What If You'd Partnered With Someone Else?!

by Pamela J. Hobart

Have you ever imagined what your life would be like had you partnered with someone different? Czech artist and photographer Dita Pepe has taken these imaginings several vivid steps further with her Self Portraits With Men series. In each installment, Pepe styles and poses herself with a different man, and sometimes children, to great dramatic effect. But what do these self-portraits taken together really mean?

You may be tempted to jump to a standard feminist interpretation: Obviously, Pepe is drawing the viewer's attention to how women are expected to serve as malleable props in the lives of others, blowing around like color-shifting leaves on the wind. Men take over the lives of women and mold them to their own needs and wishes, and we can (allegedly) see it in the way Pepe presents herself, which varies dramatically frame to frame.

But look more closely, and I think you'll find that the message of Self Portraits With Men is both more subtle and less gendered than might first meet the eye. Being a woman herself, Pepe does in fact play the female role in the series, but more importantly she plays the protagonist. Notice how many of her male counterparts bear vacant looks, whereas Pepe always projects a knowing smile or a glare with depth. With characters so imbalanced, we might more plausibly assume that she has turned the men into what she wants them to be!

So don't be so quick to write off women's agency: The stories you construct to make sense of these photos say as much about you as they do about gender, class, or family. For more information on Dita Pepe and her career, you can visit her website or like her on Facebook.

Images: Courtesy of Dita Pepe