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The Model’s Revenge 1, 1974. All images copyright of the Alexis Hunter Estate.

Feminist Photos from the 1970s for Today

Frances Morton

Frances Morton

The photography of New Zealand artist Alexis Hunter foreshadowed the intimacy and rage of the Instagram age.

The Model’s Revenge 1, 1974. All images copyright of the Alexis Hunter Estate.

If there's one image we need in this week of revelations about film producer Harvey Weinstein and his alleged long-running sexual harassment of Hollywood women it's this, The Model's Revenge by Alexis Hunter. A naked woman stands facing the camera, her breasts in soft focus while the barrel of the gun she's holding is sharp. The image is a fight back against the objectification of women. It's a commentary on how the ability to objectify lies in the hands of the powerful—the photographer, or, say, the movie mogul. Except in this case the photographer and the model are one and the same. Hunter reclaims the power by being the artist looking, and the subject being looked at.

The Model's Revenge II, 1974

Hunter had a very simple summation of feminism when she was taking photos in the 70s, says Auckland gallerist Trish Clark—"Righting the wrongs of the patriarchy." Hunter, who grew up in New Zealand and worked in London until her death in 2014, tapped into how mass culture and commercialisation fed into the subjugation of women early on. "Unbelievably prescient," says Clark. "She took the tools of oppression and subverted them for her own use."

The Model's Revenge III, 1974

Forty years later, in an age where we just can't stop taking photos of ourselves, Hunter's images are still intimate, affecting and—depressingly—still relevant. In the series Incubus/Succubus a rat, a common metaphor for a creepy, exploitative guy, is photographed on a naked woman. To flip the dynamic, Hunter turned her gaze on men in 1974, making them the focus of her Object series.

In Approach to Fear Hunter sets a silver high heel shoe on fire. "We spurned high heels because you couldn't run from an attacker," Clark told VICE. What women wear, and the message that supposedly projects, has reared up again with maker-of-high-heels Donna Karan's clumsy defence of Weinstein in the Daily Mail. "'You look at everything all over the world today," said Karan, "And how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.'" Pretty sure we know what Hunter's answer would be to that.

Alexis Hunter, Estate, is on show at Trish Clark Gallery, Auckland until November 11.

Incubus / Succubus (detail), (16 images), 1978.
Incubus / Succubus (detail 2), (16 images), 1978
Approach To Fear VIII: Contamination (detail), 1976
Approach to Fear XVII: Masculinisation of Society – exorcise (detail), 1977
Approach to Fear XVII: Masculinisation of Society – exorcise (detail), 1977
Approach to Fear XIII: Pain – destruction of Cause, (8 images), 1977
Domestic Warfare (detail), (20 images), 1974
Domestic Warfare (detail), (20 images), 1974
Object Series, 1974

Alexis Hunter, Estate, is on show at Trish Clark Gallery, Auckland until November 11.