Documents of conflict and suffering – Houghton and Kaplan

In the next exercise we are directed to read two separate articles, one by Jonathan Kaplan the other by Max Houghton.

Jonathan Kaplan
Jonathan Kaplan is a battlefield surgeon who is also a journalist, speaker and documentary film-maker. His first book The Dressing Station introduced his work as an air ambulance doctor, battlefield surgeon and ship’s medical officer.He has written two books on his varied experiences: The Dressing Station, won both the Alan Paton Award and the SA Bookseller’s Award. Contact Wounds, ‘describes his attempt to find his place in a world in a time of instability and war, and the way in which his qualifications in trauma and uncertainty have made him a specialist in this century’s changed requirements.’Max Houghton
Max Houghton has been writing on, for, with and about photographs since 2001, specialising in contemporary documentary photography. She secured her first book contract with Thames and Hudson for Firecrackers: Women in Photography. A senior lecturer in photography at London College of Communication Max is a qualified journalist writing for The Guardian amongst others.  First writing about photographs of the effects of Agent Orange in 2001 for, she eventually became its feature editor and then editor. Her articles are regularly published in FOAM, The Telegraph, Black and White Photography, New Humanist, BJP, LifeForce, BBC, AxisWeb and Photoworks.


Read the articles ‘ Walk the Line’ by Max Houghton ( Foto8, issue 23,pp.143-4) and ‘Imaging War’ by Jonathan Kaplan ( Foto8 ,issue 23,pp.142-3)

Core resources Foto8#23_Kaplan&Houghton.pdf

Write down your reactions to the authors’ arguments.

Imaging War by Jonathan Kaplan

When you work a heck of a lot in the English department you can’t just read an article without noticing how it is written and why – contemplating who the audience is, the English Language techniques employed as well as the structure of the piece. I teach students how to minutely dissect non-fiction articles and to look for features of speech within writing. Most newspaper articles are written to inform, possibly entertain and like most persuasive texts use AFOREST. A Anecdotes F Facts O Opinion R Repetition / Rhetorical questions E Emotive language S Statistics T Triples. When considering my response to Jonathan Kaplan’s arguments I couldn’t help but apply this analysis to how he was putting his points across, as much as what he was saying. And I must say he is a consummate writer, every technique is there combined with a semantic field of horrific vocabulary and then a slice of humour to lighten the tone, as he describes how celebrities can potentially watch a ‘voyage up their own arsehole’, before delving back into the serious tone of the article.

But that’s the how…now onto that serious content…

Kaplan’s opening paragraph advises us how a doctor becomes a surgeon through hours of training and skills, which are part learned and part intuitive. This is the first idea that we can also link to photography: the need to be both physically present and directly involved, and it helps to know your subject intimately in order to do the job well.

Rather than initially discussing the images he takes Kaplan introduces us to the ‘Wound Man’

The earliest known versions of the Wound Man appeared at the turn of the fifteenth century in books on the surgical craft, particularly works from southern Germany associated with the renowned Würzburg surgeon Ortolf von Baierland (died before 1339). Accompanying a text known as the “Wundarznei” (The Surgery), these first Wound Men effectively functioned as a human table of contents for the cures contained within the relevant treatise.

This was later updated to include battle wounds and has been updated constantly over time.

The constant invocation of the Wound Man in surgical treatises for over 300 years shows the capacity of this image to bring the reader into the gruesome yet serious space of the surgical professional. But it also speaks to the ability of the Wound Man to capture the attention of any reader who stumbled across him, even today’s most modern viewers: as his recent reappearance in the NBC TV series Hannibal suggests, the morbid wonder he encapsulates still holds true for viewers today, a medieval image catapulted across time into the twenty-first century.

This ‘morbid wonder’ is still with us, as readily shown by websites such as  and by Kaplan’s acknowledgement of editors requesting photographs depicting ‘surgical gore,’ which he regards as ‘medical pornography’ and ‘forensic prurience’, with people gaining lascivious pleasure from them. Although he holds back on the visual gore, Kaplan has no such problems with his written descriptions as he gives graphic details of battlefield injuries caused by bullets, shells and ‘flying pieces of other men.’ Graphic, but I feel necessary to the narrative to ensure people understand the horrors of reality, that war isn’t made anodyne and sanitized . Do we need the images to back him up? I think our own imaginations occasionally do a better (or worse) job.

