Ophelia Essay Section 4

Section 4. Ophelia in Bath Tubs and Swimming Pools

Many of the images and videos of Ophelia's death set in a natural environment invite explicit comparison with Millais and other nineteenth-century artists who have drawn upon allusions to the natural world in Shakespeare's text. However, many contemporary works radically alter the setting, de-romantizing it, often shifting it away from the natural world, and, it may be argued, bringing it closer to the world of the average modern viewer. A significant number of postings, for example, place Ophelia in a bath tub. Indeed, It is worth noting, perhaps, that the prevalence of photographs of women in bath tubs has led to the formation of a Flickr group named "Sensual Bathtub." There is also an "Ophelia" group and an "Art of John Everett Millais" group and a Yahoo "Ophelia's Pool" group that contains a separate gallery of 193 images of Ophelia in a bath tub .[32]
    Obviously, the bath tub is a more accessible, more hygienic, more comfortable setting than a stream or pond (one Flickr 
photographer comments on her pleasure at being able to use a well-appointed hotel bathroom for bath tub pictures of herself while another describes in her blog the cold water and the reactions of passersby at seeing her in a stream). To this one may add the comment by Elizabeth Hunt in her blog regarding her choice of a bath tub for a self-portrait as Ophelia: "I know it's a bit modern but I'm not feeling brave enough to go out and do something like this in public, in a lake!" Rosie Hardy has a similar comment regarding her use of a swimming pool: "This shoot was SO MUCH FUN and so scary!!! I didn't have the courage to actually get in the river, the water was brown, so I went to my local swimming pool and took pictures of myself in the water there in front of EVERYONE. In a dress. The lifeguards were very good about it, they helped take the photos and made sure I didn't drown!" [33] A bath tub may also seem to be a more intimate and domestic setting that is especially suited (see below) to self-portraiture. For models, it is more private, and for videographers and photographers, working in a bathroom permits greater technical control.[34] For those wishing to stress the modernity of their appropriation, the use of a bath tub setting, as one Flickr contributor (mydearDelilah) commented, allowed "for more modern purposes of re-inventing Ophelia."[35] One might also speculate that the bath tub is very apt because it is familiar to modern viewers as a potential place for suicide (more common than a stream or other natural body of water). Although the significance of Shakespeare's natural world may be lost, modern viewers are perhaps drawn closer to Ophelia by seeing her in a setting that reflects their own familiar world. Although Ophelia's death in bath tub images is primarily associated with drowning, one photographer (Yulek) has merged this with the common modern suicide method of slashing the wrists in a bath tub of warm water. Ophelia in this instance is depicted in a white dress in a white bath tub filled with water, but the water is red with blood. [36] The idea parallels a 2003 production of Hamlet in which Ophelia (Anna Meade) killed herself by slitting her wrists while in a bath tub. Perhaps influenced by this approach, the 2010 Metropolitan Opera production of Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet (1868), although it did not include a bath tub, had Ophelia in a white dress that then became covered in blood when she died after stabbing herself and then slitting her wrists.


[Permission to use this Flickr image granted by its owner, Sebastian Hadfield-Hyde]

    The one glaring disjunction with our normal expectations regarding a person in a bath tub is that the young females depicted as Ophelia are usually clothed, often in some form of white dress that, as already noted, has become a recognized norm. Although the poses adopted and the degree to which Ophelia's body is revealed commonly introduce an obvious erotic dimension, the majority of Web 2.0 videos and images avoid nudity. There are exceptions (see the above Flickr image by Sebastian Hadfield-Hyde),[37] but nudity to date is not characteristic of the Ophelia icon. Just how much this has to do with a desire to preserve a key characteristic of the Ophelia icon and how much it stems from a recognition that photo-sharing sites like Flickr and FotoCommunity limit shared access to "questionable" material is unclear. Aware of the erotic potential of the Ophelia icon, however, several pornography sites have inevitably made use of the name, while an accomplished American photographer, J. C. Graham, has published a book of his nude photographs of young women under the title Visions of Ophelia. Graham's subject, according to the publisher's blurb, is described as follows: "... intimate insights into the emotional worlds of his young models. He focuses his lens on the soft curves, budding breasts, and pouting lips of youthful beauties who bewitch us with their innocent gazes."[38] 

Go to:
Section 1. Introduction: Ophelia and Web 2.0
Section 2. Ophelia Images and John Everett Millais
Section 3. The Appropriation and Remixing of Ophelia Images
Section 5. Self-Portraits as Ophelia
Section 6. Fragmentation and Absence: Postmodern Images of Ophelia
Section 7. Some Concluding Thoughts on Ophelia and Web 2.0
Section 8. Principal Video- and Photo-sharing Websites Consulted



[32] (http://www.flickr.com/groups/632254@N20/pool/with/3369431171/. Accessed January 11, 2010) And another called Girls in Bath" (http://www.flickr.com/groups/girlsinbath/. Accessed January 11, 2010). Such sites allow for works with related subject-matter to be retrieved and searched as a discrete group. The option of placing a work in a group rests with the individual creator. Although (as of 13 November 2009) the Ophelia group contains 746 photographs, many other Ophelia works have not been linked to the group and must be retrieved in separate searches. For the Yahoo group, see http://groups.yahoo.com/adultconf?dest=/group/OpheliasPool/photos/album/1331793248/pic/list. (accessed January 10, 2010).


[34] Some of the same points can be made about the videos and photographs that use a swimming pool as setting for Ophelia's death by drowning. See, for example, the videos by Kristin Schwanke (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiUpFnKWDpg&feature=related. Accessed January 11, 2010)nightshift368 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyMtrZ0pukQ. Accessed January 11, 2010), and Roland Hancock(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuufXr7Qdi0. Accessed January 11, 2010), and the photograph by Marcia Farquhar(http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarahdoyle/196334916/. Accessed January 11, 2010).


[37] See, for example, the works depicting a nude Ophelia that are listed elsewhere on this website. 

In the Web 2.0 environment, nude photographs tend to be available only to viewers over 18 years of age who have signed up to be members of specialized groups. Emilia LeVarea's "Ophelia's Pool" group, for example, contains a number of nude Ophelias; however, to view the works in this group, one must first have a Yahoo ID.
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