I have received several requests for me to comment on the generally loathsome and sexist media coverage of Joanna Newsom’s and Andy Samberg’s wedding this weekend, so I am going to honor those requests now. But I also encourage anyone to please submit their own comments!
I have read about…
candid outtake from a late night shoot.
New York City, 2011
photo: Jung Kim
Joanna Newsom contemplates taking her shirt (dress) off [x]
“I’ve photographed Joanna Newsom a couple of times now and what stands out to me the most is her wicked sense of humour. The second time I met her we had to shoot in the local launderette because she had to do her laundry and had no other free time. I noticed as I was taking the photo of her sat in front of the machines that somebody had scratched ‘slut’ into the glass door above her head. “Leave it in” she insisted, “Don’t photoshop it out”. You can see it if you look close enough… As we drove her back to her hotel we passed a massive billboard of Razorlight. She gave them the two fingers and hollered “Fuck you Razorlight” as we zoomed through the heart of Shoreditch.”
- Cat Stevens
This quote is interesting to me for many reasons: people often do not discuss the (dark) humor in Joanna Newsom’s works or even the irony. That deeply saddens me, even though I have done nothing much about it myself. The Milk-Eyed Mender is full of humor and even songs like “Easy” are hilarious if we interpret them as sarcastic rather than coquettish.
But I think Cat Stevens errs when he says that she left the word “slut” on the machine because of her humor. Or maybe…he just omitted another reason why she insisted it remain there: her intellectual interests in female sexuality and how it is policed and interpreted. Songs like “Only Skin,” “Have One on Me,” and “‘81” show that Joanna is critically and deeply concerned with slut-shaming and gendered double standards. What is a “slut?” Is a slut real? How is it a figment of heteropatriarchy?
Moreover, if we consider the belt she is wearing (her “Bill” belt), how does the slut inscription add to the visual humor and irony of the scene? The belt is a dramatic and overexaggerated symbol of monogamy to a man, which Joanna explores time and time again as a symptom and expectation of femininity. How does the slut inscription problematize that symbol of monogamy? How does it show how female sexuality is policed? How does it show that the condemnation of “slut” always looms for women as a construct, even if they are “following the rules?” How do both the “Bill” belt and the slut inscription show that women are only reduced to their gatekeeping of sex? How does it show that all women must fall within the constraints of the madonna/whore dichotomy?
Now that I know that inscription is there, I think this is one of the more important photographs of Joanna: it shows her humor (as Cat Stevens rightly says), but it also speaks to her feminist, philosophical, and intellectual concerns in a way that I never conceived of before.