Photographing his surgeries in B&W for instructional purposes, there is a distinct difference between taking them to educate or for editorial use. Even with these images being factual and not sensationalised, an editor of a book about landmines decided they were too graphic and would detract from the overall message of the publication. Compassion fatigue occurs in certain circumstances where people switch off. The same can happen with gruesome images; people don’t want to see these types of images and close a book or flick a channel.

Kaplan ends his piece with a statement that could also be a question, and one that needs to be addressed, what kind of images of the human body are considered suitable for publication?

Walk the Line by Max Houghton

Whereas Kaplan ends on a question of ethics Houghton opens with a similar point: ‘which images are fit for publication on the grounds of taste?’

As a co-editor this is a dilemma she faces on a regular basis. However, ethics seem to be on a sliding scale dependent on the audience, the examples Houghton gives are that ‘dead American soldiers are a no-no for the US press’ whilst dead enemy combatants, even Saddam Hussein’s sons are fair game. However, Houghton like Kaplan, likes to use dramatic language describing them as ‘decapitated.’ Although they were definitely not pretty to look at, with thick lips, cranial and facial wounds, their heads were still firmly attached to their bodies. Not that that made them any less dead or exploited, but in the interest of factual reporting and the embellishment by the press, I thought I’d point out that photographers aren’t the only ones who could be accused of being creative…this happens often enough for Susan Sontag to point out ‘the quality of feeling , including moral outrage , that people can muster in response to photographs of the oppressed , the exploited , the starving , and the massacred also depends on the degree of their familiarity with these images’ (Sontag. 1979, pg 19)

So important is this question of ethics that there are talks and conferences, for example one entitled, ‘Picturing Atrocity:Reading Photographs in Crisis’ where academics got together to discuss amongst other things, how we sometimes don’t take into consideration the feelings of the families concerned. How long did it take for them to come up with that startling revelation?

Giving examples Houghton cites The Falling Man and  Luc Delahaye’s Dead Taliban Soldier. However, after researching further, the identity of the falling man has never really been established and although I have no idea if the Taliban soldier ever was, he was so clearly depicted that any family or friends would be left in no doubt. Both men died due to acts of violence yet I find it quite obscene that the latter is described in more artistic terms and sympathy has only been expressed for the former. Maybe the background stories matter? One was an innocent man who went to work and never came back, another was a fighter and knew the consequences of his life choices, both have families whose feelings need to be taken into account. Again it is the same argument, does the ‘greater good’ the ‘needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?’ What did any of us gain from either of these images that words could not have conveyed?

Dressed in a khaki uniform, without boots, the corpse has a grace that almost seems posed. The photograph itself looks like it might have been taken by someone floating high above in a balloon. All time seems to have stopped.

Houghton then uses an image by George Phicipas, of a mother bleeding to death in front of her young child after ethnic fighting in Kenya, to demonstrate differing opinions and uses of image. Originally published in black and white by the Daily Telegraph, it was then re-used by The Observer, in full colour, after one of their journalists traced her identity. The photograph was never published in Kenya, with the argument being that it would more than likely inflame already high passions and  further fuel the violence. Great, we got told a story, so we can shake our heads and maybe say ‘there but for the grace of god go I.’ We found out who the victim was but should we be making money from these unfortunate circumstances? Did the exposé stop the fighting? Did we learn anything of value apart from making a dead body become a dead person? Did the paper help her husband Jeremiah find justice?

Maiuashia’s insistence on a post-mortem examination provides a get-out for any police investigation and an agony for Jeremiah. The hospital will only perform an autopsy if Jeremiah pays and will not release Grace’s body without one. He has been quoted 5,000 Kenyan shillings, about £40 -Jeremiah is a night watchman and does not have that kind of money. On Thursday, he had to give mortuary officials a bribe of 2,000 shillings to move her from the stacks of white bags in the hot storeroom into a space in one of the four refrigerated units. With 36 as yet unclaimed corpses here, relatives in a similar position to Jeremiah are coming in each day, and as money changes hands so bodies switch positions as everyone desperately tries to preserve the remains of their loved ones to buy time to raise cash for post mortems and funerals.

