How to photograph a woman with a man

How to photograph a woman with a man

What did I do on IWD, you ask, oh the Founding Mother, the Respected Ancestress, Clara Zetkin? Did I finally start volunteering for the Workers’ Action Centre? Did I write a seminal piece on women as labour force? Did I do my part in developing class consciousness and solidarity among the oppressed groups? Did I at least clean my place, as I’ve been meaning to since the beginning of the month?

None of that, no. What I did was play with images.

Namely, I came across this photo again and was irked by it yet another time.

The composition is so in-your-face male-centric that it inevitably causes giggles. Oh look how firm and strong he is, and how much the woman relies on his firmness and strength. She looks worried, hesitant; he the opposite. So I thought of John Berger and Ways of Seeing (a feminist milestone, written by a man) and what his work taught me about reading the images and paintings, and how women are placed within them.

What of the other CD covers for operatic duets? A mixed bag is what I discovered.

The man dominates in this one:

This one is neutral. What works in her favour is that her eyes are open, his closing:

So Hvorostovsky can be in an egalitarian photo after all. Better with Borodina:




Equals, but why does the woman have to be seated? Because she’s a princess? Because she can’t stand for too long?

I don’t know about this one. She’s towering, but he has the determined look. Her expression is a strange mix of scheming and caring .

Alas, man-dominated, despite the fact that Tebaldi was probably the bigger star at the time of the photo shoot:

This is so ridiculous, I had to include it. Two powerful sopranos made to look like two confused Stepford Wives.

And finally: the one cover I found in which the woman dominates the visual field:


39 thoughts on “How to photograph a woman with a man

  1. Oh dear! I’ve been reading Virginia Woolf all week, which has put me in a stimulatingly outraged yet pugnaciously optimistic mood. This post is a mixture of chuckle- and cringe-inducing, but on a cheerful note, I must say that I cannot stop grinning at the winsomeness of the “Cecilia and Bryn” duets CD.

  2. One of my favourite artist pictures…

    But yes, I have noticed that too. It is hard to arrange a “neutral” picture of two people. But, really, with Dmitri The-man-with-the-too-many-consonants, Ms. Radvanovsky stil keeps her pose somehow. Just watch Mr. Kaufmann in an interview with Hvorostovsky for reference how fan-girlish an adult man can behave. The sight alone makes me blush every time:

    (I don’t speak Russian, I am only talking about the non-verbal part of the interview.)

  3. uhm, for a moment i thought i saw a trend… if it’s a straight-male-fantasy soprano with whoever, she’s draping herself all over whatever. If it’s a mezzo, she seems to get more equal sharing of space. this one supports my theory somewhat (i didn’t realize that was her hand in the picture until just now).

    we can add this this to the confused house-wives club. what about this which i originally read “A queer thing”?

    oh, look, she‘s got the attitude too! and not sure where this is from but she’s looking very self-assured and he’s looking rather confused.

  4. Thanks for the laugh. The second link doesn’t exist, though, and the third and fourth are the same, so now you fired up my imagination and left me without the links!

    Goodness gracious, what is that photo on Kas’s album meant to represent?? I would kind of like its composition were it not for the man’s face, straight from The Sopranos. And that rosary business… boggles the mind.

    The Otter one with Brad Mehldau is part of their album publicity. I’m undecided about that one, thả diều. He does look confused (he looked confused AND high during their recital) but at least he’s staring straight at the camera looking at something directly, while she’s subserviently looking down. The rest of the photos from that set are just fine, the CD photo has him deferring to her. But the one you linked was on all the posters for the tour, so… I don’t know. Still undecided.

      1. OK. The more I look at La Favorite, the more I wonder: why does she have to be seen through the lace and made unreal, and he stares back at the camera and has a perfectly clear image? Seriously. You can’t win. If they put you in the foreground, they’ll blur your features.

  5. ja, i agree, she got more space, but she’s blurry in the background, almost like practicing some voodoo business. meanwhile he’s got a clear crystal pix. let’s hunt for a female-centered male-draping-on-? pix!

      1. Ah yes! But let’s discount the actual operatic scenes and concentrate on CD covers and publicity photos. Every other Fidelio CD and DVD will have the tenor clinging to the soprano, for example.

        added: OK, I’m off to bed. To be continued.

  6. On of my favourite pictures of two ladies: Moffo and Fitzgerald 😉

    Though Moffo is taller, you never feel one acts superior to the other.
    Man, and woman:

    thả diều, you are right of course, concerning the “male fantasy soprano”. When talking about CD cover art, though, there is more to it. There is also taken into consideration which kind of arias/duets there are on the actual CD. You can contradict the choice with the cover, of course, but mostly not. When you got a cd full of “È il sol dell’anima”, with a”batti, batti, o bel Masetto…” cast in to make the characterisation complete, it takes some abstraction to put a female dominated picture on the cover.
    It HAS to do with the Fach, of course. Brünnhilde is a more dominant character than Gilda is, e.g.. The voice is the most important mean to sketch the character (or should be with a singer) so it DOES matter. Norina might be cunning but she is no Anna Bolena, and no Eboli for sure.

