3e The Gaze II

[8Jan21 I&P p.81] A number of gazes are listed in the course material – the designations are repeated below with my interpretation of the meaning

spectator’s gaze – the viewer looking at a subject image
internal gaze – one subject looking at another
direct address – the subject looking at the lens
the look of the camera – the photographer through the camera
the bystander’s gaze – the viewer of the image being viewed themselves
the averted gaze – the subject not looking at the lens
the audience gaze – the image contains both a subject and a crowd looking at that subject
the editorial gaze, I’ll quote directly, ‘the whole ‘institutional’ process by which a proportion of the photographer’s gaze is chosen and emphasised’

At this point the concept of gaze(s) seems to be a descriptor that can be used in analysing a photograph, useful, but no more so than, say, the Spense & Martin approach to portraits.

Not mentioned is the nowadays far more significant fact that in addition to a purely descriptive use, the concept of gaze has been weaponised by a variety of socio-political movements and that has redefined and energised the concept. Feminism and anti-imperialism are the two principal causes involved and these name and shame 1. the male gaze in contrast to the female gaze and 2. the imperialist, colonial and tourist gazes. A search of JSTOR entries using the term gaze offers Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film and the Imperial Gaze, E. Ann Kaplan, 1997; Surviving the White Gaze: A Memoir, Rebecca Carroll, 2021; Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race in America, George Yancy, 2016; African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze, Olivier Barlet, 2000; The Female Gaze: Women As Viewers of Popular Culture, Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment, 2018; The Tourist Gaze, John Urry and Jonas Larsen, 2011.

The only example to hand (apart from the course textbook, Angier’s Train your gaze) is Jansen’s Girl on Girl (2017), in which Zing Tsjeng’s foreword (p.7) states,

A woman taking a photograph of a woman isn’t just performing a political act; it is also a powerful act of imagination. If each picture taken creates an image of a new reality, then this is one that suggests the exclusion of men. The photograph may allude to masculinity, but both its gaze and subject remain female. If the male gaze is thought to be toxic, the female gaze is a corrective. It is a perfect, virtuous circle, and entirely natural.

Zing Tsjeng’s foreword to Girl on Girl , Jansen, 2017, p.7

and from Zanele Muholi, the first contributor, a sentence extracted in the book itself,

It’s about claiming the spaces, taking back power, owning our voices and our selves and our bodies, without fear of being judged.’

Zanele Muholi, Girl on Girl , Jansen, 2017, p.11

In terms of the gazes in the original list, this concerns mainly the look of the camera and the spectator’s gaze and probably the editorial gaze.
The treatment of subjects in pornography (and those subjects were, anecdotally, overwhelmingly women photographed by men) was a significant contributing factor in the development of feminist politics from the 1970s onwards. Similarly, the treatment of ethnic cultures largely by white photographers (with the resources to allow leisured travel), from the earliest years of the medium through to National Geographic magazine in the twentieth century (stocked by my school library in the 1960s and many others, I’m sure) and on to today in many media outlets, was and is often patronising (a recent controversy has been Comic Relief’s ‘white saviour’ appeal films, Burt, 2020). Casting the net with hindsight, it is clear that such considerations should also be applied to the treatment of working class fishing industry workers and the working class in general and the FSA’s photographing of displaced farmers, as controlled and instructed by Roy Stryker.

It is, then, entirely justified that many (or perhaps most, even all) groups object to the way they are portrayed by others. It can be both intrinsically offensive and encourage or reinforce prejudices in those who view it.

While these identifications of inappropriate gazes are applied to legitimate and longstanding grievances, it is nevertheless the case that they tend to attribute widespread bad (or malformed) intentions, based on particular and partial interpretations of the past. While this may be an understandable reaction to prejudice and mistreatment, it is demonstrably illogical. Consider pairs of plausibly identical photographs taken by two photographers on opposite sides of these various divides. These could be:
• an unclothed model photographed by a male and female student in a life portrait class;
• photographs of the Taj Mahal or a Cuban street scene taken by a tourist and by a local resident.
If the male, colonial and tourist gazes are real, widespread and unavoidable, then it would not be possible for these pairs of photographs to coexist. In truth, accusations of the application of harmful gazes can only be attributed to a particular image once the identity and background of the photographer is known: it is entirely in the subjective interpretation of the viewer. Once again, that is not to deny that great harm has been inflicted on many groups according to gender, race, ethnicity, location, social standing and many other attributes, it is merely to assert that this cannot necessarily be read into a photograph. There are exceptions to this, of course, for example images of violence, be that sexual, social, racial, political or of any other kind will likely evidence bad intent on some part, but while a pornographer is almost certainly manifesting a harmful male gaze, a journalist photographing an interracial conflict might well be seeking to end it through publicity.

