge sexism and social rules.
Photography for me needs to be meaningful and with the goal of contributing to society. In this last year of my university course, I learnt a lot about photographic representation in media, I think we should be more aware of how photography could be deceptive and subjective. This project contributed to helping me see more of how much social constructions, we follow rules that somebody else decided for us, sometimes without asking ourselves why.
Eggert, N. (2017, 09 28). Hugh Hefner death: Was the Playboy revolution good for women? Retrieved from bbc.com: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41426299
Schmanske, H. (2018, 02 14). Unrealistic Expectations of Love . Retrieved from University star: https://www.universitystar.com/opinions/unrealistic-expectations-of-love/article_de77aace-eaf1-5755-9175-d6e27cb2ccca.html
The Editors of, E. (2018, 02 16). Circe- Greek Mythology. Retrieved from britannica.com: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Circe-Greek-mythology
Townsend, A. (2015, 06 10). Tropes of love: Gender Roles in Romance Novels . Retrieved from The Mary Sue: https://www.themarysue.com/tropes-of-love