‘I decided to shoot pictures of men who made comments to me on the street. I had always hated this invasion of my privacy and now I had the means of my revenge. As I walked along Houston Street with my fully automated Nikon, I felt armed, ready. I passed a man who muttered “Wanna Fuck?” This was standard technique: the female passes and the males strikes at the last possible moment forcing the woman to backtrack if she should dare to object. I wheeled around, furious. “Did you say that?” He looked around surprised, then defiant. “Yeah, so what the fuck if I did?” I raised my Nikon, took aim, began to focus. His eyes darted back and forth, an undercover cop? CLICK.’
Anderson photographed men who called to her or whistled her on the street. In her artist statement she writes about one experience,
“As I walked along Houston Street with my fully automated Nikon. I felt armed, ready. I passed a man who muttered ‘Wanna fuck?’ This was standard technique: the female passes and the male strikes at the last possible moment forcing the woman to backtrack if she should dare to object. I wheeled around, furious. 'Did you say that?’ He looked around surprised, then defiant 'Yeah, so what the fuck if I did?’ I raised my Nikon, took aim began to focus. His eyes darted back and forth, an undercover cop? CLICK.”
Anderson takes the power from her male pursuers, allowing them nothing more than the momentary fear that their depravity has just been captured in a picture.
Those two words make my skin crawl. That is because they have usually been uttered by a stranger who says it while leering or worse. Street harassment – I’m sure every woman you know has experienced it at some point. It could be whist walking down the street, sitting on the metro, going to work or picking the kids up from school. From the lewd comments and wolf-whistles to flashing and even groping, it amounts to the same thing. It is a form of sexual harassment, something that women are forced to confront on a daily basis, something that is too often put up with because ‘it’s just the way things are’. Simply being a woman out in public makes you fair game for this kind of objectification.
Laurie Anderson confronted this with her 1973 photographic project, Fully Automated Nikon (Object/Objection/Objectivity). Angered by strangers’ sexist comments, she went out around her local New York neighbourhood armed with her Nikon camera. When a passer by muttered a crude comment she aimed her camera and photographed him, later placing white strips over his eyes like a criminal. Unsurprisingly, she built up quite a collection.