How should the female gaze be defined?PHOTOGRAPHYLIGHTBOXReuel K Lara is the asexual, femme-identified photographer exploring her own femininity through the camera lens
The female gaze has become a buzzword. A catchall phrase for anything photographed by a woman, a liberating term that frees females from the male-constructed images that have defined femininity throughout the decades. However, despite existing as a political, positive term, the female gaze does not exist without its own set of problems. Initially progressive, photographers falling under the female gaze umbrella have found themselves criticised for their cis-only approach to the female experience.
Reuel Lara is a asexual femme identifying photographer whose glitter spangled, soft saccharine work – despite embodying the female gaze through subject matter and theme – has attracted criticism or denunciation due to the fact many viewers wrongly label Lara as a man, and therefore interpret her photography as objectifying their female subjects.
“The biggest misconception people have of me and my art is that I exploit women by creating images of them in lascivious ways, but in reality when I photograph my amazing girlfriends I want to create a space where they can be celebrated and represented.” Lara continues, “I don’t identify as a male and it saddens me to think that people don’t understand that gender is a construct and anyone who enforces these gender dichotomies are victims of mainstream culture’s garbage being shoved down our throats.”
“It saddens me to think that people don’t understand that gender is a construct and anyone who enforces these gender dichotomies are victims of mainstream culture’s garbage” – Reuel K Lara
“It’s sad to think that gender fluid/ asexual/femme identifying parties can’t create work wherein the female body can have a voice rather than the subject of exploitation”, Lara says. It seems somewhat conflicting that on the one hand, people are quick to criticise fourth wave feminism and the photography therein as exclusive and cis-centric, but when a non-cis woman puts her work out there she is labelled not femme enough to be capturing the female experience.
However, the criticism does not deter Lara from creating images that frame femininity as a tool for social activism. Hoping to represent women of colour, non-skinny girls and the femme-identified experience in general, Lara has only been shooting for just over seven months. Already acutely aware of the exclusive nature of the art world, she hopes to shine a light on her Washington DC-based community and learn more about her own identity through shooting her peers.
“Feminism is the fight for equality, and part of that is the fight for everyone, regardless of where we fall on gender or sexuality spectrums, to be able to do whatever the hell we want without being deemed worthy recipients of sexual aggression.” She says, “lets all be progressive and stand with one another because we all can’t be oppressed artists anymore. We all deserve to have representation for the work that we put out there.”