At the recent Home Truths: Motherhood, Photography and Identity exhibition I had a puzzling conversation with another student. Jason and myself had a difference of opinion over the series 'Annunciation' by Elina Brotherus. He felt that the images looked set up and therefore felt they weren't that truthful. The constructed nature of the images wasn't an issue for me. As I stated in my blog post at the time, the artist is perfectly aware that as well as recording her difficult experience with IVF she is also an artist making art. The reason I used the word puzzled is not that another student would see the same series of images differently from me but because I was curious as to where this difference in perspective comes from.
Then I had a lightbulb moment yesterday. I was reading 'The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes' by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins. I was trying to absorb some of the authors ideas around 'the gaze.' The authors Lutz and Collins have broken the gaze down into seven categories - a typology of gazes. It is only two that I am concerned with here. The photographers and the viewers gazes can (as Lutz and Collins explain) mostly be seen as the same thing. The photographer makes an image from a particular point of view and generally the viewer sees it (on a purely visual level) in the same way. It is only when there is an anomaly in the image, a colour cast, a tilted angle, a shadow or foot, that the viewer becomes aware of the presence of the photographer in the making of the image. This is where the gazes separate out.
So, bear with...
When I read the critical essay it seemed to chime with my thoughts and clarify what I was trying to express about the difference of opinion between Jason and myself over the Elina Brotherus work. The sticking point for Jason was that in some of the self portraits a cable release was visible as it snaked out of frame and back towards the camera. He questioned why Brotherus would leave it there. This is where I think the intersection of gazes comes into play. I was looking at the images from the point of view of the combined gazes of the 'photographer' and the 'viewer'. I was consciously aware that the artist was making art around the concept of IVF. And at the same time I was unconsciously switching between the two gazes when becoming emotionally absorbed by the subject matter. For Jason, I think, he may have looked at the work with the single gaze of the 'viewer'. In other words he was fully absorbed in the subject matter of IVF and not considering the gaze of the photographer as artist. So for him the presence of the cable release caused him to be aware of the 'photographer's gaze' creating a disconnect and his analysis that the images were not truthful. Phew... Does that make sense?
If I am correct in my analysis then the multiplicity of gazes and how they intersect at the site of the image can be a very useful tool for analysing and evaluating opinion.
Edit 26th Oct: I made an error in my recollection of the student conversation. It wasn't Jason after all. I think it may have been Jonathan. Please see comment below.
The Photography Reader by Liz Wells (2003). Part 7 pg 354. The photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins.