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THE FEMALE GAZE: “Lynn Bianchi – Taking On The Male Gaze” by Diana Nicholette Jeon

Lynn Bianchi is a fine art photographer and multimedia artist who has shown her work in over thirty solo exhibitions and in museums worldwide.

Bianchi’s photographic work has been shown at the Brooklyn Museum, Yale Art Gallery, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Musée de l’Elysée in Switzerland, and Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, among others. Servitude I from the Heavy In White series was added to the collection of Walker Art Center in 2019. The work is also reproduced in Walker’s catalog, The Expressionist Figure, among such artists as Edgar Degas, Willem de Kooning, David Hockney, Pablo Picasso, etc.

Bianchi’s art has been featured in over forty publications, including The Huffington Post, Juxtapoz Magazine, Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, Vogue Italia, AnOther Magazine, Phot’Art International, and GEO. Lynn’s work resides in numerous private collections across the globe, including Manfred Heiting’s and Edward Norton’s, as well as in museum collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris, Musée Ken Damy in Brescia, Italy and 21c Museum in Louisville, Kentucky among others. She has recently exhibited in New York City at The Untitled Space, The Armory Show, and BitBazel Miami NFT salon at Salomon Arts Gallery, among others.

In 2011 Lynn began working in the video field and has to date produced about 30 multimedia works. Her most recent projects are frequent winners of Best Experimental Awards and have been shown at various festivals all over the world, including New York Shorts International Film Festival, Odense International Film Festival, Montreal Independent Film Festival, Berlin Shorts Award, Moscow Shorts, Lund Architecture Film Festival, Budapest International Foto Awards, Tokyo International Foto Awards, New Earth International Film Festival in Poland, Toronto Film Magazine Festival among others. Most recently, Bianchi’s video work, New York Minute, participated in over 20 different film festivals around the world and was shown to the public at Cinema Village and Alamo Drafthouse in New York City, among others.

Keep Your Fat Under The Table from the series Heavy in White; gold-toned silver gelatin print

Over two years ago, work crossed my Facebook timeline, making me sit up and take notice. It was Keep Your Fat Under The Table by Lynn Bianchi. I knew I wanted to write about it, but when the arranged time came to pass, we both were plagued by life-driven delays, first on Bianchi’s end and then later on mine. I spent some time looking at all the work on her website. I fell in love with her work, most especially with the nudes of Heavy in White. I finally wrote about that work late last year.

Right now seemed like an excellent time to write about Bianchi’s work, in no small part due to recent conversations in the FRAMES magazine Facebook group. Some women, and to their credit, a few men, are unhappy that some posts seem overtly eroticized. The particular images to which I refer are mostly, but not solely, made by men; indeed, some are self-portraits by women. When someone of either gender comments about feeling that overtly yet softly sexually charged images are degrading to women and don’t belong in the group, the same comment comes up time and again. That comment is that anyone who does not care for the images is a prude, or worse, who doesn’t like nudity is a prude (or worse.) I am one of those women deemed as such, as are some number of my photography acquaintances and friends, male and female alike. But, news flash, it is not the nudity. It is the objectification of women as little more than body parts, the negation of personhood to mere sex objects waiting for the male gaze. Emily Larsen writes, “Historically, it’s been extremely limited and biased by gender, race, and class. Faced with visual inundation of a limited narrative, it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that more and more we want to break free of a cis white male vision of the world.” The female gaze works from the emotional intimacy between creator and subject, who are sometimes the same person.

An article in Psychology Today notes:

“Through media representations and direct experience, both women and girls learn their appearance is social currency and begin to take the male gazer’s perspective.” This self-objectification has been found to increase body shame and anxiety, among other undesirable impacts (Hagan.)

Bianchi’s work turns the equation around. Charlotte Jansen, in her book “Girl on Girl, Art, and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze,” emphasized that the ‘female gaze’ is not about removing power from men and placing women on top; it is about removing women from being the object of the gaze. This way of seeing emphasizes what we can learn by looking at women differently and how we can use that power to undo the negative psychological impact of objectification.