The piece concludes with the alleged use of people with Downs Syndrome, by Al-Qaeda, as suicide bombers. The resulting images did not prove anything, and most were ‘severed heads’. These were not published, and I’d like to think that even if the facial features had proved the allegations, that these would not have been shown, ever.  This would have been exploitation of innocent, vulnerable people in both life and death. I strongly believe that the media need to maintain a moral code when making their editorial decisions, and we as an audience/photographer, need to exercise the same constraint when taking, viewing and sharing images. Even to boycotting certain publications… apparently Liverpool and Manchester have called to boycott the Sun, not due to images but for poor reporting.

Both articles are about journalists using their own moral judgments; although Kaplan seems to take a stance Houghton appears more to give examples and quotes from others, but is never really clear on her position over the examples given.

Moral judgement works up to a certain point, how many of these decisions are profit related who can say, but it is probably a higher priority in some cases. A point also raised in the article is the growing use of social media and despite the press choosing to not display certain images there is very little control over Twitter feeds and Facebook statuses.

There will always be someone who wants to ‘be first’ have the goriest image out there. Sometimes it is just plain stupidity. Otherwise why on earth would the American security services publish sensitive photographs of the Manchester bombing?

Having read both articles and considered deeply my own invisible line, I think my moral compass points in the right direction, although I’ll probably take into consideration more the feelings of the potential audience, especially with the project I am considering for Assignment 3. (yups I wrote this post before completing the assignment for the last section as weather wasn’t being kind to me for outside shoots!)


Sontag ,S.(1979) “On Photography”  Penguin Books , London ,England.

Imaging war – Jonathan Kaplan, Walk the line – Max Houghton [Accessed 24/05/2017] [Accessed 24/05/2017] [Accessed 24/05/2017] [Accessed 24/05/2017] [Accessed 24/05/2017] [Accessed 24/05/2017]  [Accessed 24/05/2017] [25/05/2017] [25/05/2017]

Documents of conflict and suffering – Don McCullin

In my last post I spoke about several well-known war photographers who are sadly no longer with us. However, one who is, is Don McCullin whose images of the Vietnam war and other more relatively recent conflicts have made for uncomfortable viewing in some instances.

My photographs are stark and they’re not meant to be comfortable to look
at. They’re to make you respond. The only way you are going to get the
message across to people is to shock them. They’re not going to be moved
by a cosy picture…I want you look at my photographs… and go away with
a conscience obligation.

Don McCullin, Shaped by War exhibition, 2010

This seems to be in direct contrast to Gilles Peress who wanted to inform, but not set out to deliberately shock, just allowed the contents of the frame and the viewers personal empathy to inform the level of reaction.

Sontag wrote: ‘There can be no doubt of the intentions of this tenacious, impassioned witness, bringing back his news from hell. He wants to sadden. He means to arouse.'(Sontag 2001)

Back in 2013 I saw Don McCullin give a talk at The Photographer’s Gallery and did a fairly extensive write-up which can be found here. The penultimate paragraph read:

McCullin acknowledges that you can’t go to war without some kind of damage, either physical or mental. He welcomed his injuries so he could acknowledge others suffering. Now he wants some time to himself; you go to war you suffer, he has had 55 years of this and now wants time to himself. “I have been manipulated, and I have in turn manipulated others, by recording their response to suffering and misery. So there is guilt in every direction : guilt because I don’t practice religion, guilt because I was able to walk away, while this man was dying of starvation or being murdered by another man with a gun. And I am tired of guilt, tired of saying to myself : “I didn’t kill that man on that photograph, I didn’t starve that child.” That’s why I want to photograph landscapes and flowers. I am sentencing myself to peace.”

I think one of my favourite photographs is OF him rather than by him. Taken by John Bulmer in Cyprus in 1964, it reveals the side of McCullin that did do something and didn’t just watch.


