Category Archives: 02 Windows: memory and the gaze

Exercise 3.4 The gaze

The brief

This exercise gives you the opportunity to explore the image as a window with which to trigger memory.

The objective here is to produce a series of five portraits that use some of the types of gaze defined above. The specifics of how you achieve this are down to you; you choose which types of gaze you wish to address and who your subject might be in relation to this decision. What you’re trying to achieve through these portraits is a sense of implied narrative, which you can explain through a short supporting statement. Don’t try and be too literal here; the viewer must be able to interact with the portraits and begin to make their own connection to the work, aided by the type of gaze you’ve employed.

For me the main statement of this brief is in the first sentence “a window with which to trigger memory”.  This set of portraits triggers various memories for me of times when we would get into the car with the family dog and take her for a walk and a run along the sea wall in West Vancouver. Her favourite activities were running loose, exploring the nooks and crannies in the rocks on the breakwater and meeting the other dogs. My favourite activities were watching the dogs interacting with each other as well as people watching.

Fig 1 The internal gaze and the gaze of the bystander
Fig 1 The internal gaze and the gaze of the bystander

In Fig 1 there are two types of gazes happening. The man in the cap has his attention focused on the man with his back to the camera (internal gaze), while the boy in the red shorts is looking at the boy on the left who has his back turned on the group (bystander gaze). This boy in turn is staring at something off camera (internal gaze). One might get the feeling that this boy is the subject of the conversation.

Fig 2 The Averted Gaze
Fig 2 The Averted Gaze

Although the lady in the pink jacket looks as if she might be looking directly at the camera, she is in fact looking off to her left (averted gaze). She seems to be in her own mind space.

Fig 3 The Direct Gaze
Fig 3 The Direct Gaze

In Fig 3 both subjects are aware of the camera and are looking directly into the lens (direct gaze). There is no tension between the couple and they are out for a stroll with their dog intending to soak up some welcome winter sun after a couple of weeks of snowy weather.

Fig 4 The Averted Gaze
Fig 4 The Averted Gaze

Both individuals in Fig 4 have an averted gaze. There is a tension in this photograph in that they are sitting very close to each other and obviously not interacting with each other, but each is looking at something different – the man is looking at the view which is out of frame, while his companion is busy on her cell phone.

Fig 5 The Direct Gaze
Fig 5 The Direct Gaze

The runner here in Fig 5 is very aware of the camera and is looking directly at the lens.

Fig 6 The Photographer's Gaze
Fig 6 The Photographer’s Gaze

I suppose Fig 6 could also be classified as averted gaze as each person in the image is looking away from the camera. However, I’m going to include this as a photographer’s gaze because there are a number of crops that I could make to this image and result in different photos.

Postmemory

After reading Marianne Hirsch’s journal article The Generation of Postmemory, which specificially deals with postmemory in terms of the Holocaust, I decided to create a mindmap detailing her thoughts and explanations on postmemory as an aid to understand this concept better.

postmemoryI will include a PDF version of it here as well as the text might be a little small on the clickable image above.

Marianne Hirsch also discusses postmemory in this video, which again highlights most of the points mentioned above in my mindmap.

 

Reference List

Hirsch, Marianne (2008) The Generation of Postmemory’  In: Poetics Today 29:1 (Spring 2008) pp. 103-128

Hirsch, Marianne (2016) Hirsch Marianne POSTMEMORY definition [user-generated content online] Dir. Philippe Mesnard and Stephanie Perrin. Fondation Auschwitz. 2 October, 2016. 14 mins 2 secs. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0XdO1EEGdk (Accessed 8 January, 2017)

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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)
vermeer-artofpainting
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.
vermeer
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: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/gaze/ [Accessed 8 January, 2017]