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IAP 3 exercise 3.1 mirrors and windows

Mirrors

In these images the focus is inward, with an emphasis on exploring questions of identity and personal history.

Windows

In these images the focus is outward, with the emphasis on observing character, relationships and the patterns of life. Some of them are literally taken through windows, confirming the idea of observation.

The question of looking inward or outward in photography is one that I have found very interesting since I first encountered the concept quite early on in my OCA studies. As a follow-up to this exercise I have written a post outlining some of my thoughts on the subject on my learning log.

IAP 3 exercise 3.2 aspects of personality

Some of the things that make me uniquely who I am:
– I don’t have a home town and went to 12 different schools
– I’ve never had children or been married
– I didn’t communicate with my mother at all for about 10 years
– I’m very organised
– I have more freckles than anyone else I’ve ever met.

The images below are intended to illustrate the organised aspect of my character, and I think they also speak about the socially detached nature of my lifestyle – although of course not all people who live alone are tidy. In fact I was discussing exactly this point recently with a friend who has also never married or had children but whose home is full of what I would call clutter. So I think these images do say more about my organised and organising character than anything else, and I can envisage expanding them into a series of studies of different people’s characters as revealed through the arrangements of their domestic paraphernalia.

The other idea I considered was a study of people with freckles. This idea was prompted by a visit this afternoon to an exhibition at Brighton Museum entitled 100 First Women Portraits – photographs by Anita Corbin of women who have been the first female in their respective fields. I was very surprised to see that the first regular female TV newsreader Angela Rippon has freckles, and this highlighted the fact that she was the single freckle-faced woman amongst the 100. Perhaps this is an idea I will follow up on at a future date.

IAP 3 exercise 3.3 unhelpful portrayals

We don’t need to look far today to see marginalised or under-represented people and groups being badly or unhelpfully portrayed. While I suspect that the brief for this exercise was written in kinder times and is intended to get us to think about portrayals that are unconsciously bad or unhelpful, today this question inevitably also raises the issue of the conscious and deliberate negative portrayals that have become an integral part of the daily discourse on social media, in the right-wing popular press and even on mainstream TV programmes such as the BBC’s Question Time.

But as I said, I think this exercise is probably intended to prompt us to address our own unconscious unhelpful portrayals and to become aware of whether we are portraying our subjects from an insider or outsider perspective. I have already written a blog post about the inside/outside question so won’t repeat that here. Instead I will consider an example of the way a photographer consciously thinking about their perspective informed the way they approached the work and influenced its outcome.

My example is Émeric Lhuisset, whose series of unfixed cyanotypes L’Autre Rive was shown as part of Brighton Photo Biennial 2018. As one of the volunteer invigilators, I had the privilege of attending a pre-opening talk in which Lhuisset described his determination to avoid presenting the refugees who were the subjects of his series as either invading hordes or tragic victims as they are invariably seen in the media. Instead, he wanted to show them as ordinary people doing everyday things like taking selfies on the beach.

It is not hard to see that there are good reasons for avoiding even well-meaning outsider-perspective portrayals, not least that depersonalising minorities such as refugees by presenting them as tragic victims reduces other people’s ability to relate to them as fully rounded human beings who have the same hopes and fears as everyone else. It is perhaps not too far-fetched to imagine that the consequence of the depersonalisation engendered by even these well-intentioned stereotypes might have helped to lay the ground for the overtly hostile attitudes towards all minorities that have become so ubiquitous in recent times.

IAP 3 exercise 3.4 the gaze

The course notes introduce us to eight gazes. As outlined in Bull (2010), these have their origins in Laura Mulvey’s 1975 essay in which she applied ideas from psychoanalysis to the viewing of film (Mulvey, 2009) and Victor Burgin’s adaptation of her analysis to photography (Burgin, 1982).
1. The spectator’s gaze – the look of the viewer at a person in the image.
2. The internal gaze – the gaze of one depicted person at another within the same image.
3. The direct address – the gaze of a person depicted in the image looking out directly, as if at the viewer (through the camera lens).
4. The look of the camera – the way the camera itself appears to look at people depicted in the image (the gaze of the photographer).
5. The bystander’s gaze – the viewer being observed in the act of viewing.
6. The averted gaze – the subject in the image deliberately looking away from the lens.
7. The audience gaze – an image depicting the audience watching the subject within the image.
8. The editorial gaze – the whole ‘institutional’ process by which a proportion of the photographer’s gaze is chosen and emphasised.

