Ian Hoskin / Ladies First
September 2017 Interviewed by Anna McNay
Ian Hoskin had the embryonic idea for his latest photographic project, Ladies First, shortly after finishing his degree in 1981. He began identifying areas of gender difference that interested him but was unable to find the right way of translating the idea into a coherent series. Some three and a half decades later, he has designed a workable format and structure for the body of work, namely 50 composed scenarios making up 25 pairs of contrasting gender images. Each image of each pair is displayed above a line of text; the texts within each pair are almost identical, differing only with regards to the gender they relate to: “she” or “he”.
Anna McNay spoke with Hoskin ahead of his forthcoming exhibition at Atom Gallery.
Anna McNay: You’ve been working on this project for a while now. How did the idea originally come about?
Ian Hoskin: The series is my take on the way society stereotypically views, and alarmingly continues to place, differing expectations on women and men. None of the views expressed in the work are my own, they have all been identified from advertising, television, literature and magazines. I am reporting on the areas where I can see different treatment and not all of the image pairs are about injustice or inequality. Some of them are about the simple difference in expectation society has of male and female, so to reduce the whole series down to one basic premise is simply to ask what is femininity and what is masculinity.
I had seen Cindy Sherman’s work; Marcia Resnick’s book Re-Visions had just been published; Spare Rib, the iconic feminist magazine, was midway through its 20 year run; Laura Mulvey’s concept of the female gaze was very current; and I realised that this was a valid area to which I felt, as a male, I needed to contribute. The original series was without words and depended on the similarity of the images to convey the message. However, the series stalled, was put away, and I only found the original prints again in late 2015. I saw instantly what I needed to do to get the series finished. Many of the original images have been discarded and replaced, words have been added, and the series expanded.
AMc: What have you seen change during this time frame?
IH: After a gap of 35 years I did have to ask myself if the work would still be relevant. Having spent the intervening years with my partner, deciding to break with tradition – she being the major earner, while I stayed at home with our two small children – and having lived through the treatment and comments we received from family, friends and colleagues, I realised it was indeed still relevant. With issues such as TV’s Sofagate and the BBC’s recent pay inequality, I’m even more convinced of the continuing gender expectations issue. As one area of gender inequality is pinned down with legislation, another one takes its place.
AMc: You studied Fine Art at Sheffield Polytechnic and then went on to work with photography both professionally and privately. You worked freelance for the BBC Picture Publicity Department for a number of years. Did your experiences here feed in to this project in any way?
IH: Sheffield Polytechnic was a fantastic place to study. I still draw on things we discussed within tutorials and really value the exposure to ideas and practitioners it provided. My time freelancing for the BBC Picture Publicity Department just taught me to work with purpose and make sure I didn’t leave things to chance. The shoots were incredibly short and pressured, so there was no time to be creative. Thinking back though, I did have to take many more photographs of male celebrities than female ones.
AMc: What were some of the most shocking conventions you uncovered while researching this project?
IH: I think the most shocking things relate to money. Men are still paid more and there is an ongoing expectation amongst many that they will and should be paid more. The Sofagate issue was a perfect illustration of the importance of a male in a given situation. Men tend to appear on the left side of the screen, which is deemed the most important. We read from left to right in the West and we apparently continue to do this when looking at a stage, a screen or a painting. The way Sofagate was covered by some of the media was so dismissive. I have placed the image relating to females on the left, and employed the outdated but still frequently used phrase “Ladies First” to title and sum up the series.
AMc: Did you uncover any prejudices of your own that you hadn’t realised you held beforehand?
IH: I began the process by looking at my beliefs and attitudes and the most surprising for me at the time was looking at how we perceive attraction. The pair of images with a female figure and a man’s arm came from a realisation on my part that this was how I thought. Women are so often judged on their level of attractiveness and appearance and men on their strength or power.
AMc: Were there any pairs of images for which you particularly struggled to produce a text?
IH: The text for the images about wanting sex was particularly troublesome. I knew exactly what it needed to convey but getting that into words, which were identical for both images but meant two different things, proved quite difficult. There was one other pair that needed careful consideration. One of the images relating to money contained a reference to pin-money, meaning the small amount earned by women in the past which supplemented the man’s wages. No one I showed the images to who was under about 30 had any idea what pin-money meant, so the image had to be re-shot with peanuts instead.
AMc: Do any pairs of images particularly stand out for you as successful or as summing up the project as a whole?
IH: The pair that works best for me is of bones and spanners. It just dropped into place in my head and worked without being judgemental or pedantic. The objects I was able to use were suitably similar visually and conveyed precisely what I wanted to say.
AMc: Did you have any female input to the project as it was developing?
IH: Yes, there has been a great deal of input from Gina Parr, my partner. Gina has always been acutely aware of different attitudes and expectations towards and by men and women and this has fed into the series.
AMc: How differently do you think this project might have turned out, had it been a woman artist working on it in your place?
IH: This is very difficult to answer! I realise that as a male I am on very thin ice when expressing my views on how a female artist might deal with the area I’m looking at. Annie Wright, in her work from 1979, Hiding the Wound, Homage To Mr Freud, employed a very direct approach, while Marcia Resnick’s work was less confrontational, and currently there are many female artists looking at this subject in many different ways, so it really is impossible to say what anyone else would have done – male or female.
Ian Hoskin was interviewed for Photomonitor by Anna McNay, August 2017.
Ladies First will be on show at Atom Gallery, 127 Green Lanes, London N16 9DA, from 16-30 September 2017: www.atomgallery.co.uk
For more information on Ian Hoskin’s work, please see: www.ianhoskin.co.uk