Monday, February 6, 2012

Power and the Gaze

    In the two text we had to read, one of the themes I saw emerge were that photographs have the potential to other. They often other those not in power, or not “like” the intended viewer. In “The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes,” the authors explain how brown bodies, especially non-American bodies are constantly objectified, while, Berger focuses on the ways that women are subject to the same gaze and objectification. In addition to distancing “ourselves” from an “other,” photographs have the potential to show us how the other sees us, however Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins posit that the gaze of the other is often “manipulated... [to allow] us to see ourselves reflected in their eyes in ways that are comfortable, familiar and pleasurable” (p. 92). 
     This keeps us from critical reflection and evaluation of ourselves. However, photographs have the power to cause us to reconsider things that we have previously accepted. Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins sate that the “mirror and camera are tools of self-reflection and surveillance. Each creates a double of the self, a second figure who can be examined more closely than the original - a double that can also be alienated from the self - taken away, as a photograph can be, to another place” (p. 100). I found this statement especially interesting, but it made me wonder how often do we see ourselves in this way; when do we view things from a new perspective and step outside ourselves? How often do we see photographs that ask us to do so? Too often we remain in our comfort zone looking at pictures that reinforce our preconceived notions and don't challenge us, that are “comfortable, familiar and pleasurable.” Both of these articles seem to come back to the question of power dynamics, and how taking a picture allows the photographer to compose and aestheticize the picture in a way that influences the viewer’s perception. It seems that too often the subject of the photograph is left voiceless; their face and body appropriated to convey someone else's message. This results in a multitude of smiling faces looking out at you from national geographic covers that Lutz and described.

1 comment:

  1. I think it is important to recognize, as Jennifer did, the lack of critical reflection and evaluation we have been discussing and pushing in class so far. Both articles demonstrated the “us and other” dichotomy which objectified the subject of the photos. This objectification created power, as Jennifer also mentioned. I would like to add that the power in Berger’s article was very specific. It was the power of the man to see women, to determine how to treat them, to simply enjoy looking at them. He wrote “men act and women appear” ( Berger 47). This statement is not specific to the photos but rather to the relationship between men and women in all walks of life, exemplified in photography and paintings.
    Similarly, Lutz and Collins discussed these privileges of the viewer in National Geographic which are most likely Western men and women. The Westerners, like men in Berger’s article, are spectators. They are surveying the subject of the photo who has been placed or photographed in such a way that they convey not something natural but rather what the spectator wants or expects to see. This renders the subject voiceless, as Jennifer wrote.
    An addition I found interesting in both articles was the idea of a mirror. The mirror was a source of vanity, of ego, of seeing oneself as another individual. This idea somehow took the guilt of the onlooker away. If guilt is the wrong word, then it enhanced their pleasure instead. It allowed them to view the subject viewing himself making them even more distant from the subject.
    I agree with Jennifer that these articles brought to light the futility of something like National Geographic if it lacks any sense of critical reflection or acknowledgement. If photos in things like National Geographic are meant to help us as Anthropologists, as world citizens, as humanity, they must push us outside of our comfort zone; challenge us to really think about ourselves and others and what that relationship means.