The article ‘The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic’, touched an area with which I struggle almost every time I photograph. Because I move around from country to country, I always find myself in places that are culturally and linguistically unfamiliar and fascinating. Even when on holiday in my home country, I feel that I am photographing people who are culturally different than I am.
When photographing in the street I am aware of the short encounters that take place between me and the subject and the fact that I will have a tangible image of the person while the person will probably forget me in an instant. The image starts leading a life on its own, sometimes on social media, sometimes used as an object of study, sometimes even sold on print. In what sense do I do justice to the people and places I ‘capture’?
I am aware of the ‘female’ as well as the ‘cultural’ gaze when I photograph my daughters or people in the country I reside in. How will men look at photos of my girls? Will they objectify them in a way I am not comfortable with? In what sense do my choices in the way I photograph influence this gaze? Do I let me daughter’s give me the a duck face, or pose in a way that enforces it?
Yesterday I photographed an NGO that educates slum kids. Before starting I wanted to be sure to have a very clear of the message that I want to bring across. Happy children, beautiful smiles, proud people, just as we like to see them. This in order to promote the NGO and get Westerners, or rich people to donate. I hear myself saying when looking at the images later on: “They all look very happy, but they have such miserable lives when at home” and “We have no idea what these kids go through on a daily basis”. Even though I have portrayed them as proud, happy kids, my Western, rich view is stuck in my own understanding of the scenes.
So yes, there are a lot of implications of the gaze that apply to my photography. I am never sure if my practice is ethically sound and find it very hard to develop an understanding and way of working that is right, or at least defendable. Till then, I trust my gut intuition, always ask for permission when photographing and try to explain as much as possible about the people and circumstances I photograph.
Gustainis, Thomas, Thomas Gustainis, and View profile. “Reading 08”. Theoryandcrit2011.blogspot.in. N.p., 2017. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.
Lutz, C. and Collins, J. (1991). The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic. Visual Anthropology Review, 7(1), pp.134-149.