The Gaze

The gaze, or the look takes on different forms. According to Daniel Chandler we can determine the form by asking ourselves the question ‘who is doing the looking’. The most obvious forms of the gaze are:

  • the spectator’s gaze – the viewer looking at a person/object in the image
  • the intra-diegetic or internal gaze – the gaze of a person in the image looking at another person/object also in the image
  • the direct or extra-diegetic gaze – the gaze of the person in the image looking directly out the frame at the viewer
  • the look of the camera – the way the camera itself appears to look at the people/objects depicted (the gaze of the photographer)
Art of Painting by Johannes Vermeer showing the look of the camera

Other less obvious forms of the gaze are:

  • the gaze of the bystander – the gaze of an individual watching another person looking at something
  • the averted gaze – a depicted person’s avoidance of eye contact with the camera lens
  • the gaze of an audience within the text – an image which shows people watching others performing
  • the editorial gaze – the whole institutional process by which some portion of the photographer’s gaze is chosen for use and emphasis. I’m assuming this would be the editor’s crop of an image.
Painting by Johannes Vermeer showing direct gaze, internal gaze and averted gaze

There is also a basic distinction between an ‘offer’ and a ‘demand’:

  • an indirect address represents an offer – the viewer is the invisible onlooker and the person in the image is the object of the look, eg in surveillance video
  • a gaze of direct address represents a demand – the viewer is the object of the look and there is an urging for the viewer to enter into a relationship with the depicted person in the image, eg portraits, TV newsreaders.
Direction of gaze

It is important to note how directly a depicted person gazes out of the frame. A depicted person may direct his/her attention

  • towards other people
  • to an object
  • to oneself
  • to the viewer/camera
  • into middle distance (as in a state of contemplation)
  • direction of object of attention is not discernible

There is also a relationship between those depicted:

  • reciprocal attention: the attention of those depicted is directed at each other
  • divergent attention: each person depicted has their attention directed at different things
  • object-oriented attention: each person depicted is looking at the same object
  • semi-reciprocal attention: the attention of one person is on the other person, while that person’s attention is directed somewhere else.
Reference List

Chandler, Daniel (1998) Notes on ‘the Gaze’ [online] Daniel Chandler. Available at: [Accessed 8 January, 2017]


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