What we like about fairy-tales may be that despite the strange and desperate situations the heroes and heroines find themselves in, their stories still end happily for them. And that's usually what parents and precocious teens complain about: Stories with happy endings set up unrealistic expectations. Thus the "Unhappily Ever After" op-eds and artistic renderings, where those plucky and lovable heroes and heroines don't get what they want, or even make it out alive.
Well, I shouldn't say heroes, because the heroines are shown far more often, if not exclusively, to have "bad endings." Fairy tale females are oft pictured suffering as a stand-in for their happy ending - sometimes violently. Thus when a provocative series like Thomas Czarnecki's From Enchantment to Down gains popularity, people cry misogyny. Are they right?
On the one hand, we could see Czarnecki's series positively drawing attention to the real life plights of some women - rape, abduction, exploitation, torture, murder - through familiar fairy-tale characters. However, Czarneki admits in The Daily Mail:
...his aim was pure culture shock.
The photographer was inspired to create a clash between what he calls 'the naive universe and the innocence of the fairy tales' and a 'much darker reality that is as much part of our common culture' provided through imagery we see in entertainment and media.
'So many Disney characters embedded in the collective culture as sweet and innocent creatures that I decided to get out of their recognized fairy-tale frame and universe,' he said.
The problem is, it isn't really Disney characters - it's just Disney women. We don't see fairy-tale males like Pinocchio, Aladdin, or Robin Hood facing sticky ends with the same implied sexual violence. No Hercules crushed between two pillars with his tunic pulled up, or Peter Pan hung from the rafters in his child-size briefs. But violence against women where they remain sexy and beautiful, is not only provacative but popular. And that's what's troubling - these photograhs presented as "culture shock" imply that the fairy-tale hope of pursuing your dreams doesn't exist in a "reality" where girls just get raped and murdered, all the while remaining attractive and alluring.
However, Czarnecki isn't the first to tackle this "real world consequences for fairy tales" in a photo series. In fact, his series reminded me of another shoot by photographer Bruno Vilela called Bibidi Bobidi Boo! where fairy tale heroines are similarly photographed as beautiful corpses.
Though I could also recall other "consequences" photo series that didn't necessitate the death of its subjects: Ex-Disney Princesses by Anna Howard, Fallen Princesses by Dina Goldstein, Behind the Scenes Fairytales by Rosie Hardy, and Grimm's Scary Tales by EbbyLou. All photo series by female photographers.
So that got me thinking: What about a compare and contrast between the photographers work by gender - what was the same, what would be different? How would gender paradigms affect how the photographer would see and shoot their subjects? What would that mean about their attitudes about women?
WARNING: Though not explicitly violent, some of these photos do strongly indicate animal cruelty, rape, abduction, exploitation, torture, and murder. They can be highly disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.
- Must be a series of photos
- Reference Disney/Disney Princesses
- Focuses on "real-world consequences" of fairy tales
- Not humor, horror, or fashion oriented
Thomas Czarnecki - My Sweet Prince
Thomas Czarnecki - Too Fast
Thomas Czarnecki - Just A Trap
Thomas Czarnecki - Naughty Girl
Thomas Czarnecki - On The Other Shore
Thomas Czarnecki - Not So Romantic
Thomas Czarnecki - One Last Wish
Thomas Czarnecki - One More Trophy
Thomas Czarnecki - Happy End
- Subjects' faces aren't show or not shown fully to the camera
- Emphasis is on the body and the loose/disheveled clothing or covering
- Beautiful even in death
- Subjects appear dead or inert, "helpless"
- Signs of victimization/abuse (restrained, dresses pulled up, blood splatter)
- Both are non-American photographers (French and Brazilian); Could be culture commentary from outsider perspective, thus the extreme view
- Is it provocative because it's a commentary on how real life women can be treated, including fairy-tale women,
- OR is it provocative because it's how fairy-tale women should have, or expect to be treated? Therein lies the misogyny
Ebby Lou / Rosie Hardy - Snow White's Eating Disorder / Dina Goldstein / Anna Howard
Ebby Lou / Ebby Lou / Rosie Hardy - Cinderella's Abduction / Dina Goldstein
Anna Howard / Rosie Hardy - Sleeping Beauty's Other Needles / Ebby Lou / Dina Goldstein
Rosie Hardy - The Little Mermaid's Big Accident / Dina Goldstein / Anna Howard
Anna Howard / Rosie Hardy - Belle's Drunken Mistake / Dina Goldstein / Ebby Lou
Rosie Hardy / Anna Howard / Dina Goldstein
Rosie Hardy - Pocahontas's Carbon Footprint / Dina Goldstein
Rosie Hardy - Rapunzel's Mistake / Dina Goldstein - Rapunzel
- Emphasis on the subject's face and expression, making them more person than object
- Wider variety of "consequences" per Princess, some of it self-inflicted
- Greater personal agency - even though some of the women are engaged in destructive behaviors, they're doing the action to themselves and not being subjected to it
- Props are more often being used by or are in the subjects' hands
- Neutral consequences - Some of the situations are more compromise than outright unfortunate, taking the bad with the good or surmising that "Happily Ever After" doesn't necessarily mean "Happy All The Time"
- Larger reflection on modern or societal ills within the photos - resource conservation, guerrilla warfare, May-December romance, substance abuse, animal hoarding
- Even the photos where women are "dead" or bloodied they still appear to maintain some control (having bitten the apple, holding the bouquet)
I like the female photographers' work because it doesn't objectify the women as passive objects the way the male gaze does. It is disturbing to look at pictures of dead fairy tale characters, that's why it's so culturally shocking. But what's even more disquieting is what the pictures unintentionally highlight about how these photographers view the agency of women: that they're little more than victims terrible things are bound to happen to.
What are your thoughts of the photos?
Anna Howard | Ex-Disney Princesses
Bruno Vilela | Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo
Dina Goldstein | Fallen Princesses
Ebby Lou | Grimm Scary Tales
Rosie Hardy | Behind the Scenes Fairytales
Thomas Czarnecki | From Enchantment to Down