To examine some views on gaze,

Bull (2010, p.54) gives the rich example of Helmut Newton‘s 1980s images deploying complex panoplies of gazes, such as figure B1. Bulgin discussed this in a 1992 essay, Perverse Space and Bull states that this ‘complicated the model of the male / active and female / passive gaze’ from his earlier Looking at Photographs.
Looking at this image, we have the model’s averted gaze, but only in reflection; she might actually be looking at June Newton (née Browne. aka June Brunell aka Alice Springs) with a returned internal gaze. Helmut, meanwhile, is directing the look of the camera to the mirror and therefore, indirectly, turning his male gaze onto a naked woman (while wearing a mac!) [That might be the first time I have used an exclamation mark on this site, and probably the last.]
Bull notes that the original four views defined by Bulgin in Looking at Photographs (derived from Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, 1975) are:
1. the look of the camera at the scene / subject / event etc.:
2. the look at the viewer at the resulting image;
3. the looks of subjects at each other and / or objects; and
4. (added by Bulgin for still photography because characters rarely address the audience in film) a look of the subject(s) towards the camera and thereby the viewer.

Later (p.57) Bull draws attention to Jemima Stehli’s response to Newton’s picture, Self Portrait with Karen, 2000 (fig. C1).

[16Jan] Salkeld (2018) highlights Daniel Chandler’s Notes on ‘The Gaze’ (1998) and summarises Chandler’s definitions as:
• of the viewer at an image of a person
• of one depicted at another within the image
• the one depicted “looking ‘out of the frame’ as if at the viewer, with associated gestures and postures”
• the look of the camera, “by association, the gaze of the photographer”.

Chandler himself notes four additional, lesser, gazes, a bystander watching the viewer (attributed to Willemen 1992); a deliberately averted gaze on the part of the depicted subject (Dyer 1982); the audience within the frame gazing at the depicted subject; and the editorial gaze (Lutz & Collins 1994). This provides the sources of the course material’s list with which we began. Chandler then lists ten gazes ‘at a figurative painting in a gallery’ from John Ellis, Visible Fictions: Cinema, Television, Video (1982): these are repeated below for ease of reference [1].

Salkeld (2018, p.108) concentrates on the ‘gendered gaze’ tracing the notion through Simone de Beauvoir, Berger and Mulvey and notes that representation of historic male / female stereotypes serves to reinforce and perpetuate those assumed roles.

[26Jan] Writing in 1991, anthologised in 1995, A.D. Coleman said of gaze,

Postmodernism’s hostility to and fear of the faculty of sight is a matter of public record. “The gaze,” a purportedly ancient, secret technique of domi­nation hitherto practiced only by men, has been widely identified and demonized as a modern version of the “evil eye.” The literature abounds with snide references to “scopophilia,” a pejorative neologism that trans­lates as “the love of looking”; in this construct, the very act of seeing stands frequently accused of inherent, pathological voyeurism, with photography as its most pernicious instrument.
So far as I’m aware, no one professing these convictions has had the courage to follow the pertinent Biblical injunction, “If thine eye offend thee, cast it out.” But small wonder that the art around which this theory circles offers so little that rewards visual attention; in a climate of such hysterical revulsion at optical experience, who would want to be caught giving or receiving pleasure via the retina?

A.D. Coleman, Critical Focus, 1995, p.97


1 Daniel Chandler (1998) quotes James Elkins ten different ways of looking at a figurative painting in a gallery (Elkins 1996, 38-9):

  1. You, looking at the painting,
  2. figures in the painting who look out at you,
  3. figures in the painting who look at one another, and
  4. figures in the painting who look at objects or stare off into space or have their eyes closed. In addition there is often
  5. the museum guard, who may be looking at the back of your head, and
  6. the other people in the gallery, who may be looking at you or at the painting. There are imaginary observers, too:
  7. the artist, who was once looking at this painting,
  8. the models for the figures in the painting, who may once have seen themselves there, and
  9. all the other people who have seen the painting – the buyers, the museum officials, and so forth. And finally, there are also
  10. people who have never seen the painting: they may know it only from reproductions… or from descriptions.


anon. (2018) We’ve always known that National Geographic is racist [online]. gal-dem.com. Available from https://gal-dem.com/national-geographic-always-racist/ [Accessed 9 January 2021].

Boothroyd, S. and Roberts, K. (2019) Identity and place. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts. [I&P]

Bull, S. (2010) Photography. Abingdon,Oxon: Routledge.

Burt, E. (2020) Comic Relief to stop producing ‘white saviour’ appeal films [online]. thirdsector.co.uk. Available from https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/comic-relief-stop-producing-white-saviour-appeal-films/fundraising/article/1698527 [Accessed 10 January 2021].

Chandler, D. (1998) Notes on ‘The Gaze’ [online]. visual-memory.co.uk. Available from http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/gaze/ [Accessed 16 January 2021].

Elkins, James (1996): The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing. New York: Simon & Schuster

Gernsheim, H (1962) Creative photography: aesthetic trends 1939-1960. London: Faber & Faber.

Jansen, C. (2017) Girl on girl: art and photography in the age of the female gaze. London: Laurence King.

Salkeld, R. (2018) Reading Photographs. London: Bloomsbury