I would add to this list four further gazes:
9. The internal object gaze – the gaze of a person depicted in the image at an object (as opposed to a person as per gaze 2 above) within the same image.
10. The offstage gaze – the gaze of a person depicted in the image at a person or object outside the image frame. The offstage gaze is often (but not necessarily) also an averted gaze, but there is a subtle but significant difference: the sense that the subject is doing more than simply averting their gaze, and is actively gazing at something outside of the image frame rather than passively staring into space.
11. The offstage viewer – the implied gaze of a person outside of the image frame at an object within the frame.
12. The reflected gaze – the gaze of the photographer captured in a reflection. The reflected gaze of the photographer is simultaneously the photographer’s gaze into the scene and their gaze out of the photo towards the viewer, and it shares both these viewpoints with the viewer, who is now placed both inside and outside the image, bringing their attention to the indexality of the image and making them conscious of the act of photographing.

Image 1 above contains the following gazes:

– The spectator’s gaze, by virtue of the fact that there is at least one person in the image.
– The internal gaze, in the form of the central subject gazing at the right-hand subject, the right-hand member of the trio of standing men looking at the middle member of the trio, the middle member’s own gaze towards the seated woman at the left of the image, and that woman’s gaze towards the woman seated immediately to the left of the central pillar.
– The gaze of the camera/photographer towards all the subjects in the image.
– The averted gaze, of the right-hand subject looking away from the camera.
– The editorial gaze, by virtue of the fact that the image has been framed by me during the process of taking the photo and possibly also during post-production.
– The internal object gaze, in the gaze of the right-hand subject at her glass, the gaze of the right-hand member of the standing trio at something in his hand (perhaps his phone), and the gaze of the woman beside the central pillar at the menu.

Image 2 contains the following gazes:

– The spectator’s gaze, by virtue of the fact that there is at least one person in the image.
– The direct address, of the waiter to the left of the image looking directly at the viewer through the camera lens.
– The gaze of the camera/photographer towards the subjects in the image.
– The editorial gaze, by virtue of the fact that the image has been framed by me during the process of taking the photo and possibly also during post-production.
– The offstage gaze, of the central and right-hand subjects towards someone or something outside the image frame.

Image 3 contains the following gazes:

– The spectator’s gaze, by virtue of the fact that there is at least one person in the image.
– The internal gaze, in the form of the woman to the left of the image gazing at her companion opposite, the two standing men to the left of the right-hand pillar gazing at each other and the waitress immediately beside that pillar gazing at the diner who is in the process of ordering.
– The gaze of the camera/photographer towards all the subjects in the image.
– The averted gaze, of the main subject looking away from the camera.
– The editorial gaze, by virtue of the fact that the image has been framed by me during the process of taking the photo and possibly also during post-production.
– The internal object gaze, in the gaze of the diner beside the right-hand pillar at the menu.
– The offstage gaze, of the main subject towards someone or something outside the image frame.
– The offstage viewer, in the form of the owner of the hand holding a menu at the left edge of the image frame.

Image 4 contains the following gazes:

– The spectator’s gaze, by virtue of the fact that there is at least one person in the image.
– The internal gaze, in the form of various of the diners in the image background gazing at their companions.
– The gaze of the camera/photographer towards all the subjects in the image.
– The editorial gaze, by virtue of the fact that the image has been framed by me during the process of taking the photo and possibly also during post-production.
– The internal object gaze, in the shape of the woman gazing at the plate of her dining companion in the polka-dot top.
– The offstage gaze, in the gaze of the main subject at a person outside the image frame.
– The offstage viewer, being the owner of the arm in the bottom left corner of the image frame who is implicitly viewing the phone held by the main subject.

Image 5 contains the following gazes:

– The spectator’s gaze, by virtue of the fact that there is at least one person in the image.
– The internal gaze, in the form of one or more of the diners in the image background gazing at their companions.
– The direct address, of the main subject looking directly at the viewer through the camera lens.
– The gaze of the camera/photographer towards all the subjects in the image.
– The editorial gaze, by virtue of the fact that the image has been framed by me during the process of taking the photo and possibly also during post-production.
– The internal object gaze, in the shape of the woman gazing at the plate of her dining companion in the polka-dot top.

Image 6 contains the following gazes:

– The spectator’s gaze, by virtue of the fact that there is at least one person in the image.
– The internal gaze, by virtue of the photographer’s gaze at the subjects being captured in the image.
– The direct address, of four of main subjects (including the photographer) looking directly at the viewer through the camera lens.
– The gaze of the camera/photographer towards all the subjects in the image.
– The averted gaze, of one of the subjects.
– The editorial gaze, by virtue of the fact that the image has been framed by me during the process of taking the photo and possibly also during post-production.
– The offstage gaze, in the form of one of the subjects gazing at someone or something outside the image frame.
– The reflected gaze of the photographer in the mirror.

References and resources

Bull, S. (2010) Photography. Routledge Introductions to Media and Communications. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Burgin, V. (1982) ‘Looking at Photographs’ in Victor Burgin (ed.) Thinking Photography. London: Macmillan.
Mulvey, L. (2009) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in Visual and Other Pleasures. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.