Aren’t You Listening / Photography Series
The 1950s are often referred to as “the simpler times” for women but frequently proved oppressive. After the horrific era of the Great Depression and World War II, Americans longed for a peaceful, normal life. This translated into a period of conformity, where both men and women observed strict gender roles – while the discontent with the status quo bubbled beneath the surface ready to erupt. If you were a woman in this time you were likely moulded by society into an individual with little power to create something for herself – stuck in a marriage in order to survive. With only an allowance paid directly to her – a woman who finds herself in a loveless or violent marriage would be trapped; no money of her own and no career.
The photography series will follow the life of a young, attractive housewife who finds herself in an unhappy, unfulfilling marriage. Her body language and expressions are clear as da. She's asking "Aren't you listening?" but in the 1950s no one was listening to the plea of discontent. The pressure was too loud and the picture too perfect.
The opening photograph will be a close-up of my character’s hand – finger detailed with an engagement ring and wedding band. Her hand grasping the edge of the bed with crumpled sheets in angst and frustration. The background a dark, deep blue or plain black to allow the hand to be the focus. Low aperture will be used to create a shallow depth of field to further accentuate the rings. The image will set the tone for the series and reveal the emotion behind this “perfect” 50s housewife.
The second photo will be the housewife freshening up for the morning and applying her make up. Typical 50s housewives applied makeup and wore somewhat elaborate dresses even if they weren’t leaving the house to run errands. The photograph will be from the waist up to showcase the environment of the bathroom. The woman is applying her make up in the mirror and behind her, the silhouette of her husband walks past. This gives us insight into the nature of the series. The slow shutter speed will give the husband a slight blur – he’s busy and unaware of the energy in the room. Meanwhile, the wife is frozen in time – she is the focus and the stillness communicates that she is in deep thought. The differing movements of the two characters reveal the disconnect between the couple. The image will capture our character’s emotion with the ironically beautiful and nostalgic style of the 50s. Bright and vibrant on the outside, but bursting on the inside.
The third photo of the series will be the housewife gathering clothes that have been left on the floor by her husband. The image will toy with the irony of the beautiful 50s housewife with a classic 50s heel with run-free stockings and the reality of having no choice but to pick up after someone whether she cares for it or not. The shot will be below the knee, likely landscape and a larger aperture for a deep depth of field to show the housewife surrounded by dirty laundry and a half-full basket by her feet – her hand placing another garment into the basket during the photo. The image is to communicate that sense of unfulfillment – not only with her life but with her husband too. She’s asking the world if it's listening to her desire to leave the system and her husband behind.
For this photo, I’ve collected an array of 50s advertisements that I will soon print to mock a newspaper. The photo will be a birds eye composition to show all of the ads in the newspaper and the housewife will use a pen to circle an important note. The image will reveal her true feelings while showing the viewers the aggressively sexist nature of the media during this time. The depth of field quite balanced leaning towards shallow to focus on her hand circling the newspaper advertisement which will reveal telling information towards her emotional state.
The 5th photo will be of the housewife sitting at the dinner table with the table set perfect for two. The meals are hot and steamy but the husband is not home yet. So, she waits and the image is her looking towards the wall assumably at a clock. The frame is further away to show the set table, but close enough to see her expression – bored and almost depressed. Shallow depth of field is used in this image to isolate her.
The last photograph closes the series with the housewife on her side of the bed. By her side is her husband but just a blurred outline. Shallow depth of field is used to allow the focus to be on her as she leans over to turn out her lamp – cigarettes on her nightstand – at the end of a repetitive day.
Photographs that provide inspiration.
Please click on the last image to enlarge it. These are my sketches! Sorry, I’m in Indonesia so the connection is really bad and I can’t upload the image separately – apologies and hope you can see the sketches in full!
Khan Academy. (n.d.). Women in the 50s. Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/postwarera/1950s-america/a/women-in-the-1950s
The Vintage Housewife. (2017). Daily Schedule for the 50s Housewife. Retrieved from https://thevintagehousewife.me/daily-schedule-for-the-50s-housewife/
Castelow, E. (n.d.). The 1950s Housewife. Retrieved from https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/The-1950s-Housewife/
Petersen, M. (2013). So you wish you were a woman living in the 1950s? No, you don't. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@thatmattyp/so-you-wish-you-were-a-woman-living-in-the-1950s-no-you-dont-4eb09709c9ad