Don McCullin is running; running as fast as he can. His mouth is open, hair neat and jacket crumpled. In his arms lies an elderly woman, her thick set legs bent over McCullin’s left arm. Her gnarled right fist clenches two long sticks; the wire and trees blur in the background. This unlikely couple are fleeing missiles fired into Turkish territory by the Greek army during the 1964 conflict in Cyprus. It’s McCullin’s first war and this now famous war photographer is captured in action in an extraordinary black and white photograph. The previous evening, McCullin had crashed on the spare hotel bed in the room of the photograph’s author, who had then driven them both into battle the following morning; “If I was going to get killed, I thought I might as well take some photographs”. The photographer is John Bulmer.

This was one of the images on display at the Peter Dench Great Britons of Photography exhibition, you never know what gems you can find unless you go look!


Listen to Don McCullin talking about his exhibition Shaped by War on Radio 4’s Excess Baggage

Before listening to the interview I wondered if I would discover anything new having heard him speak and read his autobiography. The link wouldn’t work for me, no idea why, but I found it on YouTube! One of the things he said in this interview that struck a chord was , ‘I don’t carry my life’s work lightly,’ which suggested to me that he did consider the ethics of his actions and the consequences. Although interesting it did cover much of the ground I have read in other interviews.

We are asked to consider ‘ethical practice,’ both our own and that of other photographers. McCullin admits that, on occasion, people had the right to be angry with him photographing them whilst under duress, of making a story out of their misfortunes. However. he is also a strong believer in getting images out there to implement change and to tell important stories. In a different interview McCullin did comment that he no longer takes photographs that would not implement change or tell a new story. This followed his work in Syria.

So what are the consequences of such images? The examples given by Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others,  were that photographs of calamities can trigger opposing reactions, people will either call for peace or wish to exact revenge, or even be reduced to apathetic ‘bemused awareness’ of atrocities as they gradually become facts of life.  ‘Compassion fatigue’ (Sontag 1977) was touched upon earlier when talking about the FSA and charitable campaigns but it can be equally applied to images of conflict.  Sontag reminds us that over-exposure to gratuitous images of death and destruction does indeed have a ‘numbing, desensitising effect on the viewer.’

More food for thought for when producing images, be authoritative, reflective, consider the ethics, don’t labour the point and try to be different….I think I’ll put my camera back in its bag!

Research [Accessed 16/05/2017] [Accessed 16/05/2017] [Accessed 16/05/2017] [Accessed 16/05/2017]

McCullin, D., Evans, H. and Sontag, S. (2003) Don McCullin. London: Random House.

Sontag, S. (2003) Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Picador

Documents of conflict and suffering -Gilles Peress – Farewell to Bosnia

Gilles Peress was born December 29, 1946 in France and grew up in Paris with his mother, an orthodox Christian from the Middle East, and his father, who was of Jewish and Georgian descent. Starting out, it is possible that his background sparked his interest in photographing the consequences of conflict, political or otherwise, with one of his first projects being on Turkish immigrant workers in West Germany, and the documentation of the European policy to import cheap labour from the third world.

Further research revealed that it was his educational background in politics and philosophy that drove his initial motivation, both to take up photography and the subject matter he captured, not due to it inspiring him, but more to do with the gap between political words and political reality. Peress has also documented events in Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, the Balkans, Rwanda, the U.S., Afghanistan and Iraq. One of his projects, Hate Thy Brother, ‘looks at intolerance and the re-emergence of nationalism throughout the world and its consequences.’ Now a Magnum photographer I love the quote on his profile page:


I don’t care so much anymore about ‘good photography’; I am gathering evidence for history

In Farewell to Bosnia, a body of work that we are directed to in the course work, Peress is said to bear ‘testimony to the brutality and devastation of the 1990’s Balkan conflict.’

Here starts the curse of history, an illness that may not be so personal anymore. It may be a very European disease, after all, with a double-edged nature: you are damned if you remember – condemned to re-live, re-enact the images of your fathers; you are damned if you don’t – condemned to repeat their hypocrisy.

Continue reading “Documents of conflict and suffering -Gilles Peress – Farewell to Bosnia”

Part Four – Ethics and looking at the other – The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes

The gaze…what is ‘the gaze’ A definition of the broad term is:
To gaze is to look steadily and intently at something, especially at that which excites admiration, curiosity, or interest: to gaze at scenery, at a scientific experiment.To stare is to gaze with eyes wide open, as from surprise, wonder, alarm, stupidity, or impertinence: to stare disbelievingly or rudely.

