Notes on Pin Ups


I’ve been struck by a divide in the pin up world. There’s a sense of community – on the one hand – contrasted with the very commercial push to consume photographs/photographer services on the other. Then there’s the whole contest round robin, which offers both positive and negative elements. After all, contests require a winner and loser (full disclosure – we follow a contest in the film).

The scholar in me is trying to make sense of it all.

Recently I saw a post warning of a photographer who was attempting to fat shame prospective models (who hadn’t booked with him). There’s a nasty page on Facebook similarly trying to shame women who don’t have the “right” body type – which the women are pushing to shut down. When people mock pin ups like the Vintage Doll on social media for being too thin, fans rush in to push back (as does the Doll herself in this awesome video). Another high profile pin up/fashion designer threatened to shut down her Facebook page after some nasty social media bullying. The threat is now removed and the page still exists.

But competitions. And photographer Svengalis. And the whole commodity of it.

Maria Elena Buszek, the total rock star art historian, argues that historically pin ups have been working for themselves. It’s a trend more about women empowerment than women being sexualized, because of the control and tension within the image.

I’ve been watching this world for nearly two years. This is not just about the gaze, or some third wave pseudo-feminist bullshit that tries to accord agency when none is there. The agency IS legit. But so is the gaze. And the complications.

Initially when I came into this project, I thought it was going to be just a quick film. Move in, move out. But I find that the ethnographer in me is drawn to the world. I want to know more. I’m following their conversations and interactions on the web, trying to make sense of it all in my brain.

This post is an example of my own conflicted thoughts. I’ve been working on it for days. I hesitated to publish it, wondering if the women that I follow read it will somehow be hurt or offended by my words. Will they pull back if they know that in some way I have my own questions about the validity of the work. The strength of the sisterhood.

The journalist in me says I need to appear strong. Know everything – or at least appear to. Hide those uncertainties. The ethnographer says to reveal them.


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