    And what I meant with “it is hard to make a neutral picture…” I have to slightly disagree once more, but I will try to say better what I mean: I used to mock a cameraman once because for a documentary he set lighting, outside, in the drizzle, to make it look better. My point was “hey, if it rains, it rains, it is a documentary, …” He told me no, a real watcher ignores the rain, if you film it you make it the main point of the sequence, people will only remember the rain.
    Taking a picture is different from looking.
    Try to draw a face, with a neutral look. Hard, isn’t it? When it comes to the eyes, it almost gets impossible. What should be neutral, maybe, usually ends up in this confused housewives look as in the Tebaldi picture above. Two people together, and neutral — even hard. You can avoid them looking at each other, but this only solves the problem in parts.
    There is a second point that comes in here. Why is the Terfel/Bartoli picture so great? Because it doesn’t depict romantic love in any way, but friendship. Friendship traditionally is about equality, love is about self-sacrifice (talking of opera, of course, and of history). Perhaps that’s why Rodrigo/Carlo is so much hotter than Carlo/Lizzy 😀

    1. Unless a production photo is used for the cover, CDs of arias and duets NEVER try to mirror the scenes that the arias are from. CD art has its own life. The arias and Lieder are usually too diverse to give the CD a uniform tone anyway.

      If you can find it, grab Ways of Seeing from the library or second-hand bookshop. I’m working with a very old methodological toolbox here and presume people are familiar with it, so I didn’t spend a lot of time explaining why I am against, for example, empty, lost faces on women in publicity photos.

      The argument that CD covers and promo materials are depicting “love, which always involves sacrifice” I can’t even compute.

  7. Not my concept… talking about Gilda, Tosca…
    Duets. Random. Love duets, mostly. And, faint question, why are they so close? It implies a romantic involvement. It is more than a vague friendship. As the duets are about romantic love, of course. It is not only about dominance, but that in a mixed couple usually a sexual component is implied.

    A cover tries to fit the general feeling of the album or at least not contradict it
    mixed repertoire, totally hilarious

    mixed repertoire, with no connection among the songs, almost.
    You couldn’t just take one cover of a cd and just use it for the other, I didn’t want to say more. 😉

    1. Perhaps it’s an exception to a rule, but I’m pretty sure the discussion in the Delos Marketing Dept over the Hvor/Rad cover was all about Dmitri’s fan demographic and had nothing whatever to do with what’s actually on the album.

  8. Well, not man/woman here, but two women, Verrett/Caballe… some “romantic object” feel to the art, but both personalities imho more vibrantly expressed than in the unfortunate Freni/Scotto cover:

    Traditional clingy-woman pose subverted by whimsy of singers?

    This is not what I’d call a good CD cover, exactly, but hey, it’s got a woman in the middle! Sutherland/Horne/Pavarotti

    A collage of photos rather than man/woman photographed together… but Melchior and Flagstad are rocking the horned helmets and Wagnerian attitude pretty equally, seems to me:

    And more Wagner (of all things!) She’s kind of got a nurturing-type thing going on, but the man reclining in the protective woman’s arms is perhaps a step?

    I feel like Goldilocks: none of them is just right. As I was preparing to give up, I found this, still maybe not perfect, but a laughing, independent, facing-camera woman paired with besotted male: Caruso. Recent history needs to step up its game.

  9. Excellent reaseach! I screamed when I saw the last one. How rare is a scatterbrained-looking man in a CD cover! I love it!

    I so want to like the Keenly-Angelika photo because of their smirks, but in essence it is another one in the clingy woman genre. And I wondered about Voigt-Domingo arrangement too. Let’s classify it as sufficiently unusual. Domingo really appears to be in pain that only DV can cure.

    But the Horne-in-a-Suterland-Pavarotti-sandwich takes the cake… um, sandwich.

  10. Hmm… Int-errresting. I vote Equals, though her face has been ironed-photoshopped into a baby bottom. Which also has some sort of fluorescent glow. I wish I can see the hi-res printed photo.

    Ah, photoshopping. The next gallery to work on. Though we have some representation in this gallery already: Radvan doesn’t have either a tummy or a behind in that top photo. She is as thin as no human being should be.

  11. Surely if the top one was photoshopped they would have fixed the elbow. I’m not sure the Fleming one is photoshopped – her weight has fluctuated significantly during her career, and she does actually have a rather pointed chin:

  12. The only reason I so confidently claim there was some photoshopping involved is that I saw La Radvan live last fall. She is not a Twiggy by any stretch. She is the size she should be. Here’s the original set of publicity photos by Delos: To me, only the first one is believable. Though there might have been some corseting involved too. I wouldn’t bet my life on it, but would a lot of other things: she was thinned in the photoshop stage.

    Here’s Sondra’s actual size:

    Anyhoo… All this nigletizing from my part just to say: photograph women the size they are and leave their skin the way it is. If you’re over 50 and your skin does not look like this, you’ve been photoshopped or worse.

  13. This lesbian manhunt has to stop right now!
    I’ll offer this lovely Beverly Sills cover, they are clearly friends and he’s nice enought to hold the parasol for his lady friend, ‘nough said!

  14. Shirley Verrett looks so good with the grey streak in that picture with Sills, too bad she’s looking who knows where. Imagine what that picture would be like if both returned the gaze. The image would explode, that’s what.

    Garanča’s lack of acting skills comes out even in a photograph! Remarkable feat.

  15. Oh operacreep, *snigger*… Lesbian Manhunt? Why if ever there was a name for a punk band, or a Russ Meyer film.

    Am *so* with you that absolutely awful Garanca/Trebs cover – once again I am left to wonder what on earth happened that Oliva Newton John (Xanadu era) has become the muse of every Garanca CD cover stylist? But all this imagery reminds me of my own favourite mezzo-on-soprano CD cover:

    And that reminds me again to experience a frisson of excitement that I will hear her sing again at Lied und Lyrik this autumn!

  16. Oh they are gorgeous. But I can’t get past the Barbie-skin, courtesy of Photoshop.

    *Lesbian Manhunt*, meanwhile, coming to town near you to promote its latest CD. I’ll be the drummer. Maybe we can get Amanda Palmer to sing the lead alto.

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