Interestingly, the first nude Bianchi photographed was a male, and although those images use light to illuminate his muscles and curves. Unlike most female nudes created by men, Bianchi’s men are not suggestive or erotic. They are almost like sculptures but made of human flesh.

Bianchi’s female nudes are amazing: beautiful, provocative, conceptual, stylized, and sometimes ironic or humorous. But they are not erotic. Many females in the Heavy in White series appear to have fun as they gorge and play, seemingly carefree of body issues or self-consciousness. The agency they show is from within and unconstrained by societal pressures on body image. Indeed, they are as body-positive as a Dove “Real Women” advertisement. Yet their genesis was inspired by body-consciousness. And it sprang forth from frustration: a family member commenting unkindly on Bianchi’s weight while urging her to eat sweet treats the person made for her—such an interesting way to see through to making lemonade from lemons.

Beyond the imagery, Bianchi is an adept technician who uses gold leaf, toning, and mixed media to create a range of work. I urge you to visit her website to see her vast body of work, and also her videography.

I asked Bianchi to give FRAMES readers a brief summary of projects so that readers previously unfamiliar have a touchstone to her work while reading this interview.

Woman With Roses from the Distortions subset of Heavy in White; gold-toned silver gelatin print

DNJ: Please list a 1-2 sentence summary for each of your photo portfolios that are series work with a specific theme.

Nyeja dealt with form and line and was painstakingly hand-toned with selenium.

The Distortion images emerged out of working with schizophrenic individuals and began my white-on-white work.

Geometrics was inspired by the architecture of Greek Islands; I built sets for the nudes to interact in.

My Women in Landscape consists of nudes photographed in abstract sets I constructed from my photographs of mountains and oceans.

The Heavy in White series is about body image and acceptance.

Globe explores the force of life. The globe was designed so that when the light illuminated it, it would glow as if it were electric.

In the Gold Leaf series, the image was illuminated with gold leaf.

My Photo Sculpture series started with my obsession with eyes in and on objects. I photographed objects that I bought and also created objects for photographs I made.

Wings, from the Body Studies subset of the series Heavy in White; gold-toned silver gelatin print

DNJ: Tell us about your childhood. What was your family life like? What did your parents do? Do you have siblings? Was anyone else in your family an artist or photographer? What were you like as a child?

LB: My childhood was fraught with anxiety. My father died when I was six, and what had been a joyful life changed. My mother quickly remarried; he turned out to be an abusive person. I was happy and outgoing until my stepfather came into my life, and then I was miserable. He was very restrictive and didn’t seem to like us. That made life difficult, and it made me very anxious and rebellious.

I was an avid reader. I spent most of my time reading books, everything I could find. I have one brother. My father used to invent things as a hobby, but no other artists in my family.

4 selections from Wall Eaters. Upper Left: The Pastry Eaters, Upper Right: Wall Eaters #3, Lower Left: Wall Eater #15,  Lower Right: Wall Eater #6. All four are gold-toned silver gelatin prints mounted to canvas.

DNJ: How did you get started in photography?

LB: I started photography because my husband, then boyfriend, Robert, studied Photography with Lou Bernstein, a “Family of Man” photographer. We would have weekly meetings in our tiny loft on 12th Street and 4th Avenue in Manhattan, where people would discuss their work and study the great masters of photography. Bernstein encouraged everyone, including myself, although I was not directly involved in the group and didn’t have work to present. He could look inside a person and see their motivations and feelings. Like a psychoanalyst, he was critical and kind.

I had never thought that photography would be for me or that I would even desire to do it, but I loved the medium. I was there at every meeting. I learned how everyone looks at everything differently. Once I picked up the camera, I never stopped. I fell in love with photography. It was something I became passionate about.

I used to engage in erratic behaviors like taking diet pills and having bulimia, but when I became involved with photography, those things left me. I had never approved of anything I had made before, but photography gave me a way to like what I created. I’ve been grateful my whole life to have this gift bestowed on me; it was like a miracle. Somehow, the camera became a part of me.

