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Marjan Zahed Kindersley :: Contemplations on the Bra

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Pleasure is a rather simple, yet complex subject. In the basest of terms it can relate to a pleasant state of being. However, on a larger, theoretical platform it consists of a series of subjective ideas implicating both the individual and society at large.

The pleasure that I experience from hearing the click of my old M3 Leica is, for me, a state of euphoria, especially when I consider that I have been instrumental in capturing a shot that may give others pleasure. The very fact that in photography, a rather scientific art, there are so many coincidences that need to fall into place to create an image is exciting and a matter of pleasure to me.

I “discovered” the bra five years ago. An object of everyday life, it is an item both simple and complex in its meanings. On the practical side, it holds breasts; but when considered in the context of feminine identity and issues of gender it can be much more. Throughout history and across cultures, women’s bodies have been subjected to the demands of decidedly singular ideas about the female form. To be sure, even in our modern time, when women enjoy more freedoms than ever before, many cultures still attempt to impose an asymmetrical body as a standard for women. To this end the bra serves as an instrument of transformation, and the bra itself has seen many changes in its structure and purpose since its invention: Some liberating, some overtly seductive, some practical, and some even comforting, as in the case of breast cancer victims. The bra is a connecting symbol, and is female or feminist as need be.

In a way, I rather hesitate to give too much direction in what a bra should symbolize. People have their own ideas, as many as the shapes and sizes of breasts in the world. As an artist all I can do is challenge people to evaluate those ideas, and perhaps re-imagine them. As a photographer I appreciate the bra’s structural and textural qualities, as well as its ability to push a semiotic approach in the Visual Arts.

I don’t actually wear one, except on special occasions when I am deliberately out to seduce or plan a specific reaction. A while ago my luggage was lost and all I had in my handbag was my camera, film, light meter, and my bra. The lady at the airline counter thought I was pretty barmy, but she gave me an overnight bag.

Few artists will admit that their work arose for practical reasons. Once while photographing in Paris I read the phrase: “Montre-moi ton objet de desire, et je vais te montrer qui tu es” (Show me your object of desire and I will show you who you are). In an attempt to satisfy this maxim, I took up the practice of photographing cellos around the city. Nothing. Nothing happened. The pictures I took failed to inspire me, and the cello—often a stern and severe object—proved difficult to transport through the crowded streets. Short on time, I was forced to be creative with my subject, and the contents of my bag were, as I have said, limited as well.

And so the series began with the contents of my bag and a love of baths. I was staying in a little studio flat in Paris, where the baths are a cross between a Swiss and an English one, with, of course, dubious plumbing. In photography, rather like life, everything is negative and positive in order to present an image: Hot and cold tabs, my legs almost showing, but not really; a line here, another not so straight. Unexpectedly, I can be a bit of a prude. “Self Portrait” is really just a hint at steam.

Since that time the bra has become a focal point of my work. At times it represents me and my feelings about my own life, as was the case with, “Open Cage.” During this period I felt trapped, ironically so, by the realization that I had too many choices. This is a common paradox these days, and I wanted to show that there was an open door.

The bra is at other times an expression of my thoughts about other women, or what I believe women aspire to be. “The Hitchhiker,” photographed in an area of California populated with pristine villas, reveals my other obsession for water hydrants and their personalities across the world. Of course, this one is a reminder of the older, seducing Mrs. Jones. The fun bit is that Mrs. Jones wants to hitchhike far away. Sadly, she smiles, though unable to move an inch.

I believe this stalled state is mostly the result of fear. Not Kantian fear of the unknown, but quite the opposite; it is fear of the known. Though this isn’t an experience particular to women, concepts like finances, social expectation, guilt, and familial duty suddenly become important. To be sure, there are a lot of Shirley Valentine’s, women and men alike, who desire an escape from the mundane routine of their lot.

And what could be more mundane than household chores? I loathe household chores, although I have been known to iron lovers’ boxer shorts. Don’t ask. Some seem to find ironing therapeutic. If anything, I adore chopping veggies. But ironing? Yet, when absolutely everything falls apart, there are rhythmical ways of “finding” one’s self again. My bra doesn’t need ironing. In fact, I deliberately leave any marks that it amasses. It blends in, but at the same time remains its own experience.

There is, of course, a traditional allocation of domestic chores. I was raised to learn them, but not to indulge in them. Being brought up this way, I have never been able to watch a man do my ironing or washing, but I will gladly let him take the bin down! Variances in our ideas about the allocation of household and other chores, even through small actions, work to create multiple images of women, and people in general.

The bra is a humorous and multifaceted object. For many, the image of a woman is consumed by the presence of her breasts. Likewise, many women identify with femininity through the acknowledgement of their breasts. “Blind Mask,” taken in a village in Lower Saxony, is an expression of these values. Very much tongue in cheek, it hints at the levels in which we choose to show ourselves and choose to see the world.

The head of the African mask, which didn’t have eyes in the first place, presumes tires. This I saw as an expression of the machinations of the linear and zigzag thinking of the human brain, as well as technology. The bra represents pure sexual thought in juxtaposition to these ideas—hinting, testing, and challenging.

People wear masks all of the time: All day, according to our desires to be seen, or to blend in. The funny bit is that everyone plays along with these games, though deep down we recognize it as a falsehood—a game. Suggestive of this duality in our action, the mask is grinning, while a “doubting Thomas” appears at the bottom.

Just as my work reflects the different ways in which women, and men, approach ideas about femininity in their daily lives, so too does the response to the work vary among men and women.

This evening I popped into the gallery where my work is currently displayed. A couple walked in. The man was eager to understand and started to ask me questions, especially technical and philosophical ones. The woman, however, I gathered felt threatened by the images. Perhaps she hadn’t really thought about these ideas before; I am not sure.

Living in Europe I enjoy an equal legal status with men. I have noticed, however, that women who feel insecure in their positions very often react to the photographs in a very personal way. Too personal, I think. Men, and women who are more secure in their aesthetic tastes, find humor in the photographs.

Whilst photographing my bra in Tunisia, a Muslim country, my driver was really “getting into it” and started to come up with ideas. The women giggled.

Ah, that is pleasure too. One day, I would very much like to organize a project with another photographer, one that photographs the people passing by, or those who stand still full of emotions, when they see me photograph my bra.

For the most part my work is well received, and I am most excited when people see the different levels that are my intention. At first a good giggle, but an image that one can look at again and again: One that is sometimes anecdotal, sometimes a social commentary, but always giving and receiving pleasure.

Misty Ericson
Misty Ericson holds a BA in English & Comparative Literature from San Jose State University, California, and an MA History of Art from University of Leeds, UK. In addition to her work on HerCircleEzine.com, which she founded in 2005, Misty enjoys painting in her studio and restoring her home in the English countryside.
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