Gaze and Control – On Foucault

This interesting piece explains Foucault’s ideas on knowledge, power and its connection with surveillance and photography. ‘Man’ is subject and object to knowledge, therefor establishing a complex relation between power and knowledge. This insight gives room to new forms of knowledge and modalities of power over man. This is not necessarily negative, because power enables the production of knowledge.

An interesting point was made that with the decline of corporal punishment, ways to punish have been centered around increasing the amount of surveillance. ‘The target is no longer the body, but the soul, understood in terms of subjectivity, consciousness and personality’. When we are surveilled, we essentially become subject of the power of the surveyors, which in this article is connected with imprisonment.

The prevailing panopticism in society has become normal, we are all part of the carceral network, which accepts the powers who see us and make us subject of their knowledge, which has become economically useful.

Photography plays a big part in the observation and classification of individuals, partly because of the belief in its objective nature. The observant style of photography has normalised disciplinary power even more, using the same ways of collecting, archiving and labelling photographs of people with an ‘unreturnable gaze’ as is done for crime suspects.

A criticism of this approach is that it ‘creates a picture of society in which the presence of power is so pervasive, it would appear to make implausible any form of resistance’. In order to resist, we must engage power at the points of its application and operation. In the moment when photographing and being part of the powers that survey.

Green, D. (2005). On Foucault: Disciplinary Power and Photography. The Camera Work Essays, pp.119-131.


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