Other definitions or ideas can be taken from the term popularized by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, and the growing awareness and attached anxiety that develops when a person realises that they can be viewed. The psychological effect, Lacan argues, is that the subject loses a degree of autonomy upon realizing that he or she is a visible object. This concept is tied to his theory of the mirror stage, in which an infant child, viewing themselves in a mirror, realizes that he/she has an external appearance.

A certain tribe in Alaska, the Koyukon, have their own thoughts about visibility and therefore ‘the gaze’. The Koyukon:

live in a world that watches, in a forest of eyes. A person moving through nature…is never truly alone. The surroundings are aware, sensate, personified. They feel. They can be offended. And they must, at every moment, be treated with proper respect.

Do we as photographers respect all our subjects and the way we view, or portray them?


Read the article The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins.

In what ways does the idea of the gaze apply to your photography? What are the implications of this for your practice? Write a short reflective commentary in your learning log.

The thing is, if a lot of this is new my commentaries are never that short, or observations are tucked in with the analysis of the text…

To be able to answer the questions posed here I needed to fully comprehend what ‘the gaze’ is all about, do I apply it to my photography? Before ploughing through this lengthy essay my gut feeling is that to a certain extent I do use ‘gaze’: my own ideas of what I want to project in the frame, the personal baggage I bring, the signified and symbols I try to include, how I edit images after the event, the narrative I want to tell, do I want my subjects to be aware or candid, what mood do I want to capture? These are questions I ask as I shoot. In the past I have taken photographs of my, then much younger children, from behind, rather than a direct gaze. This was to mix up the images, give a different mood so even before considering the implications I do and have employed various guises, but have I ever thought about this politically or ethically? Beyond what I would deem unacceptable due to my own morality, no, I guess I haven’t really.

Lutz and Collins open their essay by advising us of the cultural importance of the National Geographic, its over reliance on ‘Third World scenes’ and ‘legitimacy as a scientific institution …that…relates to the history and structure of the society that has developed’ and in turn, simply put, how we ‘gaze’ at others – as seen through the eyes of this particular magazine and applying it to society as a whole.

From a standpoint of Westerners (in particular the USA) and non-Westerners they outline and dissect 7 different aspects of ‘the gaze.’ Despite this very narrow sample, and the publication date of 1991, I think that these different aspects are still relevant :

  • The photographer’s gaze
  • The institutional gaze
  • The reader’s gaze
  • The non-Western subject’s gaze
  • The explicit Westerner’s gaze
  • The gaze returned or refracted by mirrors or cameras
  • The academic gaze

The ‘gaze’ links into objectification, both of the photograph and the subject, and in most of the examples given, relates to the objectification of the non-Western person, how we ‘look’ – our differences, the perception of difference and how accentuating that difference is either productive or counter-productive, depending on your point of view. There is an emphasis on considering gender and ethnicity.

Is the gaze ‘an act of mastery’? (Williams 1987) Lutz and Collins’ essay was published in 1991 when most academic writing was still very patriarchal, is the gaze still considered to be masculine? Is how I view things that indoctrinated? In some ways I believe it must be. The magazines we view, films we watch, books we read all influence our thinking and if never challenged or informed of another way, how are we to know better?

Gradually, society is looking at things in a different way, or trying to at least. The Feminist Avant-Garde is one example, A Mighty Girl is another, there are articles highlighting women within the field of art and how women should strive to forge a career in photography. These are a small example of how society is attempting to alter one aspect of how we view, look at and ‘gaze’; trying to overcome Berger’s ideas of contemporary ideology, that men are doers whilst women are passive (1972). There are many more articles aimed at other sections of society, but that would be an entirely different post…the important point is, as Lutz and Collins remind us, of ‘the position of the spectator…to enhance or articulate the power of the observer over the observed.’ Welcome back Foucault with a bit of Lacan thrown in for good measure!

