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Jeanette Spicer on the Lesbian Gaze

Jeanette Spicer on the Lesbian Gaze

The photographer’s latest series “What It Means to Be Here” explores societal constructs like heteronormativity, gender performance, and perceptions of the nude form through intimate captures.
The Church, 2021 © Jeanette Spicer

With her poetic images, Jeanette Spicer makes the idea of getting photographed nude not only palatable but comfortably intriguing. “Clothing for me is very distracting,” Spicer says of her personal practice. “I’m fascinated by how other photographers manage it.” For the American photographer, nudity serves as a vehicle for a blank canvas— an opportunity to start from scratch with her subjects and let the light do its thing. Like artists who focus on figure drawing, she adds that she’s not really looking at the persons themselves when photographing; that instead, their bodies are “a tool to work with.” And to create an even playing field, Spicer is often nude herself. This is just a mere glimpse into Spicer’s blanket accessibility as an artist and human.

Jeanette Spicer started photography when she was eight or nine years old. “I played a lot of sports as a child, and was always outside,” she says. In those outdoor environments or after weekend game days Spicer would convince her friends to take photos and became excited by capturing portraits of those she knew well. And that intersection of familiarity and art has certainly infiltrated her current work. “I’m interested in how we’re so close with people in our lives,” Spicer shares when it comes to her subjects. “When I get to make work, there’s an alternate intimacy [involved]. I see people in a way I’ve never seen them before.” She goes on to parallel this experience to when one might see a sibling or friend perform on stage, and how her process reflects a new sort of vulnerable space that makes for unique photographs.

At Keren’s, 2021 © Jeanette Spicer
Gunnison, 2021 © Jeanette Spicer
S in CT, 2021 © Jeanette Spicer

In her latest work, “What It Means to Be Here”, Jeanette Spicer plays with the human form through a series of photographs that centers women in relation to each other and their bodies, and evoking Bill Brandt’s famous nude series. She has a way of creating intimacy through shadows and the figure that detaches the viewer from any distracting speculation; instead, we find ourselves conflating the human form with geometry.

For this series, she also incorporates videos meant to be moving images in conversation with her photographs. From juvenile flirting via bubbled cheeks featured in Repetition to the shadows and sparkles of pee captured in Liquid, “What It Means to Be Here” is a photographic version of gender theorist Judith Butler (who can be found eloquently breaking down how society has arbitrarily constructed gender and sexuality as a performance). “I’m concerned about lack of lesbian visibility,” Spicer says when describing what propels her work, and why she herself can be found in this series. “I’m willing to use myself as a vessel to have people think about these ideas. I want people to ask questions.”

None of your fucking business, 2021 © Jeanette Spicer
Lyndsay upstate, 2021 © Jeanette Spicer
The Quotidian, 2021 © Jeanette Spicer

And we certainly do. Jeanette Spicer examines representation by highlighting a gaze she doesn’t often see perpetuated: the lesbian gaze. As a lesbian, the lesbian gaze is inherent for Spicer and coincides with her overall view of the world. So, in her work, she is actively challenging the viewer to analyze her or his own assumptions when it comes to sexuality and performance. “There’s a richness in how you can subvert heteronormativity,” she says when discussing how her photos push back against a societally ingrained heterosexual assumption of others. For Jeanette Spicer, it’s a form of resistance.

By Abigail Glasgow

Abigail Glasgow is a writer based in New York, USA, and a storyteller who believes in providing a platform for marginalized groups and individuals who have been historically and systemically excluded from opportunity.

Jo Pulls Down The Curtain, 2021 © Jeanette Spicer
D and S, 2020 © Jeanette Spicer
Three, 2020 © Jeanette Spicer

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