Image, Identity, Icon

The Panel: Sue Gillett, Kristian Haggblom, Kevin Brianton, Terrie Waddell

Session 3, The Cube, ACMI, 2pm – 3.30pm, November 12, 2016

Marilyn and the Camera, Sue Gillett

Performing for the camera was a double-edged sword for Marilyn Monroe. It provided the means of escape from her impoverished and unstable background, allowing her to take control of her life by building an independent career in modelling and acting. It also constructed her as an iconic image, a two-dimensional surface, a commodity, in which her reality as a flesh-and-blood woman was inevitably eclipsed. The gap between the public adoration of Marilyn and her personal unhappiness never closed.

I explore the paradoxical role of photography and acting in shaping Marilyn’s life and identity and discusses why the satisfactions and fulfilment Marilyn sought in the camera and the image were bound to be disappointed. Drawing upon Donald Winnicott’s theories of childhood development, especially his notions of “the true and the false self”, and Jacques Lacan’s theory of “the mirror stage”, I describe Marilyn’s relationship with image-making as a tragic love affair: its roots can be traced back to the formative events of her childhood in which she experienced abandonment, emotional insecurity, and an unsatisfied desire to be loved. The camera seemed to offer Marilyn the affection, attention and recognition she lacked as she was growing up: she saw that the camera loved her, and in return she gave herself fully to the gaze of the camera. But who was really looking back at her? And what were they seeing?

Don’t be so cocky Larry, photographers can be easily replaced, Dr Kristian Haggblom

The title of this presentation comes from a joke made by Marilyn Monroe before a seminal photo-shoot with Lawrence Schiller, a session that continues to be considered both exploitative and ground-breaking. The quote also raises the point that Monroe was as much a photographer as we she was an actress and model. It is well-known that she had an interest in photography well before modelling or acting, and that she kept her very first camera in her chest of beloved valuables. Perhaps she was a model who could photograph, or at the very least certainly understood the mechanics of still and moving imagery in regards to lighting, choreography and, most importantly, the performance of her own body in relation to focal length, lens angle and control. I consider the production of Marilyn’s imagery in relation to contemporary photographers, Cindy Sherman (America) and Yasumasa Morimura (Japan), who work with similar methodologies to create self-portraiture in a postmodern context and employ techniques such as performative self-portraiture, cinematic cross-referencing and photography for photography’s sake.

Monroe, Miller and McCarthyism: The reputational politics of a sex symbol, Kevin Brianton

Marilyn Monroe is routinely reduced to a sex symbol. This symbolic reputation hides a more complex reality. Monroe’s reputation was an amalgam of many different images, all competing for attention. I examine Monroe as she took on and then discarded images as she to sought to build influence and power in the studio system. Focussing on the reputational impact of her marriages to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller, I look at the way she tried to counter her ’dumb blonde’ image fostered by the studio, seeking to gain intellectual and cultural credibility. This presentation will take into account her growing political profile which attracted the attention of the FBI particularly when Miller testified to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Monroe emerges as a far more complex, interesting and intriguing figure.

Marilyn and the lost child complex – an Australian story, Terrie Waddell

Truman Capote described Monroe as ‘a beautiful child.’ This sense of the lost innocent encapsulated in more depth readings of her image and personal narrative, goes far beyond such endearing, yet patronizing, observations. It is a motif familiar to us – for the mythologizing of lost, abandoned and traumatized children significantly influences Australian screen storytelling and reportage. If we as a culture feel that we ‘know’ Marilyn, perhaps to some degree we do. In many ways her story talks to our cultural obsession far more than to her country’s fascination with success. Unlike North America, ‘we’ are not seduced by what Mikhail Gorbachev described as the victory complex – it’s the symbolic lost child that appears to drive our tail-chasing fixation with grief and becoming. And when we want to express this concept on screen, the images are, for the most part, uncomfortably driven by a sense of ‘the beautiful’.