Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins - The Photograph as an intersection of Gazes


Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins The Photograph as an intersection of Gazes

Lutz and Collins (p. 354) make the claim that 'All photographs tell stories about looking'. In many ways working through the coursework for P & P has enabled me to consider the gaze as photographer, editor and subject. The seven kinds of gaze that Lutz and Collins believe can be found in the photograph and its social context are:

1. The photographer's gaze

2. The institutional, magazine gaze

3. The readers' gaze

4. The non-Western subjects' gaze

5. The explicit looking done by Westerners who are often framed together with locals in the picture

6. The gaze returned or refracted by the mirrors or cameras that are shown, in a surprising number of photographs, in local hands

7. Our own, academic gaze. 

Whilst using the theme of intercultural relations, they refer to the camera as a mirror in which the gaze is returned by the person being photographed. The camera might also be thought to be a window that reveals the photographer's strong point of view.

The photographer's gaze

A photograph in essence tells us what the photographer is looking at when the exposure is made. What the onlooker is unable to see is the visual information beyond the frame that the photographer has either consciously or subconsciously chosen to ignore. The photographer has chosen the angle of view, aperture, and composition for a specific purpose (Geary 1988). 

During the photographic process there will often be the coming together of the photographer with those they photograph. The interaction maybe just for a split second, during which time both parties make decisions that may make or break a photograph. Lutz and Collins (1993) refer to Sontag's (1977, p. 10) claim that 'photographer's are usually profoundly alienated from the people they photograph. This view could be extended further to include the disconnection of the photographer from the context of the photograph. Very often when I take photographs at events, such as weddings, the need to take photographs is greater than the need to be photographed. 

Furthermore, when I am selecting photographs I tend to think back to my view as the photographer. Reading this article has made me think more about how others view the image, include people who may appear in the photograph. 

The magazine's gaze

Lutz and Collins (1993) base their views on how the National Geographic acquire images, having a preconceived idea that the photographer is required to replicate. Although the photographer has been immersed in taking photographs and developing an understanding of the location, it will be the editor who will "bring out the desired meanings, reproducing it in a certain size format to emphasise or downplay it's importance. This process is something that I have been lucky enough to experience. I was contacted by the National Geographic picture editor in Washington, who had seen my photograph of the Beau Rivage Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland. I felt I had taken better photographs than the one they wanted, but the editor had a particular image in mind and that's all that mattered.  


Geary, C. (1988) Images from Bamum: German Colonial Photography at the Court of king annoyance, Cameroon, West Africa. 1902 - 1915. Washington D.C. : Smithsonian Institution Press

Lutz, C. and Collins, J. (1993) Reading National Geographic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

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

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