The National Geographic can be labelled as elitist and colonial, with editors who were at the time of writing ‘overwhelmingly white and male,’ how much influence did they have on educating people’s gaze or did they merely support pre-exisiting ideas of the ‘Other’? (Lacan 1981, p.84)

As with many things, we are not just one person, we have multiple roles and approach situations depending on what hat we are wearing at the time; am I being a daughter, a mother, a lover, an employee, is it a sensible day or a silly one? Just as these roles influence my mood and approach to life, they will also affect my gaze when both looking at, and taking photographs. As stated in this essay there are many interpretations of a photograph which centre around ‘intimacy, pleasure, scrutiny, confrontation and power.’

Let us look to these gazes…

The photographer’s gaze

Fairly obvious and straight forward, the argument that the photographer makes subjective decisions when capturing an image, over position, subject matter, vantage point, depth of field, cropping, colour et al. These decisions influence the readers gaze with the ‘camera[s] eye…a conduit for the magazine reader’s look.’ I particularly like the example given here of  a Venezuelan miner selling his diamonds and how vantage point and gaze has been used to construct a certain narrative.

The institutional gaze

In this instance the magazine’s gaze, using the National Geographic as the prime example. Here Lutz and Collins discuss the four main processes employed when selecting aspects of the photographer’s gaze: editorial decision to commission articles; the choice of image; magazine layout dictating crop, size, possible digital manipulation and emphasis; the caption which underlines the visual reading/understanding. Again, great example of layout given, where photographs of natives from Papua New Guinea in traditional feathered costumes, were interspersed with local bird life to project them as ‘natural creatures.’

The reader’s gaze

This is where it becomes slightly more complex…

<opens door…welcomes in Barthes> who stated: the ‘ photograph is not only perceived…it is read…by a public that consumes it to a traditional stock of signs.’ (1977, p.19)  re-iterating that our baggage, previous knowledge and the semiotics within an image influence our interpretation. The reader was also found to be slightly more discerning; the magazine would fail in its potential message if they found the images jarring, unnatural, off-kilter or re-touched. Viewers also ask questions beyond the frame, some fairly obvious such as the examples given: what are those people in the background doing? What is going on outside the picture frame?

These further complications are acknowledged by Lutz and Collins who agree that there is not one single reader’s gaze due to a ‘somewhat unique personal, cultural, and political background or set of interests.’

Burgin (1982) wrote about how the reader is forced into following the camera’s eye, of voyeurism, narcissism and surveillance. He believes that the ‘voyeuristic look’ promotes a distance whilst the ‘narcissistic’ promotes the mirror illusion. Do different photographic types alter how we gaze? Do we believe that depiction of the ethnic other relieves ‘the anxiety that the ideal of the other’s gaze and estimation of us provoke’? Do readers hold fast to the idea that by reading high brow magazine they elevate their own status and therefore gaze? Interesting questions that deserve more time on another day. I shall never read another magazine in the same light again! Will it affect how I take and display my photographs? Possibly, may be not, but I’ll probably think harder before pushing the button.

The subject’s gaze

Once again, in this essay they refer to the non-Western subject’s gaze. The authors explore the four main types of response a subject can make:

  • confront the camera head-on – direct gaze
  • look at something/someone within the frame
  • look out of frame/into the distance
  • no gaze

The first suggests an acknowledgment of the photographer and reader but is it confrontational or ‘open voyeurism’? Even the academics can’t decide and throw caveats into the ring, how is the gaze returned, what is the context, how does history and culture impact upon interpretation?

There is implied intimacy and a collaborative feel, which juxtaposes the magazines intent to reveal an unmanipulated view. How can a posed portrait be candid and natural? Lutz and Collins’ statistics revealed that ‘weaker’ subjects such as: the elderly, children, women, the poor, natively dressed and the tribal are more likely to directly face the camera, whilst others such as: men, the wealthy, those attired in western dress, the lighter skinned and those more technologically advanced are depicted as looking elsewhere.  Are these natural instincts or learned behaviors? Do these figures support Foucault’s disciplinary power theory, or were taken in this way because of it? Although having said that Tagg (1988) informs us that history has shown that a direct gaze is a ‘code of social inferiority’ with the subjects considered to be more civilized turning away from the camera (and previously the artist) making themselves ‘less available.’ It is highly likely that the editorial process within the National Geographic at the time, continued this tradition rather than actively altering it.

