Thursday, 24 October 2013

Home Truths: More Thoughts

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. 


  1. Hi Michael,

    It actually wasn't me that commented on the cable release, but another student. I questioned whether there was an element of self indulgence with this 'photographer as subject' style of work. My own preference is to express my own thoughts, problems, anxieties etc. through my subjects, although perhaps it’s because I am less keen on being on both sides of the camera than Brotherus, who has documented key events in her life 'as subject' for over fifteen years.
    All the best, Jason

  2. Hi Jason,
    Sorry, my memory must have merged the two conversations together.

    I must admit I find it hard to distinguish between the two concepts. Surely to explore ones doubts, anxieties, questions, either by using a subject or oneself is the same thing? That's why I always find the self indulgent label a difficult one. The whole of art could be classed that way.

    Do you have a blog, Jason? Your work sounds really interesting.

    1. Hi Michael,
      I agree about the two concepts being closely related. I was just thinking from my point of view as an artist/photographer about what I find most comfortable. Of course the work of Brotherus is no less powerful or poignant with her as the subject. It's just an approach I find difficult, (I would feel self indulgent) as a means of expressing my ideas. I think her work is great, possibly in part because she is the subject, which raises these types of questions/debates. I am looking at alternative approaches for my next course, and will forward you a link when my blog is up and running.

  3. Yes, I see what you mean. Thanks for clarifying. I find my self expression through images of inanimate objects. I did a piece of work last year that I felt came together quite well.

    I think I will continue to work in this way but I've also experimented with using myself in some of my work. Although, like you, I'm not really comfortable doing that.