Whisper (Cakebox Photo Sculpture), silver gelatin print toned with tea, 22K gold and mixed media

DNJ: You may have taken your first photo as a child since many people had cameras either of their own or use of ones their parents had. Do you remember when you took your first photograph?

LB: My first photograph is of a small room with a toilet. Our old loft on 12th Street and 4th Avenue had a unique old-fashioned toilet. I liked the way it looked with the light coming through the shaft.

3 Hot Irons (Photo Sculpture), Silver gelatin print toned with tea and mixed media

DNJ: When did you figure out art was your career path, and how did that happen?

LB: I didn’t think about it as a career path; I just thought about it as something I had to do to be me. It was an impulse to see the world from a new perspective. I had to give myself gifts and evoke my feelings through the photographic medium. I adored printing, and I loved seeing the results. It was a vast expression of liking the world. I could complete my thoughts through the photograph and printing.

Venus at the Beach, from the series Super Real
Pool, from the series In Color

DNJ: If you weren’t an artist, what career would you choose?

LB: That isn’t a question I can answer. I was interested in vitamins and food, but it wasn’t a grand passion. I don’t think of being an artist as a career; it’s just who I am. Before I found photography, I was aimless. Photography gave me a way to be self-expressive.

Nyeja with Black Lines, from the series Nyeja; silver gelatin print selectively hand-toned with selenium
Nyeja with Black Lines, from the series Nyeja; silver gelatin print selectively hand-toned with selenium

DNJ: What led you from photography to videography?

LB: Back in the 1970s, I was trained to discern the decisive moment. There was no way of editing the moment; I captured a point in time that moved me. The video and animation are an extension of the moment or an imagination of what could be.

Portuguese Abstraction, from the series Geometrics; silver gelatin hand toned with selenium

DNJ: How much of your art practice is in photography vs. videography?

LB: I don’t make a distinction. I can do one or both. I create for what I feel inside. First, I am a photographer. I have created many more photographs than videos. The video can be an extension or embellishment of the moment.

Geometrics 3, from the series Geometrics; silver gelatin hand toned with selenium

DNJ: Have you ever combined photography and video in installation works? If so, what does the combination bring to your work that neither alone can?

LB: Yes, I do. They complement each other. The combination of photo and video freezes and extends the moment. Certain aspects of video animation allow me to add imagination to the moment or tell a larger story. I also include music in some of my work to complete the story or add impact.

Support, from the series Globe;transferred transparency from silver gelatin print

DNJ: What challenges do you face as a photographer?

LB: I’m more challenged now because I need to get used to using a digital workflow. Digital Photography allows me to do different things, for which I’m grateful, but it could be more intuitive. With the more technical digital processes, I need more help, but I can do everything by myself with film cameras. I’ve learned to welcome working one-on-one with technical people. When I used to use film cameras, it was just who I was.

Balance, from the series Globe;transferred transparency from silver gelatin print

DNJ: Do you always have a concept when you start a project, or do you shoot and allow the images to tell you what the project that emerges will be?

LB: I was trained to take a photograph at the moment. My videos are usually conceptual, made to complement photographs. I may also have a concept and produce it. There isn’t a set rule for how I make things, and I am unsure exactly how it happens. Some photos are born out of a moment, and some are moments that have been elaborated upon. Or I combine photos and videos. The one thing about being an artist is that there’s no rule for how things come about. I like that.

Dinner Conversation, full installation of 18 framed museum glass images, 8 objects, mixed media and archival pigment prints, w:12′ h:14′

DNJ: Where do the ideas you work with come from?

LB: They come from my gut, history, or the whole world, or like something I must do. They come from a visceral feeling.

Kadet, from the series Dinner Conversation; framed archival pigment print. NOTE: Of this image Bianchi states, “Kadet was one of my first nudes in color. She was a seamstress making huge shades for my oversized windows. She agreed to pose nude for me eating, and she decided nothing else would do but watermelon. When I commented that a black person eating watermelon was a stereotype and may not be viewed favorably she responded, “Get over it Lynn, people all over the world eat watermelon and so will I,” and so she did. Self-defining, unapologetic and honest.”

