Paula Aparicio – Untitled (2014)
If there is a single, salient aspect to Aparicio’s work it’s likely the way her photos exude a feeling of post-coital tension between “the waning of ecstatic satiation and the waxing hunger of wanting more.”
This tendency is well suited to her style; but, it’s especially noticeable in the way she photographs women.
I’ve lobbed a couple of shots over the bow of the Good Ship Female Gaze previously–namely with regard to Masha Demianova’s claim her work cultivates an equal and opposite response to Berger’s seminal male gaze as presented in Ways of Seeing.
And although I am doubtful, Aparicio would ever invoke the term female gaze to explain her own work, it would almost certainly be more functional applied to her work than anywhere else I’ve witnesses its deployment.
Upon what grounds to a base such an assertion? I am (unfortunately and much to my eternal chagrin) male bodied; therefore what the fuck can I possibly know about a female gaze?
Well, if there is such a thing as the female gaze–unlike the historical male gaze–it’s almost certainly the opposite of monolithic.
I know that growing up seen by others as ostensibly masculine, my experience of attraction, gender identity and sexual desire almost never lined up with my peers.
And I do realize it’s a dangerous assumption to take the braggadocio of hormonal male children as fact based, but I do know that while far ahead of puberty I shared an almost clinical fascination with sexual intercourse and that this fascination was age appropriate within my peer group, it remained a complete abstraction.
Let me try to unpack that a bit more–I feel a very profound need to articulate this correctly. We’d talked about sex, spent hours imagining the mechanics of it and my friends all tended to extend that imagining by connecting it to their sexual response. There was no separation in the expression of attraction and their sexual desire.
What I thought was attraction was actually a need to be understood. The people who listened to me, supported me and shared glimpses of their inner lives were always the people to whom I found myself drawn.
I remember the first time I ever experienced an attraction that linked up with my sexual desire. It was ninth grade. Her name was Michelle. She was my best friend and she’d had a growth spurt over the summer between junior high and high school. She didn’t really notice and I think her family was struggling to make ends meet with private school tuition, so she kept wearing the same clothes she had the previous year. Her favorite pair of pants were these white khakis. They’d been a bit on the tight side the previous year but now they might as well have been skin tight.
I remember walking behind her to class and noticing the visible lines caused by her underwear. I looked away, immediately. Partly because, I felt like I was violating her privacy but also because I found myself stunningly aroused. But my thoughts didn’t proceed from there to a litany of sexual things I’d like to enact with her. Instead, it orbited the notion of wandering if she felt toward me the way I felt towards her in that moment. The thought that there might be a possibility she did was the fantasy I brought myself to orgasm with again and again throughout high school. (Spoiler alert: she didn’t.)
I am hardly so daft as to suggest that what makes me think the notion of a female gaze applies to Aparicio’s work is because I experienced attraction in an unusual fashion. It’s more that the memory of the feeling resonates very strongly with something in her images.