Category Archives: Part 3 – Mirrors and windows

Exercise 3.4 – Five types of gaze

Time is pressing on, and I really need to get assignment 3 finished. However, this exercise asks us to collect images of at least five of the different types of gaze explored in Project 2 –

  • the spectator’s gaze
  • the internal gaze
  • the direct address
  • the look of the camera
  • the bystander’s gaze
  • the averted gaze
  • the audience gaze
  • the editorial gaze.

I have written about The Gaze in a previous blog post, so rather than go out to actively collect images for this, I have decided to use some of the previous images I took during Part 3, as I want to include as many of the elements of the exercise as I can.

The brief is thus:

The objective here is to produce a series of five portraits that use some of the types of gaze defined above. The specifics of how you achieve this are down to you; you choose which types of gaze you wish to address and who your subject might be in relation to this decision. What you are trying to achieve through these portraits is a sense of implied narrative, which you can explain through a short supporting statement. Don’t try and be too literal here; the viewer must be able to interact with the portraits and begin to make their own connection to the work, aided by the type of gaze you have employed.

My original plan had been to select a variety of images which simply illustrate different types of gaze in an unconnected series of images, but upon reflection I realised that there is more to the exercise than this. Not only do we need to show different types of gaze, but there should also be a sense of narrative within the series. I therefore selected all the images from a photoshoot I did last month for a village event to commemorate the centenary of the award of the Victoria Cross to William Gosling, a soldier in the First World War. Across Britain, soldiers who gained this military accolade during that War are being honoured 100 years to the day it was earned, and a plaque is being laid for each of them in their home village or town. I was asked by the Parish Office to take photographs of the event for posterity.

Here is the series.

This exercise was more difficult than it might at first appear. Many of my images could have fitted into more than one category of gaze, and the need to make the images as portraits limited possible contenders in what was an event with a large number of people crammed together. Also, as an integrated narrative of an event, the series only gives part of the story. I would have preferred to bookend it with longer shots, showing more of the parade and pageantry. However, as an exercise in looking at people in different ways, it was very useful.

I also need to note here that whole books have been written on The Gaze, and the many different ways and levels in which it can be interpreted. Below, I have listed a few links for future reference.

Chandler, Daniel (1998) Notes on the gaze.

Shukul, RN. (2008) Introduction to elements of GAZE theory

In addition, there is also Jacques Lacan’s theories on the Gaze to explore. They are relevant in general, but not specifically to this exercise.

A change of plan – photography ‘en abyme’

As part of the feedback I received at the recent Thames Valley Group meeting, our tutor Jayne suggested I read Craig Owens’ essay Photography “en abyme”. This was, I realised later,  a response to my photograph of the cut-out figures shown below.


Fortunately the essay is available to download and the link is here: It is not the easiest of reads, and my summary also relies on the explanation to be found in Chapter 5 of Gelder & Westgeest’s Photography Theory in Historical Perspective.

Owens uses the image below, Bal des Quatre Saisons by Brassaï as the starting point for his argument.

Bal des Quatre Saisons by BressaÏ

At a superficial reading, it appears to be a standard image of a party scene, but as one looks at it in more detail, the viewer becomes aware that

a complex web of internal reduplications deflects attention away from that which, despite the status of photographs as imprints of the real, remain external to the image: the reality it depicts. Psychological and sociological details are thus displaces by the network of internal relationships between subject, mirror and other, which structures the image. Owens, 1978, 73

The image shows two couples and three other people. At first glance, it appears the two couples might be the same, but slowly the realisation  dawns that the pair in the mirror are sitting opposite the three people at the front of the image and are only visible in the mirror’s reflection. I had originally considered whether the mirror was in fact a window, through which one can see into another room, but this is not the case. The two couples seem to mirror each other’s positioning in a way that Desmond Morris (see refs) would find interesting, while the other people in the image are a separate but integral part of the scene. The girl on the left appears to be looking at someone outside the frame, while the woman at the back is looking directly at the photographer, albeit through the mirror. So, the photographer is part of the image, despite not being visible.

