DAZED Blog, Text Ashleigh Kane: Can women regain power through the self-portrait? Photographer Hester Scheurwater’s unflinching self-portraits raise much-needed questions about sex, the self and how social media controls us
Our ‘self’ is one of the most fascinating things that we have the privilege of exploring, and, arguably, the camera is the best tool in order to do so. While the #selfie might be an in-recent-years social media phenomenon, women have been pioneering the self-portrait for decades. Dutch artist Hester Scheurwater uses the medium of the image to challenge the role of the woman as mere sex object, through the use of props like mirrors – which she uses to juxtapose her inner monologue with her outer appearance.
“I have always felt the urge to stage the self, or myself,” she says. “By staging myself as a sex object, not in a way as seen by others but in a self-directed and a self-chosen pose, I shoot back at the way women are shown as sex objects in a fake way. I want to use a rawness and realness in the images by using my own body and ‘kinks’. Like Sacha Grey liked to say, ‘In our society, we use sex to sell everything’. Everything! We use it to sell sneakers, and microwave meals. It’s okay to show your tits, but it’s not okay to talk about what your ‘kinks’ are when you’re a woman.’ I try, almost obsessively, to comply with this image through self-portraiture. These fantasy images are reminiscent of desires, fears, temptation, seduction, violence and sex – self-images as sex objects, devoid of any commercial frills; knowing full well that I can never compete or live up to the image.”
Inspired by artists like Claude Cahun, Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman and Egon Schiele, Scheurwater explains, “From my early years I have always had a special interest and curiosity in work of artists using sexually loaded themes or artists working with self-portrait, but also by the pornographic poses and commercial images that surround us.”
On the question of what differentiates porn from art, she muses, “It’s a difficult question because everything can be art and as soon as a conceptual artist says porn is art, it is art. For me, the difference is that porn is made for sexual stimulation, and, from a commercial point of view, while art and in particular my art, is not. I am aware that the poses in my work have a strong connection to porn poses.”