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  • Writer's picturecolinpantall

Dick Blau and the Feminist Household

I am excavating my blog (shut down by the great folks at Google) and came across this interview with Dick Blau. It reminded me of how terrific Dick is as a photographer of family, how he cuts across so many different strata in his work, in particular in books like Living with his camera and Thicker than Water

This is what he says about his work.

'I am trying to explore the feelings that come with family life. Love, ambivalence, and pleasure; dailiness, conflict, and drama; the birth and growth of children, the death of a marriage, and so on. These photographs are notes to the people I live with and love. And yet, despite their specificity, I also see them as part of a larger conversation underway in culture – about how we live over time in the institution of the family, about the complicated space of feeling we call domestic.' In this interview Blau talks about his 40 year project of photographing his family, Thicker than Water.

I love this project - the early years capture the time of the late sixties and early 70s and then there is a shift in tone and relationships when he moves in with a new partner, Jane Gallop. This partnership is described by Jane Gallop in an analysis of photography and domesticity through different authors. The most powerful parts are when Gallop deconstructs Blau's images through her direct experience, saying something about the illusory, fragmentary and fantastical nature of photography and the narratives it creates - this applies both to domestic photography and well, all photography really. Anyway, this is from the beginning of Living With his Camera by Jane Gallop. "The photograph on the cover is of me; it was taken by Dick Blau the day we started living together.... The picture implies that Dick was watching while I worked. Although in the instant he took this photo, that was literally true, it is a deceptive, misrepresentative truth. It leaves out the fact that he was busy cleaning in another room, looked up, "saw a photo in what I was doing, put down his work, came and took the picture, and then returned to work. ....... I put this picture on the cover because of the way - with its woman, its walls, its implements of household labor - it portrays domestic life. Domestic life is about dailiness, household work, but it's also about the body, intimacy and nakedness. Living with a camera means that both the domestic and the intimate are available to the camera's gaze. ...... Here I am holding a broom, with mop and pail romantically lit, beckoning in the background. The alluring mop recalls the genre of hokey television commercials that romanticize the housewife's work (she does it because it gratifies her; her desire for a clean house). My nakedness suggests a sexual fantasy underpinning the commercials . The fantasy housewife keeps the house clean and her flesh accessible to the man's every whim... This fantasy housewife here has no face; her head, located at crotch level, is a mass of dark hair; her head has become pubic. But this picture is also completely atypical. It's not that I rarely sweep in the nude, but in fact I seldom sweep at all. The photo catches me in an atypical moment, doing an atypical thing, and produces a compelling fantasy of me as a domestic woman. It is in the play between such fantasies and such realities that I'd like to locate this book - in the tension between the way this photograph is and isn't representative."


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