How does the idea of the gaze impact on my own work?

Lutz and Collins distinguish between seven different types of gaze when considering photographs published in National Geographic. As far as my own work is concerned only really three of the seven are relevant. Since I am my own editor, there is little distinction between the photographer’s gaze and the editor’s gaze. It is not totally absent though as I will make a distinction between taking a photograph and deciding how to present it – how it is presented, in what format, and in conjunction with or without other images and text.

Although I have taken photographs in other non-western countries, these are such exceptional circumstances that I don’t really consider the idea of the non-western gaze as being particularly applicable. Again it is not totally absent but the two occasions (Chile 2006 and Tanzania 2016) are such outriders that I don’t regard them now as significant.

In terms of the photographer’s gaze, I understand Lutz and Collins point about using the camera viewpoint to imply identity with the chosen subject. However I suspect it is not something I have previously given careful consideration to when taking photographs. Their point makes total sense to me and is one that I need to bear in mind for future.

In reference to the subject’s gaze, Lutz and Collins are referring specifically to non-western subjects, but a lot of what they say seems relevant to any individual as subject, western or non-western. Their statement that ‘The look into the camera in all cases must suggest the acknowledgement of the photographer and the reader’(Lutz, s.d.:139) means they are only referring to photographs that have been taken with the explicit foreknowledge of the subject; candid street photography is not under consideration here. I do accept their point that the view of the subject both signifies assent and provide an illusion of intimacy. If I ask someone if I can take their photograph in general they will automatically come up with an expression of consent, even if not one of outright happiness. I realise I am now referring to me the photographer rather than me the viewer but it is generally a deliberate acceptance on my part as photographer that this is what I would want to see as viewer.

The idea that the subject is at a disadvantage due to being subject to an unreturnable gaze makes sense to me, and is also one that I have not really given consideration to in the past. It is easy to ask for permission and explain what my purpose is, but perhaps not so obvious to me that they then do not know how their image will be received or by who. Lutz and Collins point out that a full-frontal gaze can often carry implications of a power relationship, with the subject as ‘owned’ by the ‘owner’ photographer. They make the point that a subject looking slightly off-camera can retain the illusion of intimacy and at the same time retain an idea of personal integrity. I’ve used this off-camera gaze myself as it generally seemed to provide a better photograph, but Lutz and Collins do help to clarify my thinking here.

Mostly this is because I know I am a student with a (very) limited audience; it would be a different matter if I was a professional photographer.

Reference

Catherine Lutz, J. C. (s.d.) ‘The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic’ At: https://www.oca-student.com/sites/default/files/oca-content/key-resources/res-files/nationalgeographic_gaze.pdf

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