You know her, you've seen her. The woman standing alone with her back to camera, in a wide landscape of incredible grandeur. The face-less female who's been popping up in our Instagram and Pinterest feeds for the last couple of years, causing us to stop in our tracks and ponder for a moment.
There's a mystery to her, to these photos. A sense of quiet as though the camera is penetrating through the back of her head, urging us to read her mind, to put ourselves in her shoes. Is this why we never see her face? So we can somehow portray our own face within her own? To put ourselves in her shoes?
Linda McGregor from All About Eve, is a recognised expert on understanding and marketing to women and she has some ideas about this. Apparently us women are incredibly judgemental (no kidding!) and have a lightning fast, unconscious bias when looking at photos of other people, especially other women. “By removing the face from advertising images, the judgemental effect is greatly removed as a distraction, meaning we are more likely to connect with the moment, experience or feeling in the image. The faceless women in these works indicates the photo creator, subconsciously, wanting to share the unadulterated joy of being in that place and that moment.”
But even though I can look back over a few years of social media and see this trend in imagery growing, running parallel to the groundswell of growing interest in women's outdoor adventure, I am still wondering what's happened? What's changed?
More recently, we could point to things like the release of the film version of Cheryl Strayed's WILD as a catalyst to inspire women the world over. Although probably not all having the drug use and Mother issues as Reese Witherspoon portrayed in the movie, but many women seemed able to identify with a desire to do something uniquely for themselves, something quite unexpected.
Yvonne Shepherd from Women's Fitness Adventures in Brisbane, feels the growing tide has something to do with regaining the balance of responsibilities. “As women, we generally put everyone and everything else first, work, kids, pets, you name it. Getting out into nature, either on our own or with a group, allows us to reconnect with who we are, even if it is only for a brief time. A chance to just "stop the world" and be able to have yourself as the only responsibility. Kind of like hitting the pause button on your life for a while and you being the only active participant.”
I tend to agree with her, but this is where Linda (McGregor) threw me a curve-ball... "There's also an element of science behind this new attitude for women at a 'certain age'. Chemically, our bodies are changing in many ways and one of those changes is an unmasking of testosterone levels."
Yep - the blokey hormone! "As women age, our oestrogen levels decrease, as do men's testosterone levels. But, as we have both hormones as women, the net effect
is a swing towards male hormone balance and many characteristic actions such as confidence, risk taking and increased assertiveness = women discovering themselves. Whereas, men take on more “feminine traits”; connect better, have more time for others etc. This can be evidenced in the way in which grandfathers can be such big old 'softies' and can have great relationships with their grand-daughters."
Does this mean that the older I get, the more 'like a man' I become?
One aspect of our FF (Faceless Female) that I think is pertinent to that point is her apparent fearlessness. She is seen alone in this wilderness, she is self-sufficient, she is strong and powerful - not only of body, but also of mind. I've lost count of the number of times I've had the conversation with women about how they'd love to go and spend time alone in the bush, but feel they don't have the guts for it.
The dark-side of society, sadly, dictates an awareness within women, that there are men who assault, rape or worse. It makes me angry that this awareness breeds fears that stops us from experiencing moments of wonder, like waking up alone, to a mountaintop sunrise of splendour.
However, our FF hero seems immune to these fears. Is she having her mountaintop experience in spite or despite these fears?
I know there are trends in advertising imagery, heck, I work in that industry, but as my hobby is spending time within wild places, I feel quite deeply about the way in which it is portrayed and find myself analysing how it's done and the responses that they're hoping to incite.
What responses do these images invoke in you?
Do you want to be that lone person, looking thoughtfully out across the yonder?
Is it the visual (gin &) tonic for the ever connected generation, ironically seeing these shots on Instagram within a 600px square box?
I confess. I love my Instagram feed and it is full of these types of images and even though the word inspiration is over-used these days, they inspire me.
But things have changed over the last few weeks as I've been adding more and more photographers who specialise in this type of shot. I found myself having to swipe faster and faster to move through them all, yet what these types of shots cry out for is time.
Time to hold it on your screen for longer than it takes for the pendulum effect of
a swipe to slow down the scroll. Time to project yourself into their point of view
and imagine what they’re feeling. Time to acknowledge that these are places off- the-grid, without digital connection and to imagine what that moment in time feels like. A life of slowing down to be, not racing with the do.
Time to Imagine what that place sounds like, what if feels like and then discover how it makes us feel.
And then, as we look away from the screen, time to start planning how we can put ourselves in their shoes, not just vicariously through Instagram... but in reality.