Monday, February 6, 2012

Lutz/Collins & Berger

The Lutz and Collins article does something very interesting by introducing this idea of an ‘intersection of gazes’ ultimately becoming the “root of a photo’s ambiguity, each gaze potentially suggesting a different way of viewing the scene” (105). We’ve been discussing how different interpretations/understandings can come from a photo but I don’t think we’ve explored how these different views interact with one another, either supporting or even negating ideologies within society. They state, “the power of the pictorial representation is that it can ease that anxiety (the realization of the gap between our ideal identity and the real)… photos of the ethnic other can help relieve the anxiety provoked by the ideal of the other’s gaze and estimation of us” (92-3). I feel that photography can create a bridge to the other while simultaneously creating a barrier of protection from considering the gaze that Other has upon us. It provides accessibility to the Other while maintaining a distance from them. 

These authors discuss the idea of the position of the spectator stating that this, in combination with the multiplicity of intersecting views, “allow viewers to negotiate a number of different identities for both themselves and those pictures” (91). With this comes an inherit position of power of the viewer, as they have the freedom of not only changing interpretation but also identities in contrast to that being photographed (or the Other), who is identified and understood not by their own identity but that imposed by the viewer. They speak on this notion of the mirror, but more specifically the camera, as “tools of self-reflection”(101). The camera provides the one being photographed to not only become self-aware or solidify self-identity and how others see them but also allows the individual to see his or her own self as the Other. I think it’s important to be conscious that the identity of the photographer and how they photograph an individual can help create and mold which facet of this self-identity is being captured and then perpetuated.

Berger’s article explores something a little different. When the author states, “how a woman appears to a man can determine how she will be treated”(46) and then continues to explain how the actions of either gender are perceived and then labeled brought up a great point. I think this notion can be related back to this idea of identity, specifically the formation of the Other (one being viewed). Any thought or perception of who the women, or rather the Other, is based on what the viewer associates with them. Berger says “men act and women appear”(47) so again, applying it to a larger dynamic, the viewer (Westerner) acts and the Other appears. But I think this raises another point, that many times assume that the Other is not conscious that they are being watched and in some sense this solidifies the power dynamic between the photograph and the one being photographed. In the case we do acknowledge that they are aware they are being watched, the photograph provides this distance from owning up to what we're doing, viewing.

Although I understand the ideas and viewpoints of all these readers I still wonder, are reading too deeply into the photographer-person being photographed-viewer dynamic? Are the analytical tools of dissecting and understanding the power and purpose of the photo in fact adding to the confusion and apathy we tend to have towards images?


  1. I read the Lutz/Collins article in the context of my Challenges of Modernity course as well, and the ideas discussed then are relevant now as well.

    Gaze is important. A couple years back (wow, I feel old) photography Christina Zuck visited Colgate University with her photography exhibit "Defense Phase II Karachi". The exhibit included photos she had taken in Karachi, Pakistan in the days leading up to September 11th. Zuck, a German citizen, was evacuated from Pakistan after the terrorist attacks against the US as Germany feared US retaliation against Pakistan. That's a long backstory. Anyway, there was one photo from her exhibition that still haunts me, to use Sontag's language.

    It was a photo looking down the center of an alleyway. There were around twenty people in the alleyway, and most of them were looking directly at the camera. Not accusingly, not maliciously, but they were looking back at the photographer, and, to draw on concepts from this article, their gaze collided with the gaze of the photographer. In doing so, I would argue that some of the photographer's power was removed. I felt like their collective gaze was holding Zuck, and by extension, all future viewers of this photo. It seemed to say, "We see you, too." Maybe I have a flair for the dramatic, but that's how my impressionable freshman brain perceived it.

    In conversation with Toni's post, I understand her exasperation with the multileveled analysis of the production of photos. However, I have to argue to the contrary. I do not believe that discussing these photos adds to the apathy one feels when viewing photos, but rather reveals our overall apathy in all its glory. Henry David Thoreau once declared, "A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting." I'd suggest the same is true for photographs, nothing inspires the American public to do anything anymore. Words, images, even actions themselves often fall on deaf ears. Or maybe we (that grand, universal we) do feel something, but it stops there. So I will concede, Toni, if these analytical tools are adding to our apathy, it's only dropping a few grains of sand on a beach.

    That's way more than 250 words, but I felt inspired.

  2. I understand the feeling that dissecting the photo may actually lead to increased confusion and apathy. I can understand the possibility that we may become so overwhelmed that we lose concern for what the overall meaning of the photo. However, I believe that dissecting these photos and understanding their meaning for society forces us to acknowledge our apathy, which is essential in decreasing it.

    Lutz and Collins made valuable points when they argued that certain gazes serve to emphasize our superiority and reproduce the primitiveness and therefore inferiority of the subjects. Lutz and Collins make an interesting point that the subject who looks at the camera is often part of the minority or "inferior" culture. They maintain that “…women look into the camera more than men…those who are bronze more than those who are white…those in native dress more than those in Western garb…” (199). They argue that when a subject looks into the camera, he/she allows the viewer to see into his soul, but the subject has no say in how he/she is perceived or the meaning he/she expresses. This can be seen in Berger’s article as well when he maintains that women, when they face the viewer in paintings, are aware that they are being seen. They are forced to accept that their objectivity, but have no say in how they are portrayed.

    It seems that we are often unconsciously attaching a lower status to those subjects directly facing the cameras, which ultimately reproduce divides with in society and lead to subsequent disparities. Therefore it is important to acknowledge this fact so that we can start to undermine these norms.

    However, I question where we go from here? We can recognize the way in which disparities are reproduced in society, but how do we change the way in which those subjects are objectified and portrayed so as to create a more level playing field? From there, how do we begin to break down disparities in society?