Voyeurism … or not?


Morris, 2017. Bacchus

The “gaze” is a tool of exploration, a means by which we can analyse the relationship between the image maker or viewer, and the subject.

Any commercial work that I undertake has to fulfil different criteria to that of my project work.

In terms of my project, my intention is to produce images with an aesthetic appeal in their own right. My commercial work is based on an intention to inform and promote.

To observe the visual characteristics of my subjects I have to be detached, and view from a distance. This is the “spectator’s gaze” and involves exclusively the sense of sight. To fully understand the physical characteristics of the subject itself, I have to “become one with it”. This leads to an almost direct address or “extra-diegetic” point-of-view and involves the senses of taste, smell, touch and sound.

Both kinds of knowledge are required to accurately portray the true “character” of the subject.

However, whichever hat I happen to be wearing, for images to be successful, I have to be an observer – this is a constant.

What changes, though, is the viewpoint and the distance from which I observe.

Angier (2007, p. 61) points to distance being a basic condition of a voyeuristic relationship between the “seer” and the “seen”. Pertinently he points out that whilst the popular conception is that there has to be a sexual element in order for voyeurism to be established, this is not actually the case. Moreover, what is needed in addition to the basic condition of distance, is an element of desire for the subject on the part of the viewer, that is to say, the “seen” must be wanted by the “seer” in one form or another.

Angier suggests that, in addition to the viewer “wanting” the subject, there must also be elements of both “unavailablity” of the subject and ultimate “non-desire” on the part of the viewer.

However, are the two latter “pre-requisites” really pre-requisites after all? Is it not the case that we have all viewed something in a voyeuristic manner when the subject has been available, and we have ultimately wanted it?

So then, is my “gaze” voyeuristic? Quite possibly.

With its root in the French verb voir – to see, are we not all voyeurs anyway? Especially given that Angier suggests that a sexual element does not need to present?

If the latter points hold true, is my “gaze” now voyeuristic? I think almost definitely.

Angier, Roswell. (2007) Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Guide to Portrait Photography. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA

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