March marks the observance of Women's History Month and we celebrate by looking into the craft of amazing women all over the world who triumphs photography.
For this article, Singaporean photographer and visual artist Marisse Caine had a quick chat with us about her photography series Women/我们 which explores the nature of women.
Please introduce yourself to the Lomography community.
My name is Marisse Caine. I'm a 27 year old visual artist based in Singapore. The main medium used in my personal works is photography. I also work commercially as a photographer. Most of the time, the lines are blurred between the two because I always try to bring an artistic flair into my commercial projects. That, I believe is the ultimate challenge for most commercial artists everywhere in the world which is to reach an equilibrium between what you want to create and what is commercially viable without losing a sense of who you are.
What is your origin story as a photographer?
I started photographing people I loved at the age of 16 when my mother saw that I had an eye and gifted me my very first DSLR which was a Canon 350D. I quickly became obsessed with it, documenting everything around me and trying to find like-minded people I could learn or share my vision with via several online platforms. It is easy to be obsessed with something if it gives you purpose, especially if you grow from it spiritually and intellectually and everyone else around you enjoys what you create and sometimes gain inspiration from it.
Do you think there is a female gaze? In your opinion, how do you think this differ from the male gaze?
I believe that there is feminine and masculine energy in everyone and a little more of one compared to the other for most people. I can't say for sure if there is such a thing as an absolute definition of the female gaze and the male gaze because I haven't been a man before. But perhaps there might be such a thing as the feminine gaze instead. There are writings and images created by men which could be easily mistaken for being created by a woman and vice versa. Take Margaret Bourke White's images for example, her work for Life Magazine some of which were created during the war. There isn't specific characteristics of her work that we could use to describe the female gaze in them.
So what is it really that we can use to describe and represent the female gaze? Is it a sort of gentleness to his/her subject or is it because the subject is female? How then do we explain May Ray's gentle images of Women. As of today, photography alone is something that society at large are still trying to decode that few have been close to hitting the nail on its head. There is no textbook definition of what entails the female gaze at the moment at least not that I know of. I think ultimately it is the kind of person you are that will dictate the kind of images you will create. Take Eugene Atget for example, he is from my perspective an introverted man. I feel like I am able to see this quality in his images of Paris. He has the ability to make such a vibrant city seem so empty and lonely. Well, at least this was my experience of his images. I might be wrong.
Have you ever experienced any benefits or disadvantages as a photographer because of your gender?
I don't think it is specific to my gender. I think that I personally experience benefits and disadvantages from my obvious attributes in different circumstances that would require different interpersonal skills to solve in different situations. I think people generally are insecure or intimidated with working with someone that might be foreign to them in any way and likewise, if they feel an immediate sense of kinship with you they would be more likely to embrace ideas you throw their way. I guess it all boils down to whether the person resonates with you and how clear your intention comes through.
From my experience, as long as you are genuine. People are willing to embrace you. All great images are made because of a certain level of vulnerability and trust. Because when it comes to judgements that are passed, It could be a matter of them assuming you are less technically efficient because of your age or the inability to do work on a project that requires capturing youth because you are pass 30. I think that it is regardless of gender, it really comes down to the type of person you are. I think that you can't be everyone's cup of tea right away but you can do your best to understand where they are coming from and meet them in the middle. If there wasn't something about you that they were willing to be open to understand, they wouldn't have given you the time of their day to begin with.
How would you describe your style as a photographer?
Your series is called "Women/我们" Can you share with us more info about this series? What separates Women/我们 from your other works?
I think the what sets Women/我们 apart from my other work is the subject matter involved and the type of collaboration I initiated for this project. This was my first attempt in exploring such a broad and abstract theme. A subject such as the nature of women wasn't easy at all to tackle because we all have unique experiences of it, so the challenge was how do I unify these experiences through photographs. It was also my first cross-disciplinary collaboration with the art collective I founded in 2015 with Genevieve Yip and Linda Hao called Common Culture. We collaborated with performance artist Sonia Kwek, Model Nadia Kishlan and Musician Ashley Erianah who composed an original track in reaction to the concept. To be honest, I think we just scratched the surface with this. But it was in doing that I learnt where we lacked. It was nonetheless a wonderful and enlightening experience.
Inspired by a series of images entitled "Perfect Demons" due to be released this year, the collection comprises of images of women I've documented over a period of 10 years. It showcases moments of vulnerability, pure happiness, stillness, uncertainty and change of the women in my life.
I was trying to recreate and capture the essence of all these women in my photographs by photographing a performance that was a reaction to the concept/story. We were trying to use movement to illustrate the duality that I believe resides in all women. The reason why it is called Women/我们 is because this is our story and we are trying to tell it together. An all girl cast and team, it has been my dream to create an all girl team because there are more men than women in most production teams in the industry. I was curious to see what would come out of something purely created by women. Hence the play on the chinese word 我们 which translates to wo-men in han yu pin yin. 我们 means us or togetherness.
The dualities we were trying to capture were grace and madness like that of a ballerina- spurts of movement that are completely mad that smoothly transition into absolute composure within a split second. Then there is also the innate ability to be soft and tender but tough and bold at the same time. I think all women want to be in harmony with the different opposing elements that reside within them. We spend a lot our lives trying to deny our demons to find that in the end it is better to accept and embrace them and hopefully turn it into something positive in the world.I think that women's ultimate strength is being vulnerable with ourselves and to the people around us but resilient at the same time. I hope to one day successfully illustrate this so that more girls and women will feel less pressure trying to be what society expects them to be and be who they know they already are.
Who or what inspires you?
People, Culture, Nature, Music, Films and Books.
Any advice / tips for young female photographers in this world?
Figure out who you are, who you want to be, what is important to you, what you want to say and how it affects people, fight for what you believe in then take all the measures to get there even if most people don't understand. There are always very few frames of reference when you are paving a path that not many have travelled.