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Gazes & Poses

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Added to Definitions 26Jul21

[29Jun21] I wrote in the blog yesterday and today,

I'm working through Barthes' Lucida, currently chs.32-33. A thought — photography comprises poses and gazes.
At first sight that seems to cover all the transactions, object, photographer, channel, viewer.

A scan for both terms hasn't coughed up much, though there is a paper in OCA that pertains, The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins

And on Jstor there's Fictions of the Pose: Facing the Gaze of Early Modern Portraiture by Harry Berger Jr.

Berger, H. "Fictions of the Pose: Facing the Gaze of Early Modern Portraiture." Representations, no. 46 (1994): 87-120. Accessed June 29, 2021. doi:10.2307/2928780.

Lutz, C & Collins, J (1991) The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic. Visual Anthropology Review. Volume 7 No. 1 Spring 1991 , pp. 134-149.

On the evening of 29th, I worked on Ch.33 of the Barthes and wrote,

The four elements of photography, as I currently see it, are object, photographer, channel and viewer. There are are poses and gazes operating at various levels in the photo-transaction.

Obviously the object poses (or is posed). In an aware portrait the sitter(s) arrange themselves; in a still life, the objects are arranged by the photographer or another; in a landscape god and / or man (etc.) have that agency; in street photography there will be multiple poses. In the cases of portrait or street, it is immaterial whether the object is aware of the photographer - they are already posing for other purposes.
A sitter might choose (or be directed to) a physical gaze for the camera.

For a particular photograph, the photographer selects the object and its setting [1] and technical and aesthetic choices regarding the image. The practicalities of the image creation will be a deployment of the photographer's gaze. That gaze is conditioned by their (to use Hurn & Jay's phrase, 2000, p.87) "prejudices, emotions [and] history". The context of the photographer's work will be the pose presented to others (audience, objects, employers, dealers - most of these phrases used in the wider sense) in terms of style, voice, vision, intent, feelings, opinions, stances and probably appearance and dress too.

The channel is the means by which a particular image reaches a particular viewer [2]. In the process, the image may 'pass through' many hands and minds, each applying their own gaze and / or pose criteria and in some cases making changes to the image and any associated text. To take two examples,
(a) in a simple case, a parent might photograph a child and post the image on a social media platform to a specific, selective group. Here the child might (or might not) pose and gaze; the parent would gaze in making the image and some posing might occur in selection and editing; the social media platform will probably impose some formatting and content criteria to posts that are a combination of gaze and pose; if the recipient group includes a grandparent and an infertile sibling of the parent, their two gazes applied to the image are likely to be incongruent.
(b) an illustrated newspaper report of a photography exhibition would be subject to the gazes and / or poses of i. the original photographer; ii. the original object; iii the curation process of the exhibition; iv the illustration photographer of the exhibition; v the writer of the report; vi the editorial process of the newspaper; vii each reader of the report (and, to some extent, those who knowingly chose not to read it).

The viewer usually filters the range of images they view by choosing which newspapers and magazines they read, what television programmes they watch, which exhibitions they attend, which online platforms they allow to inhabit them, and so on [3]: these are their choices of where they will apply their gazes and the choices incorporate both elements of posing and the effects of conditioning (see Hurn & Jay, above). When an image has passed through those filters it is subjected to a viewer's gaze.
In examining gazes for Part 3, a single spectator's gaze was identified in the course material, but this view can be refined. One way to differentiate between a spectator's several gazes is to adopt the Barthes approach from Camera Lucida (1980) that I summarised in my essay on punctum,

"viewers' [reactions and] interpretations will be influenced by their own experiences, attitudes and moods and in each case will be on a spectrum from the indifferent (Barthes, 1980, p.16) to the visceral. Barthes coined the terms punctum for the visceral and studium for some mid-point on the spectrum referred to by Batchen (2011, p.12) as "polite interest": Batchen quotes Barthes, "To recognise the studium is inevitably to encounter the photographer's intentions" [that is contestable] and a strong reaction to an unintended aspect of the image is a sign of the punctum reaction."


This approach seems to have relevance on two levels, as a description of the processes involved in the delivery of photographs and as a means of understanding the diversity and complexity of that process.

The rather more important question of whether it is usable and useful in terms of coursework remains to be seen.


1. or it is selected for him/her by commission or employment in which case the selection and aesthetic considerations will be partly the responsibility of that authority, as delegated to the photographer.

2. In my notes on the purpose of photography (Blog, 20May21) I state

"Photography, in its wider sense, then, will comprise then image-making technology, post-processing, publication (Barthes' channel of transmission) and the various marketplaces."

To which we can add”and all of the parties involved at each stage of the process and the conditioning they bring to their involvement.

3. Additional choices are made within each channel, for example which newspaper sections to read, which groups to join on a social media platform.


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Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida. London: Random House.

Batchen, G. (2011) Photography Degree Zero. MIT Press: Cambridge MA.

Bloomfield, R (2017) Expressing your vision [EyV]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Boothroyd, S. and Roberts, K. (2019) Identity and place [I&P]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Hurn, D. & Jay, B. (2000) On looking at photographs. Anacortes, WA: Lenswork Publishing.

author, (year) Title. Location: Publisher.

author (year) title [online]. website. Available from url [Accessed nn January 2020].

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author (year) title [online]. website. Available from url [Accessed nn January 2020].

author, (year) Book Title. Location: Publisher.

author (year) Title. Journal. Vol, pages.

author (year) Title. Newspaper. Date. pages.

Page created 29-June-2021 | Page updated 26-Jul-2021