DNJ: Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?

LB: I’m a woman, but I consider myself a person first. As a person, I deserve the respect that everyone else gets. I feel that power can often be abused, no matter who has it.

Cookie, from the series In Color; lenticular print

DNJ: How/why/when did you start working with the female nude?

LB: I suffered from bulimia, and I knew that other women suffer from similar worries that their bodies are not good enough. Food was a big part of my family life because it represented fun, giving, and joy, but it also affected my weight and shape. I wanted to make work about body image.

When I photographed Ann Marie, I intended for her to represent people’s feelings about gaining weight, but she became a beautiful sculptural form in my work. My images are not intended to be erotica; they play on what you see. I wanted people to be free from criticism for not liking their body parts. The shoots created a freedom from self-consciousness that people involved loved, which I loved too. That’s very important to me.

Reunion, from the Body Studies subset of the series Heavy in White; gold-toned silver gelatin print
Mangia, from the Spaghetti Eaters subset of the series Heavy in White; gold-toned silver gelatin print

DNJ: Do you ever get disapproving comments about the nude work?

LB: When I first released these nudes, America wasn’t ready for them. Still, many people approved of the work because they grasped that the nudity illustrated a concept. I don’t concern myself with whether people approve of my work, but I hope it resonates and can be helpful for people. I hope the work touches people.

Caryatid VIII, from the Caryatid subset of the series Heavy in White; gold-toned silver gelatin print
Sybaris, from the Spaghetti Eaters subset of the series Heavy in White; gold-toned silver gelatin print

DNJ: How do you determine which media is best for a project?

LB: That’s intuitive. It depends on how I want to see it. I start with an idea. I try different things when I make something that doesn’t convey my idea. I have a good grasp of which material to use for most projects.

Lalique, from the Spaghetti Eaters subset of the series Heavy in White; gold-toned silver gelatin print

DNJ: What do you hope the viewer takes from your work? Does it vary by series?

LB: My goal is for the viewer to be affected or moved by the work. Of course, it won’t mean anything to everybody. Photography is my best means of communicating my ideas, and I hope the viewer can feel something personal yet universal from the work.

Servitude II, from the Spaghetti Eaters subset of the series Heavy in White; gold-toned silver gelatin print
Frieze, from the Spaghetti Eaters subset of the series Heavy in White; gold-toned silver gelatin print

DNJ: What is next on the horizon for you?

LB: I have a few works in progress. I’m working on a video about my heart failure in 2022. I’m currently making a triptych of the past, present, and spirits of a town in Italy. One of the images represents the past and present, the other image represents the spirits of times past, and the video between them illustrates an imaginary happening. I’m also completing a transparency series of images sandwiched between Plexiglas to achieve depth.

Eating Spaghetti, from the Spaghetti Eaters subset of the series Heavy in White; gold-toned silver gelatin print

I’m glad to have the chance to present you with Bianchi’s work. I hope you have enjoyed them.

LYNN BIANCHI

WEBSITE
INSTAGRAM

SOURCES

Larsen/Fotofemme
Hagan/Psychology Today

Every year we release four quarterly printed editions of FRAMES Magazine. Each issue contains 112 pages printed on the highest quality 140g uncoated paper. You receive the magazine delivered straight to your doorstep. We feature both established and emerging photographers of different genres. We pay very close attention to new, visually striking, thought-provoking imagery, while respecting the long-lasting tradition of photography in its purest incarnation. Learn more >>>


Comments (1):

  1. Nazmul Bashar

    April 27, 2024 at 01:50

    Time and again, we encounter the question of the ‘limits’ of nudity. Here, we have answers in Lynn Bianchi’s work. Quote: “Bianchi’s female nudes are amazing: beautiful, provocative, conceptual, stylized, and sometimes ironic or humorous. But they are not erotic”. Thank you for a powerful conversation between Diana Nicholette Jeon and Lynn Bianchi. Dinner Conversation is a beautiful use of the Fibonacci Sequence and Golden spiral (I suppose I am correct). Thank you for a great conversation.

    Reply

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