The Gaze and How It is Implemented in My Work

A large part of The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic (1991) talked about frontal portraits where the subject’s eyes make contact with the camera and therefore to a certain degree with the reader of the photograph. This was not relevant to much of my photography work including the documentary course as I tended to veer away from portraits – especially frontal ones. However, in Assignment 1 – Documentary I included a few frontal portraits and my tutor had highlighted the need for consistency where there were other people shots in the set where the person did not make eye contact. I now see why my tutor made this point because The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic (1991) made me realise just how different these two types of gazes by the subjects of the photograph can be for reader interpretation.

Later on in the essay it interested me where it mentioned if the readers gaze is interrupted (by disjointed composition or bad processing) then it is ‘more likely that the photographic gaze will be resisted by the reader.’ – (Collins and Lutz, 1991). This seemed to be related, like my tutor’s comments, to photographic consistency which was so important in ‘pulling the viewer (or ‘reader’) in to the photograph or set of photographs. Therefore I would endeavour to amend the series of photos for Assignment 1 where sometimes the subject made eye contact to instead either always having eye contact or none at all for the sakes of consistency. Also I would try to make sure the processing wasn’t over done which might also detract from the reader’s gaze into the image.

An aspect of the essay which was not particularly relevant for me was the comparisons and observations made about the non-Westerner’s and Westerner’s gazes. My work so far has been exclusively local-based and where I have lived is Western, therefore I could not associate with these gaze differences. However, I could see how this could be relevant to my practice: if I was photographing poorer or richer communities than myself then the subject’s gaze, the photographer’s (my own) gaze and the viewer’s gaze would be affected.

I have so far always edited and shot my own photographs; choosing the cropping, processing as well as where and how it appears in a sequence and with what, if any captions. Therefore I have had the luxury of being able to directly affect the reader’s gaze from the perspective of a magazine editor’s gaze and a photographer’s gaze. However, I learnt that despite affecting the reader’s gaze from both these perspectives, a lot of the photograph’s meaning was still down to the reader’s gaze. The reader’s gaze is about ‘what they imagine the world is about before the magazine arrives, what imagining the picture provokes, and what they remember afterwards of the story they make the picture tell’ – (Collins and Lutz, 1991). I imagined these points as the reader superimposing their own meaning over the intended meaning created by the photographer/editor. I myself have done this plenty of times when looking at artists’ photographs in exhibitions without looking at any captions or linking text first. This made me wonder whether I should look at embracing photography’s often inherent ambiguity rather than striving to make the meaning as legible as possible?


Collins, J. and Lutz, C. (1991). The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic. In. Wells, L. (2003). The Photography Reader. 1st ed. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 354-374.


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