Kate Moss: readers' opinions
by Keynan Hobbs, MFA, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Student, University of Pennsylvania
The Kate Moss, RN review on The Center for Nursing Advocacy's web site of Richard Prince's photograph in W magazine pointed nicely to issues that complicate an outright rejection of the worth of the image. However, where Harry Summers' review stops short of condemning the photograph, I'd like to see it through to the end. Is there more to the image than first meets the eye? Yes. Does that "more" justify yet another inappropriate combination of nurses and sexuality? Absolutely not.
One of my disagreements with Mr. Summers' review is his exculpatory characterization of Moss' outfit in the photo as "quasi-naughty" when it is actually overtly "naughty"; from its unnecessarily short length, to its fully zippered front, to its clingy vinyl material. Judging this outfit in relation to the others that Moss wears (or doesn't, in the case of the nude pictures) in the rest of the portfolio is really inadequate. The contribution of this photo to the continued disrespectful depiction of stereotypical nurses in popular imagery makes it accountable not to the other pictures in the group, but to the image of nursing (as long as nurses choose to hold it accountable). This opens it up to comparison to the appearance of real nurses, male and female, and points glaringly to its impropriety.
That certain something that Mr. Summers' review alludes to, lurking behind the photo and making it seem more than what it appears, is Pop art. Pop has a funny sort of history of positioning itself as some mere medium between American society and itself, reflecting back only what Americans themselves put up to the "mirror". This innocent activity is most often curiously combined with a contradictory engagement in the higher moral agenda of social critique (Pop has to maintain its high art status somehow, right?). If confronted, Prince might point out that the pre-existence of sexualized images of nurses in our culture is intrinsic to his Pop Art product. In fact, Prince's use of nurses fits well into the Pop Art spectrum of sexual allure and popularity, and how both supplant the individual when the image is repeated so many times that the truth that it once contained is replaced by an alternate one. So how does this legitimize putting Kate Moss in a silly vinyl nurse's suit with her "kind of off-beauty", her "nose that is just a little too broad" (as the W article puts it), and her pointy nipples and tousled hair?
It doesn't, and here's why: the photo is essentially an advertisement for both Prince and Moss, and little more. Even "W" magazine's tag line about "regurgitation" is virtually meaningless. The photo is intended for consumption by an audience that Mr. Summers points out nicely is partly "cognoscenti" who will view the work with "little understanding of nursing"; but don't forget the others who may be educated about nursing but less so about Pop art, and the vast majority of viewers educated about neither. Given that, what does it mean that Moss is striking a "defiant hand-on-hip stance"? I'm not sure that it matters considering the smutty air of the outfit. What does it mean that Moss is standing in front of a painting of an obscured/anonymous nurse? It means "Hey, that nurse in the painting has no face, but this one does, and it's Kate Moss!!!" Most likely Prince was invited by "W" to perform his usual shtick, and since it would have been logistically much tougher to dress up Moss as a cowboy and recreate his use of the striking Marlboro men on the open plain, he dressed her up as, well, you know what.
Feel free to reject the idea that the image is self-promotion if you wish, and read the press release for the London exhibition of Prince's nurse paintings which includes the observation that "The nurse's face mask is accentuated, protecting her anonymity and allowing her to become a cipher for the viewer's fantasies." In W 's case, the mask in the painting allows the nurse to become Kate Moss for the viewer's fantasies. We should all repeat the phrase "a cipher for the viewer's fantasies" as a mantra, while deciding if this picture is worthwhile or not. And so as not to leave any mystery to the issue, the Random House College Dictionary's definition for a cipher is "a person or thing of no influence or importance".
One last point with which I would disagree with Mr. Summers' assessment is his comparison to Madonna. If the sexuality of Madonna's work is stripped away (and I am not sure that it neatly can be, but let's imagine) then I think that the questions raised, and affirmations offered, by her about the power for female self-determination still stands. What is left when the sexuality is removed from Prince's picture? The underlying condition that the image of nursing is still being abused despite the fact that everyone you meet has seen an actual nurse and they are nothing like that picture. Thanks, but I'm pretty sure we already knew that.
by Pam Meredith, RN, NP
To me, Kate looks like a frazzled and fed up nurse in this photo (messy hair, angry expression, sweaty face. She seems to cry out, "I've had enough!"). Maybe she is fed up with the "outfit" she has to wear, which represents the stereotype that nurses endure. Juxtaposed with the faceless ideal on the wall--Kate, a real nurse, rebels and seems to say, Enough is enough! I have work to do and cannot possibly do it in this hot, constricting garb!"
Letters to the publishers of W magazine
I am a registered nurse and freelance writer and was disturbed to see the photo of Kate Moss as a nurse, hand on hip, by photographer Richard Prince, in the September issue of W. The media have the public forum and trust, but this is the kind of photo which erodes that trust. Nurses are highly educated professionals who should be portrayed as such; not as sultry sex-toys. The photo is insulting to the nursing profession, and does not reflect well on the accuracy of your Creative department.
Also, why was Moss's face shown in a shadow? Is this how the media feels and thinks of nurses, and how it respects them? Hopefully, there will be a nurse available for someone in the media who is ill when s/he needs one; the media isn't helping to assure this.
There was a time when nurses were INSTRUCTED to hide, be meek handmaidens; but that was yesteryear. It seems like the media is content to take the easy way out, use old stereotypes, not do the legwork and find that today's nurse doesn't always worship physicians; nurses have brains, unlike your portrayal.
Anne Nowlin, BS, BSN, RN
Des Plaines, IL.
What is your point here? A REAL NURSE would not even dream of wearing pleather or patent leather as we would sweat ferociously with all the hard work we do and if our uniforms were that length we would never have time to educate patients or perform all the skilled tasks we do as we would be constantly attempting to adjust our hem line. Besides that, this uniform would never hold up for what we do in one shift alone!
Sharon Stratton, RN, BSN
Regarding this month's issue of W with feature story by Belcove on Moss, including a photo by Prince posing Moss as a "naughty nurse": what a disappointing cliche!
The continued denigration of the nursing profession is significantly undermining nurse recruitment and retention. When nurses are in short supply, bad things happen to patients.
Give us all a break!
Mary Charvat, RN
As a Registered Nurse I object to your portrayal of Kate Moss dressed as a "naughty nurse" in your magazine. Nursing is a profession, not something to make fun of and disrespect. We all worked very hard to earn our designation and do not appreciate your perpetuation of the "sexy naughty nurse" stereotype.
It is vital to teach the public what a nurse does, and it is so much more than giving a sponge bath. We are not sex objects and should not be depicted as such. No employer would allow a nurse to wear a vinyl, mini dress with breasts billowing out. It is simply not professional.
Doctors wouldn't tolerate this if it was them in the pictures. Why should a nurse be any different? Grow up people.
Patricia Clements, RN