The second, where the subject gazes at an object or someone else gives the reader an insight to character and intent, with the example given returning to the Venezuelan miner, looking down at his diamonds the caption strengthens the opinions of the audience: ‘the hard won money usually flies fast in gambling and merry-making at primitive diamond camps.’ I find the language sometimes more condescending than the imagery!

Thirdly, gazing off into the distance – is it a form of defiance? You are not important , I am ignoring you. Or is it a deliberate ploy to reveal a pensive nature, thoughts of the future and therefore ambition and drive? Metz (1985) suggested this may help the reader connect with the subject as they are both ‘outside the frame.’

Lastly, we come to no gaze at all, either due to the insignificant size of the figures within the frame or the subject’s face covered by a mask or veil. Covered faces seem to be mainly representative of women.

It would appear to me that the subjects gaze, no matter which category they fall under, can have multiple readings depending on other factors within the frame such as context, signs and symbols.

The explicit Westerner’s gaze

I found this section quite interesting with regards to the change in power and cultural shift within Western society. This ‘gaze’ seems to have altered the most. When first published the image of the all-conquering hero striding out into the unknown was very popular, adventurers, explorers, mountain-climbers, and scientists from every field or the wealthy indulging in the unfamiliar were depicted alongside the ‘exotic other.’ The differences between them distinct, as they revealed a superiority and higher status.

This depended on who was watching who, were they watching the reactions, were the gazes reciprocated? The implication is that many come across as colonial and slightly condescending.

World events and cultural shifts doomed this style of photograph. International tourism meant more readers travelled to these foreign climes, the Vietnam War had an impact on how the Third World was viewed and how it should be represented, the fight for civil rights gave ‘white people a sense of changing… relations’, and decolonization all played their part. Westerners no longer wanted to be seen to be involved with contentious issues and dangerous places where they lacked control; photographically at least, the Westerner’s gaze withdrew to a ‘safer distance.’

The refracted gaze

This section of the essay deals with the number of photographs in the National Geographic, where a native has been handed a mirror or a camera, presumably for the first time, or where the mirror has been given significance within the frame. The suggestion is that these are tools of ‘self-reflection and surveillance’ and the authors link once more to the idea of the childlike fascination of newly acquired self-awareness and self-reflection and Western superiority. These images have also reduced with the impact of decolonisation, modern technology and the development of the Third World. More and more ‘native photographers’ have come to the fore and are telling their own narratives from their personal perspective. And all to the better in my opinion.

The academic gaze

Described as a ‘sub type’ of the reader’s gaze I am guessing Lutz and Collins put themselves firmly in this camp, alongside anthropologists, where this gaze is used to look at photographic and cultural differences and social relations. The intent is not ‘aesthetic appreciation’ but geared towards the critique of the images. ‘The author is dead’ rings in my ears


My own sentiments echo some of the concluding remarks made by Lutz and Collins as in, ‘the multiplicity of looks in and around any photo is at the root of its ambiguity.’ This is a very complex issue and although the main gazes outlined above can be applied and understood, they do occasionally contradict each other. Despite the contradiction there is definitely a link to how a photographer captures a subject’s gaze, the narrative they wish to convey and the message the reader accepts.

Lutz and Collins’ essay made me aware of myself as a viewer of images, my passivity as a viewer and my responsibility as a photographer. In thinking about my own photography I know I ask subjects to look in a certain direction or pose as if they are engaged in an activity to tell a story or create a mood. Even candid shots are invariably timed to show lost and confused tourists or children having fun. I must admit I never think much of the ethical issues other than not capturing the vulnerable or ‘exotic other’ to demean, give a sense of superiority to the audience or merely because they are a point of interest. I also never consider targeting a different audience beyond my own cultural references. So maybe I’ll never sell migraine pictures to an international magazine lolol.

