Monday, February 6, 2012

Surveyed and Surveyor

            For this Tuesday’s class, we engaged in two readings to further our understanding of photography (and the notion of looking or seeing).  These two readings have many overlapping points of view, as they discuss the multiple dynamics of a painting and/or photograph. 
            Lutz and Collins, in “The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes”, focus on seven specific types of “looking”, of which they refer to as “gazes”, which vary depending on who is viewing the photograph.  Although each one of these “gazes” represents something different, similar questions can be raised after reading the descriptions for each “gaze”.  For example, do we look at photographs of others simply because we “desire to control or denigrate”?  Do we look at photographs of others because we want to distance ourselves from the subject in the photograph?  Or, do we look at a photograph to draw comparisons between the subject and ourselves (whether it makes us feel better or worse about ourselves and our current situation)?  In other words, are we always looking at a photograph to draw comparisons between the subject and ourselves?
            Lutz and Collins also suggest that history has allowed some people to look at photographs because they are “supposed to”, whereas others look “illicitly”.  I find this point fascinating, as it seems to follow history over time.  These authors might suggest that the Colonial white male has always been expected to look and gaze.  On the other hand, minorities such as women or people of color have been the subjects of the photographs.  If they intend to look, they must do so illicitly.  In summation, Lutz and Collins seem to suggest that photographs maintain power relations and reflect the hierarchy that exists during the time of the photograph.  Do you agree with this understanding?  Do you believe that photographs maintain or perpetuate a cycle of repression?
            John Berger, in his piece titled “Ways of Seeing”, depicts the possibilities of how one sees nude women throughout decades of art.  He constructs the idea that the social presence of a woman is quite different from that of a man, and therefore a photograph of a nude man suggests power and what he’s capable of, whereas a photograph of a nude woman suggests weakness and the acceptance of what can and cannot be done to her.  For a nude woman, this is portrayed in her facial expression, the pose of her body, or props incorporated into the photograph (such as a mirror).  “Men act and women appear”.  A photograph is for a man to look at it, and a woman to watch her being looked at.  Berger’s understanding of photography, specifically the relation between men and women, seems rather critical of both subjects involved in the “looking” or “gazing” process.  In a simplistic view, women are choosing to be exploited and men are choosing to exploit them.  I think this point is interesting, and I think that as a class we can dive into this point a bit deeper.  Due to the fact that we have grown up in a world of photography, and have been photographed our entire lives, do you think that you fit this mold?  Why do you take a photograph, and why are you the subject of a photograph?  What do you think photographs represent in the 21st century?


  1. Both of these articles contribute to our previous discussions about the role of photography and the ethics behind viewing suffering because they make us, particularly the females in the group, think about our personal experiences with photography. I think Lauren brings up an important point from Berger's article concerning certain dynamics that are not only captured in photographs, but also are experienced in everyday life. Berger says, "a woman must continually watch herself...whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping" (46). He is insinuating that females are always attempting to examine themselves from an outside point of view, to try and see what a male would see. In Berger's point of view, this culturally constructed role that women fill is so important, and even fundamental, that it occupies their every thought.
    This led me to wonder where lesbian, gay, or transgender individuals would fit into this discussion. Would a transgender individual fall into the categorical mindset of an action or an appearance? And what about women who are sexually attracted to women? Would they be put into the category with men who are attracted to women?

  2. After reading The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes, I think Lauren brings up a particularly important question in her post concerning photography as a source of power in our society. As Lauren mentioned, Lutz and Collins demonstrate how certain photos uphold the power struggle that exists across cultures today. Lutz and Collins provide an explanation for this belief in their description of the specific gaze titled “A Direct Western Gaze”. The authors describe an instance where Westerners are interacting with non-western locals in foreign areas. To provide one example, Lutz and Collins mention a photo where Western women are physically looking down on an African man in native dress in his village (99). The photo portrays the female tourists viewing the local African as an “ethnic object” because it is a strange scene to them, as the authors describe. This photo encodes the message that Westerners appear to hold greater power in our world and it articulates the cultural hierarchy that is often seen today. I agree with Lutz and Collins on the function of power in photography. Due to factors such as race, economic status and gender, people throughout the world are on an unequal playing field, as photography shows. After seeing several examples of violent photos in class, I have noticed a trend of non-western subjects being portrayed as weak, helpless and inferior. Westerners have the education, knowledge and resources to produce pictures of unfamiliar scenes in foreign countries. As seen in The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes, photos often play the role of articulating the unequal relations that exist across cultures.

