Category Archives: Project 1: Gaze and control

Exercise. The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes

Read the article ‘The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes:The Example of National Geographic’ by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins.

Core resources:NationalGeographic_gaze.pdf

In what ways does the idea of the gaze apply to your photography?
What are the implications of this for your practice ?

This was an interesting , if somewhat complex , article to read.

The Lutz and Collins article written in 1991 (part of a larger project) examines photographs published in the National Geographic Magazine , at the relationship between observer and observed, and the significance of the ‘gaze’. The panopticon’s design allows an observer to view without being seen , their gaze is not returned. Photography too seldom allows the observed to visually reciprocate, which in turn leads to a criss-crossing of gazes that scarcely meet.
Lutz and Collins state “the National Geographic photograph of the non-Westerner’ cannot be seen simply as a captured view of the other , but as a dynamic site at which many gazes or viewpoints intersect” (p.g 1).

Seven types of gaze are classified

1. The photographers gaze
i.e through the viewfinder
The choice of viewpoint / framing etc can alter how images will be perceived.

2. The institutional / magazine’s gaze
Editorial decisions re – layout / rejection or selection of images / accompanying text/ airbrushing/cropping / the connotation is affected by these choices.

3. The magazine readers’ gazes
Readers do not necessarily ‘read’ an image as intended and can imagine alternative realities due to learned behaviour /cultural / gender / political / differences .
Context is important too—-where the magazine is being read, is it being flicked through briefly with little consideration to the contents or being examined more studiously?
‘The readers gaze is structured by a large number of cultural elements or models , many more than simply those used to reason about racial or cultural difference’ (p.g 5)
Paradoxically National Geographic’s images , whilst allowing it’s Western audience to experience non-Western cultures , ‘can also alienate the reader via the fact that, first, they create or require a passive viewer and , second, they frame out much of what an actual viewer of the scene would see, smell , and hear , and thereby atomise and impoverish experience’ ( p.g 5)

4. The non-Western subjects’ gaze
Four gazes are identified .
Confrontational –look straight out of the frame directly at the observer
Look at someone/thing within the frame
Look at distance
Absent gaze / not look at anything

5. An explicit Western Gaze
The looking of Westerners , often framed together with locals
The Westerner , alone in the frame , is proof they were there
‘A local person in the frame is helpful. The Westerner and the other can then be directly positioned vis-a-vis each other, and the viewer can read their relationship , relative stature and natures from a large number of features of the individuals;they can be directly compared’ (p.g 9)

6.The returned gaze of the other : to see themselves as others see them
‘ The mirror and the camera each are tools of self-reflection and surveillance’ (p.g 10)
‘Historically it was first the mirror and then the camera which were the technologies thought to prove the superiority of the Westerner who invented and controls them’ (p.g 11)
‘The mirror’s placement in non-Western hands makes an “interesting” picture for Western viewers because this theme can interact with the common perception that the non-Western native remains at least somewhat child-like and cognitively immature’ ( p.g 11)
Allowing the camera to be held by the non-Western subject ‘ either the caption or other features of the picture suggest that the native’s use of the camera is amusing or quaint’ (p.g 12)

7. The academic gaze
‘This seventh kind of looking is guided by the idea that an alternative gaze is possible , one which is less dominating , more reciprocal’ (p.g 13)

To Gaze : to stare / look / observe, something all photographers do.

My own preference is to work with subjects I know , usually family members or friends , but this article has certainly made me consider in more detail the ethical dilemmas faced by documentary photographers and the complex relationship between subject , photographer, and viewer. The article highlights how the ‘gaze’ is used subjectively , something as a student of documentary photography I feel is important to remember , and one perhaps all documentarists should consider.

Psychologist Lacan believes the subject of the ‘gaze’ on realising they are observed is made aware of being treated simply as an object. On holiday a few years ago I saw an ‘interesting’ man , he appeared homeless and unkempt , I decided I must have a photograph of him . My camera with it’s long lens attached gave me the power to observe him from a distance , unseen at first , but he became aware of me and became quite threatening to the point where my husband and a friend had to intervene . I felt incredibly guilty as I knew my only reason for photographing him was because he was different , he represented ‘the other’ . He did go on to threaten another young couple with a small camera who had not been taking his picture so can only assume he had a hatred of photographers in general . After this experience I always ask , if possible, a strangers permission before taking their picture whilst this is not always practical I am more aware of the need to be as sensitive as possible.

This article HERE questions the acceptability of photographing the homeless.

References / Bibliography

‘The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes:The Example of National Geographic’ by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins. Core resources:NationalGeographic_gaze.pdf
Accessed 27/9/15


Read the article ‘On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography’ by David Green (The Camera Works Essays , 2015 , pp.119-31) . Core resources: OnFoucault.pdf

Summarise the key points made by the author.

David Green’s essay summarises the fundamental elements of French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault’s work and their relevance to photography.

Green identifies two “interconnecting themes” in Foucault’s theories (OnFoulcault p.g 1)

1.The establishment of certain forms of logic which ” posit ‘man’ as both the subject and object of knowledge” ( OnFoulcault p.g 2 )

2.The complex relations that bond power and knowledge.
“Power must also be recognised in its positive forms when it enables the production of knowledge” (OnFoucault p.g 2)

The growth of new and innovative technology, of which photography was one, led to the ’emergence of new institutions and new practices of of observation and record keeping” ( Tagg , p.g 5) . It was no longer necessary to gain power through arbitrary violence , it could be obtained by more premeditated and sophisticated methods . Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon , a circular prison developed in 1786 , had cells arranged so prisoners could be observed at all times. It was structurally designed so an observer can see the occupants without being observed himself , however “with the development of photography , his utopian structure was to become redundant.” ( Tagg , p.g 87)

Surveillance itself is a form of power. Institutions , prisons , hospitals , schools , factories etc all normalise power. Using photography the body can be observed and classified and Foucault states “the body is directly involved in a political field” ( OnFoucault p.g 4 ) i.e through the use of torture . But ” the body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjugated body” (OnFoucault p.g 4 ), hence “whenever the photographer prepared an exposure , in police cell , prison, consultation room , asylum , Home or school. Foucault’s metaphor for the new social order which was inscribed in these smallest exchanges is that of the Panopticon” (Tagg , p.g 85) . Photography was perceived as being objective but ” clearly involved here was not the discovery of pre-existing truths which the camera so meticulously revealed but the construction of new kinds of knowledge about the individual in terms of visible physiological features by which it is possible to measure and compare each individual to another” (OnFoucault p.g 6)

Foucault’s theory established a link between knowledge and power, with man as both subject and object. Due to the technological advances of the 20th and 21st century we live in an age where we are constantly surveyed and gazed upon , but also gaze and survey back too. New knowledge has led to the emergence of CCTV , GPS , Google Earth / Maps , mobile camera phones , more sophisticated photography techniques and equipment . Whilst this new knowledge and the resulting power gained might be considered to be beneficial it is not always so. The power of photography can be used to evoke both a positive or negative reaction , ethically the role of the documentary photographer is to avoid exploiting their subject.

References / Bibliography

Tagg , J. ( 1988) The Burden of Representation Essays on Photographies and Histories. Macmillan Press Ltd , Great Britain.

‘On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography’ by David Green (The Camera Works Essays , 2015 , pp.119-31) . Core resources: OnFoucault.pdf