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Documentary & portraiture photography

2.1 The gaze in portraiture 2.2 Image and text 2.3 Case studies
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Beginners Part 2 of 2

“There are very few deadlines shorter than a subject’s patience.”

John Loengard.

garrySo far we have talked about the gaze in landscape art, in this case literal representation through novels. If we look at the difference between the gaze and the glance in portrait photography, will we find the same problems with Bryson’s arguments?

Eye contact between people forms the basis of how we deal with each other in a social context. In Japan, people talk to each other face to face, but the eyes are always on the other person’s neck, as a form of politeness. In some cultures, storytellers actually face away from the audience when they recite the legends. In the animal kingdom, a direct gaze into another animal’s eyes is an act of aggression, and a look away is an act of submission.

In a portrait photograph, the gaze of the subject into the camera lens is a convention that allows the photographer to bring out the subject by directly confronting the viewer with eye contact. It is an expression of power, one in which the photographer has direct control. So the gaze in this instance is a predetermined moral position by the photographer, and the subject with regard to the viewer of the photographic print. In photojournalism, the conventions are different, and the glance is the more common tool. The photojournalist actually steals the image, often against the subjects will, in pursuit of the story and the best picture. Here, the glance is furtive, as Bryson describes, the photographer has a different power.

In my work reveal, the subject of this website, you will see that I have asked the subjects to look into the camera, and they know how the images will be presented, and how important this gaze will be because they are showing themselves through the eye contact they make with you the viewer of the final work.

It is fair to say, that the colour photographs I have taken as observations are in fact glances, some things I noticed in the space where the portraits were taken. I have tried to blend the two notions of gaze and glance into one project, allowing the moral values to be construct by the subjects, the viewers, and the pictures themselves.

© John Frederick Anderson


1 The Gaze and the Glance in Vision and Painting
The Logic of the Gaze, Norman Bryson, 1982, Macmillan

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