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Gaze by Gertrud Sandqvist, english

Gaze, an early photograph by Tova Mozard, from 2001-2002, shows a young woman and an old man sitting in the front seat of a black car. They are engaged in some sort of conversation. The man’s eyes are covered by a pair of black sunglasses and the woman’s by the rear view mirror with which she is fiddling. The choice of title, forms association with the thoughts of Lacan’s Gaze. In one of his seminars he speaks of the Gaze, its predacious and controlling character and its craving to, in a cannibalistic way, partake of all it sets eyes on. This demanding and controlling gaze could be the eye of the viewer, but it could also be the photographic gaze. In Gaze the set is complicated by the fact that the woman in the picture is also the photographer. She thereby orchestrates a situation where she is not only in control of the demanding gaze, but also avoids it.
Lacan uses the screen as the next element in his game. The gaze hits the screen where its desires are projected. This screen is for Lacan a picture behind which the artist is hiding, like a shield to protect oneself from being hit by the killing gaze.

Many of Tova Mozard’s photographs have a sense of drama to them and this is probably most noticable in the photos that are not directly referring to stages or the props of Hollywood. This comes across clearly in the photos she worked on 2002-2003 before she came to concentrate mainly on film.
First one might think that the formal sense of style she shows in her photography enrolls itself in the broader trend that has, since Cindy Sherman in the late Seventies, film stills as an important reference, but the psychological intensity of Mozard is considerably more poignant.
Tova herself states as sources of inspiration Marguerite Duras, the writer and Diane Arbus, photographer alongside contemporary artists such as Sharon Lockhart, Stan Douglas and James Coleman. What they all have in common is the strong psychological tension within their work.
Psychoanalyst Joyce McDougal has likened the human unconcious to a stage for the self. On this stage various characters appear and they all play a part in the inner drama. We are not aware of these characters, but we enact them in our every day life. She writes:
”In one’s inner universe everyone holds a number of characters, which act often in direct opposite to each other and thereby cause conflicts and psychological pain in our concious selves. That’s because we are relatively unfamiliar with these covert actors and their characters. Whether we want it or not our inner characters are constantly on the hunt for a stage, where they can enact their tragedies and comedies. In spite of the fact that we rarely take responsibility for our secret theatre performances, the producer is within our innermost selves. It is the case that this inner world with its repeated repertoir controls most of what happens to us in the outer world.”

Mozard has in a text on her own work stated an interest for this theatre or fiction, when the stage is alive and people are in character, but also for those moments when the illusion is gone and left are only the props. These props tell a whole other story, but if this story is more real than fiction can be discussed. In Mozard’s photography there is also a vague distinction between what can be apprehended as props and what it means. The photograph and the photographer’s gaze nullifies these boundaries. In the comedies and tragedies that Mozard stages in her photos, it is more so that both object and man can be actors. The red billowing curtain in Alexandria for instance, is most certainly an actor in the photograph. The firs in the backdrop of the photograph Clifton, is neither more nor less real than the woman, again the photographer herself, that looks upon it.
The iceberg and the house in Ice Psycho tell their scary story under the sun of California as well as The Bed’s full red baroque shapes take care of seducing matters. Interestlingly enough it is in the photographs which lack human actors that Mozard’s enacting of the inner drama comes across at its most salient.
The illusion is more believable and the inner drama flows more freely when there is no human being disturbing with the Verfremdungseffekt of the all to obvious acting.
When Mozard shoots photos of people playing a part since it is their occupation, as in Puppeteers, Musso & Frank’s Grill or The Clown they underline the fact that these parts are not an outflow from their inner drama but on the contrary a character that for instance the director, playwright or artist has commanded them to play. It is the affect, or the pose, that displays their double alienation, for the photograph shows them in a position which is also alien to their parts as they are directed. They are like puppets before the camera’s gaze.

The photograph Leona Babette stands out in this respect. An older woman is sitting in dark red, budoirlike surroundings, wearing a large blond wig and a short black camisole. There is a bright light, not unlike a spotlight, on her. As if she is shy and embarrassed she has almost her back to us, blushing her eyes. We are not sure whether she is turning away because of the merciless light that discloses her imperfections, the camera’s haunting gaze, or us the observers that so blatantly know the difference between the fantasy she represents and the actual reality. We don’t know if her outfit is worn by command or voluntarily, whether it is part of her own inner drama that allows for an expression in the outside world or part of a professional role with which she is tired of. That reminds us of the fact that it is not only the artists and their images that are subjected to the merciless demanding gaze but also, at least within western patriarchy, the woman who is expected to live up to imposed exhibitionism, regardless of her own will. Patient and submissive Leona Babette sits there much like a sacrificial lamb while blushing her eyes as if to protect herself, her hands loosely clasped.

Weird Tales from 2004-2005 summerizes Mozard’s series of photographies of the stage for the self in a humourous and indulgent manner. An elderly couple are sitting next to each other on the couch. They are holding a book and a newspaper in front of their faces. She is reading The Wizard of Oz and he is reading Weird Tales, whose frontpage pictures a bigbusted woman. The literature seems to belong in the Thirties, when they themselves were teenagers, and their inner gallery of characters concerning sexuality found its definitive form. The fairytale girl and the exotic fantasies. In the compromize of the long marriage these two fundamentally irreconcilable dreams have in a way had to exist side by side.

Gertrud Sandqvist