I spend a lot of time on my phone these days. The endless scrolling feels like an escape from reality, but I realize it’s not. I’m rather entering some kind of hyperreality where more is more, and the world is made out of flat pictures. In this world, bodies only appears as two-dimensional objects, caught in suitable gestures to fit into the frame of an image. Realizing this, makes me see them everywhere; the poses.
Posing, performing; through movement and gesture turning oneself into an image.
I guess a pose is inevitably present in every photographic representation of the body. Practiced through repetition, consciously or unconsciously, and snap; the body becomes a picture. One picture becomes a thousand, becomes a million pictures. In the end, who knows wether the photographs are mirrors, or if we are mirroring the photographs. This loop of reproduction seems endless.
The history of posing goes back in time, as far as art history itself, and therefore the pose doesn’t necessarily exist only in relation to the camera. But the camera, together with its beholder or its presets, is a container of the gaze. It embodies and make obvious the way we see — by extension, also how we act. It has the power to establish, reproduce a certain set of visual representations, and through the pose the body is conforming to these.
I would, though, like to think that one can break this loop, or at least create a different loop. Break, as in questioning the impact of the image, as in challenging the expectation of the image. There’s potential in the in between, the fluctuation between being in and out of control, success and failure.
Posing tells me all this.
Looking at fashion photography, there are loads of images of bodies. Modernist ideals of shaping and balancing and harmonizing and restraining the body constitute a foundation from which fashion photography has evolved. Bodies conforming to the technology of the camera, rather than the other way around. This, for sure, is sort of awkward. The photographer and critic Éugenie Shinkle notes that this awkwardness has become an idiom in more recent fashion photography, a tool used to exaggerate and thereby question gender performativity. Uncomfortable attitudes, anxious, embarrassed gazes, knotted hands and body parts folded in uncomfortable angles, she writes, has become increasingly prevalent in the fashion press. Shinkle mentions Dazed & Confused and Another Magazine, together with photographers using hard flash and point and shoot aesthetics as examples of where the awkward pose first became a fashion language in the early 2000’s. I’m picking up the latest copy of Dazed, the winter 2022 issue, and the first thing I see is Doja Cat making a funny face. The 100 upcoming pages are filled with similar attitudes; models are crawling on the floor or gazing intensely into the lens while performing for the camera. It’s weird and awkward, in the best of ways.
This could be seen as the opposite of the modernist cohesive and rational images of the female body. Instead, in these exaggerated images of awkward posture, both the subject and the photographer fails to conform to a conventional image of femininity, as Shinkle argues. Instead, a sort of anti-pose is created — though it’s still a pose, or at least a performance for the camera.
Breaking the rules, being awkward and consciously failing to present a cohesive image, becomes a way of saying: ”I know you’re looking at me, but you don’t know who I am”.
What makes awkwardness an effective tool of refusal, if looking at Shinkle’s writing, is the way it affects the viewer. The pose isn’t only to be ”read” or interpreted in a semiotic manner, but it has the potential to awaken empathic processes. Embodied meaning. Awkwardness, communicated through gesture, is felt in the body. It’s uneasy to perform and thereby uneasy to look at. Viewing images of the body this way, not as something to decode or read but as a somatic experience, implies that meaning is created in meeting with the image. The photograph is given agency as an active participant in the loop of mirroring.
It’s interesting how this idiom in fashion imagery doesn’t seem to have reached the broader contemporary social media sphere. Online, cohesion and self presentation seem as important as ever. My Instagram Explore page suggests me to watch a video on how to pose for Instagram, and I’m immediately hooked. The whole thing is sort of meta. I keep looking for more, and only a few search words away I find endless of content telling me how to pose my body in order to gain popularity or seemingly present myself in a more cohesive, desirable and gender confirming way. According to the comment sections of these videos and images, the target group for this kind of inspirational content really wants to learn how to frame themselves to make sense to the gaze of the camera and avoid looking awkward.
What strikes me about this, is the overwhelming awareness of the fact that we’re all being looked at. Everyone’s aware, and everyone’s eager to take the opportunity of being in control of their own image. Bodies conforming to the technology of the camera, rather than the other way around.
Control seems to be desirable, and out of control becomes awkward.
This isn’t saying that image culture and self presentation online is one thing only. The internet offers opportunities for experimenting with self expression and nurtures new possible identities. To take control is often to take control back, to take ownership of one’s own body and the way it’s presented and situated in the world. And in this game, the photograph seems to play a huge part. In the end, it all comes down to the seemingly enormous power of the image. It’s like the meaning of the body is created through the camera. When the three-dimensional body (through the pose) becomes two-dimensional, it’s easier to interpret as one thing.
But the body is far from one thing. It wasn’t made to fit into the frame of an image, to be seen from one perspective only. I would like to think of the awkward, exaggerated pose as a way of interrupting the gaze. Refusing to conform. Failure standing between us and the image, breaking the expectations as of what we are to see. Through uneasy posture highlighting the uneasiness of having to relate to the camera. As a result we might get to discover something new.
In her manifesto Glitch Feminism, Legacy Russell writes about the glitch as an error, a failure to function, somethinggone wrong. Within glitch feminism, glitch is celebrated as a vehicle of refusal, a strategy of nonperformance. The pose gone wrong could be seen as a glitch in the system. Trying but failing, and embracing this failure as potential for new interpretations of the body. The glitch is a technical issue that breaks our vision; it makes obvious and it questions whatwe regard as normal and well functioning.
The glitched pose has the potential to do the same.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble : Tenth Anniversary Edition, Routledge, 2002. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gu/detail.action?docID=180211.
Dazed & Confused: Volume V, Winter 2022 Issue 278. London: Waddell Limited, 2022.
Shinkle, Eugenie. The Feminine Awkward: Graceless Bodies and the Performance of Femininity in Fashion Photographs, Fashion Theory, 21:2, 2017. Sid. 201-217.
Shinkle, Eugenie. ’Uneasy bodies: Affect, Embodied Perception, and Contemporary Fashion Photography’ in CarnalAesthetics: Transgressive Imagery and Feminist Politics. Red. Bettina Papenburg; Marta Zarzycka. London : I.B. Tauris ; 2013.
Russel, Legacy. Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto. London/New York: Verso, 2020.