  3. As Lauren points out, Lutz and Collins comment on the undertones class relations and social tensions depicted through the photography of other cultures, arguing that historically, certain peoples have been allowed the privilege of looking, while others have not. The camera, and its capacity for “scientific” documentation through the photos it produces, has served as an affirmation of Western superiority over the non-Western. In conversation with colonial power dynamics between the Western photographer and his non-Western subject, Lutz and Collins argue that these feelings of superiority have caused for a sense of entitlement to “comfort” in considering the non-West as inferior. I find it interesting to consider that even prior to the long history existing between photography and colonialism, Westerners had used their technology to visually depict other cultures in ways that bolstered Western claims to “utter civilization” and predominance—take, for example, cartography. In his adventure novel, King Solomon’s Mines, H. Rider Haggard provides his Victorian Age readership with a map of the African landscape (Kukuanaland in the link below) that both engenders the continent into something weak and conquerable, and maintains the Western claim to be all-knowing. Just as is with photography, the map of Kukuanaland fails to relate the particularities of the people who inhabit the landscape, and instead suggests emptiness through the use of universal signifiers such as landmarks. The description of the landmarks (example: Sheba’s breasts to describe the mountains), further implicates Western dominance in its feminization of the African geography. Here the Westerner takes on the role of the man, Africa the woman, allowing for Berger’s argument regarding gender roles in portraits to enter the stage. It is from this pedestal, assuaged by the pictorial representations of colonial cartography, that Westerners are able to enjoy the rights to comfort when conceiving of their perceptions of the non-West.

  4. When Lutz and Collins talk about National Geographic subscribers and how they have no idea what the world is like or how other people live until they receive their subscription is sadly true. Some of us do not have the luxury of traveling to all these different parts of the world and have to rely on those that can (paid photographers). And because we must rely on these professionals we are being brainwashed in a sense to see these different continents and different cultures through the eyes of the photographer. We have no say in how these non-westerners are portrayed and unfortunately judge them as we see them in a textbook or on the front page of the New York Times. So are those of us who do not have the luxury of traveling all over the globe held accountable for the accusations we make about other people, through photographs?
    One program that comes to mind when I think of challenging stereotypes is the shooting beauty project that was created by a Colgate University graduate, Courtney Bent. Courtney Bent was a fashion photographer before getting involved with this particular program. She was at a shoot across the street from a center for people with significant disabilities. Over coming her own prejudices Courtney goes to this center and becomes friends with those with disabilities. The idea is that she gave everyone a camera and had these individuals tell their story through photographs. Many special and unique cameras were made in this process to aid those with disabilities. After her husband encouraged Courtney to film the progress her new students were making did she decided to document the program. The documentary is known as Shooting Beauty. Even though this was a little off topic I wanted to prove that photographs do have a way to end stereotypes. I say this because those with disabilities used photography as a way to have a voice and prove that they were capable of making art.

  5. As Lauren mentioned in her post, Lutz and Collins outline seven “gazes.” The gaze I found most intriguing is the “Magazine’s Gaze” because it brings up the question of the objectivity of a photograph. In Regarding the Pain of Others, Sontag explained that photographs are often used as hard evidence. However, she also explains that although photographs may be understood as objective, their captions can “falsify” the situation depicted (10). Lutz and Collins section on the “Magazine Gaze” further this understanding of photographs as subjective based on both the context in which they were shot and the context in which they are displayed. According to Lutz and Collins, there are a number of external factors other than the photograph itself (which I believe is subjective, as well) that amplify the subjectivity of the photograph. Many of these external factors are decided not by the photographer, but by the editor of the magazine and his or her coworkers, such as “the editor’s choice of picture” and “the editor’s and layout designer’s decisions about cropping the picture” and “arranging it with other photos on the page” (195). Lutz and Collins explain that these decisions are made to “bring out the desired meaning” (195). In all, I believe that understanding photographs as “evidence” is a naïve reading, considering all of the decisions and actions that are made to the actual photograph and the context of the photograph.