Dorrell Merritt, a friend of Arran Gregory (the dude who designed the little birdies on this site) got in touch recently to ask me to consider a review of his graduate photography project. Weep Not By Day is a display of, as Dorrell describes it, “the power of night and an insight into dolefulness in female youth, set within the busy, lonely and unforgiving urban landscape of London.”
I liked his photos, so I agreed to interview him. I proceeded to harangue him on his choice of imagery, hoping to engage in a healthy debate about the portrayal of women in popular culture (i’m mad for girl talk). Sorry Dorrell.
Luckily he gave me some interesting answers and because I was feeling nice I chose to not to drill him about certain of them, like “we all enjoy to be voyeurs towards female subjects”.
Aside from everything else, the photos are damn good. They resonate with a captured sadness that is testament to the protagonists and the photographer. You can truly feel the hollow, lingering depression of being in a big city, surrounded by people and feeling like you’re on your own.
They also portray someone seeing these women’s dejection – another commuter or passerby, who might be wondering why the woman in each photo is so distant – and I think the women know someone can see them and that they are wondering. I have experienced both sides of the coin as i’m sure we all have.
Dorrell, and his ‘we‘ – which I assume means ‘men’ – are voyeurs. He says “we have been conditioned to feel a higher level of empathy towards female subjects”, but also that “on the other hand I think we all enjoy to be voyeurs towards female subjects to some extent”. [my emphasis]
But can you “tell the woman’s story”, as Dorrell says he wants to do, and ‘be a voyeur’? I don’t think so. Either you can connect with them emotionally in understanding their sadness, or you are watching them as a distant subject. But perhaps I don’t identify myself as the voyeur because I identify with them, and seeing these women on my imagined journey feels coincidental and fleeting. As the viewer I don’t feel like i’m following these women to spectate. But do I feel natural empathy with them and a connection with their melancholy because I am too a woman?
Dorrell has done well to capture what he calls the ‘power of the night’. Melancholy holds its own in the night and this plays a part in the potency of the imagery. He told me that he thinks night has “an ambiguous presence; it can console us, make us more relaxed, more thoughtful, more creative, but also anxious.”
This we crops up again in our interview:
“Women are almost art within themselves, really. If we go as far back as 16th century art, and look at Jupiter and Io by Antonio Da Correggio, and skip to the present day; Death of Coletti by Tom Hunter, there is a technique which has survived 500 years: the use of women as a key emotional-narrational tool.
“We are so used to seeing it, we sometimes don’t even realise it. It is ingrained within us. I think there are a number of reasons for this historically and socially but regardless, we take great pride in observing women. We are fascinated.”
Women are tools in Dorrell’s art, to apply a feeling, or be applied. There are many issues here; the idolatrous worship of women as art forms is a component of a society that doesn’t view women on an equal footing. Women are to be admired, on a pedestal. It really is no advancement on viewing women as less than men.
Dorrell has done exceedingly well to capture the souls of his protagonists in his photographs. I just would have liked to have heard about their stories in our interview, rather than just his placing as voyeur.
“Critically”, he says “I guess it could be deemed a bit shortsighted of me as a man, to attempt to tell the stories of young women.” Gender does not define whose right it is to tell another’s story, but i’m not entirely convinced it’s their stories that Dorrell wants to capture.