Research [Accessed 08/05/2017] [Accessed 08/05/2017]

‘The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes’ [Accessed 08/05/2017]

Sontag, S. (1977) On Photography. New York: Dell/Delta

Wells, L. (Ed.) (2003) The Photography Reader. Oxon: Routledge

Ethics and looking at the other – Gaze and Control – On Foucoult

In this section of the coursework we start to take into consideration the ethics surrounding documentary photography, from both the perspective of the practitioner and the audience. I thought it best to look up the actual definition of ethics before progressing any further:

Ethics: moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity.synonyms: moral code, morals, morality, moral stand, moral principles, moral values, rights and wrongs, principles, ideals, creed, credo, ethos, rules of conduct, standards (of behaviour), virtues, dictates of conscience
“the ethics of journalism”

The opening paragraphs ask us to consider the ethics of how we use imagery. Do we know enough about the people we photograph, do we portray them in the correct way or leave too much open to interpretation? What are the ethics surrounding the naked form? In the image within the coursework, should it have been cropped to not show the woman’s head? All interesting stuff!

Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984) was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, and literary critic. His theories addressed the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through societal institutions. His thoughts and ideas have been highly influential both for academic and for activist groups, especially those working within contemporary sociology, cultural studies, and critical theory.

Wells (1997, p.95,96) briefly touched upon his theories, of power relationships then leading into the power of knowledge and the gaze, when mentioning how John Tagg,(1988), following on from Foucault’s ideas,  analysed the increase in the power of photography through surveillance and observation.

Documentary was and is, seen to be part of the process of examination explored by Foucault under the banner of ‘objectification and observation.’ Documentary photography, it can be argued, can assist in maintaining ‘social class hierarchies’, a prime example would be the depiction of the poor through the work of the FSA and the depiction of the exotic ‘other.’

In 1979 Foucault wrote:

Disciplinary power…is exercised through its invisibility; at the same time it imposes on those whom it subjects a principle of compulsory visibility. In discipline, it is the subjects who have to be seen. Their visibility assumes the hold of the power that is experienced over them. It is the fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen, that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection.

An example of  discipline/punishment and visibility is given as the Panopticon, a prison from which the people in control could view everyone without being seen themselves.


Read the article ‘On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography’ by David Green (The Camera Work Essays, 2005, pp.119–31).

Summarise the key points made by the author in your learning log.

Within his article ‘On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography’, originally published in The Camera Work Essays (2005) David Green mentions the various writings of Michael Foucault; his views on power, in particular disciplinary power in society. Foucault explores the interdependence between power and knowledge and the ‘development of new forms …of power over man.’ This links in with the Documentary module as many documentary images and bodies of work were created as political leverage, to have some kind of power over the audience or to impart knowledge of some kind.  As Foucault stated:

No body of knowledge can be formed without a system of communication, record, accumulation and displacement…no power can be exercised without the extraction, appropriation, distribution or retention of knowledge.

Green discusses the relationship between power/knowledge and truth, suggesting that each society has its regime of ‘truth’, even people who determine what is ‘truth’ within that society. Documentary photography has come under much scrutiny with regards to truth, and photography itself can be recognised as one of the ‘new forms and modalities of power over man.’ However, Foucault insisted that power did not necessarily have to have negative connotations, but could also be used for positive gain; he was also unconcerned with the concepts or methods behind scientific discourse, merely the link to the power within institutions. This links to the power gained by photography as it was in the fields of scientific investigation and criminology, as well as discipline.

These days modern technology has made surveillance an even more prominent feature of disciplinary power; CCTV, dash cams, spy satellites et al have entered the fray.Green summarises by advising us that there are some criticisms of Foucault’s ideas; that they create the impression that power within society is pervasive and resistance is futile.

Foucault disagreed stating that ‘wherever there is power there is potential for its resistance.’It can also be argued that these forms of power are ‘localised and specific’ and must be opposed at this level. In this respect there cannot be just one strategy for dealing with ‘oppositional cultural politics of photography’ (The term cultural politics refers to the way that culture—including people’s attitudes, opinions, beliefs and perspectives, as well as the media and arts—shapes society and political opinion, and gives rise to social, economic and legal realities) Therefore to ensure that photography does not become dictatorial or accepted as blind truth, giving it too much power to influence it will be:

necessary to develop alternative ways of working with photography, to develop different photographic forms and devices suitable to the varied contexts in which the photograph is placed and used.


On Foucault [Accessed 03/05/2017]

Wells, L. (1997). Photography. A Critical Introduction 1st ed. London: Routledge.