The strange duplications and reflected connections extend much further than this, but only add detail to the argument. The point is that the mirror references the analogical definition of the photograph as a mirror of reality.

Because the mirror image doubles the subjects – which is exactly what the photograph itself does – it functions as a reduced internal image of the photograph. The mirror reflects not only the subject depicted, but also the entire photograph. It tells us in a photograph what a photograph is – en abyme. Owens, 1978, 75)

In simple terms, en abyme is a term from literary theory, which refers to a small part of a text that reproduces the whole thing in miniature, in this case an internal mirror that provides an explanation for the whole scene. However, there is more to it than that. The Youtube lecture by Prof. Michael Paraskos below posits the notion that an idea mise en abyme can offer the viewer the possibility of seeing an alternative reality, one that is not imprisoned by our current cultural norms. Paraskos uses the concepts of mirrors and windows, as has been outlined in the course materials, but rather than “windows”, he explains the idea as a “looking glass”, (from Lewis Carroll) in which one can see the possibility of a different reality, unrelated to our current world, and not bound by any underlying assumptions that we take for granted. He theorises that in this zone, there is the possibility of producing new, creative art. It is a complex lecture, and I probably do not need to go into more detail than that for the purposes of this post. Where it is relevant is that the en abyme concept can be used to describe “mirrors and windows” in a different way to that suggested in our coursework.

This theory above is where I would like to place my assignment, and my idea is to use the concept mise en abyme to consider whether what we see through a mirror is reality or something different. Thus, although the assignment will use mirrors as props for the work, the overall result is a study of the windows concept, or the looking glass which Paraskos describes.

(Incidentally, I am left wondering whether Bressai’s photograph was deliberately set up to make a point set up or whether the photographer took advantage of a scene already in place.)

In my next post, I will look at some photographers who use mirrors in this way, and consider the test images I have taken so far.


Morris, Desmond. (xxxx


Gelder & Westgeest’s Photography Theory in Historical Perspective.






New considerations about assignment 3



Holly Woodward, 2017

I’ve been rethinking what I want to do for assignment 3, after realising that my previous proposal about people who are missing from the current visual narrative might be a bit easy and too similar in visual content to the previous assignments, and therefore a cop-out. So, the need to look elsewhere for ideas has led to the idea of mindfulness and transience, about which I have been thinking a lot lately, and there is a project niggling away there that I have yet to full pin down. It has to do with the flashes of understanding about the experience of “Now” that come to us suddenly, and unbidden and all too infrequently in our busy modern lives. Having recently watched Guillaume Néry’s wonderful TED talk about the experience of free diving, a phrase he used strongly resonated for me – the journey between two breaths.

One could interpret this in two ways. Either the journey from birth to death and how transient our lives really are, OR as the gaps/flashes of understanding that come unbidden, such as Guillaume Nery describes. The latter is dependent on taking the time to experience life on a fully present, moment by moment basis. I have referred to this previously in this post: and it has been a feature of my photography approach from the beginning.

Alongside this, there has recently been a thread on the OCA Facebook page about how our work for the OCA may differ totally from what we choose to photograph and to print for framing in our non-OCA lives, and my own feeling is that I want to combine the two, rather than keeping OCA work separate in its content and style. While I was happy with the subject and outcome of my last assignment (no. 2), I did not feel it reflected “me” in any way at all.

So, I’ve been mindmapping and researching photographers who work in the style I prefer and there is a link to the mindmap below


At present, the three photographers whose work I need to look at in more detail are Uta Barth, Emanuella de Ruiter and Cassandra Kapsos and I think I would like to do this through a series of semi-abstracts, possibly of light through the day or the coming growth of spring. My first idea was a series on the water of the River Ray from its source to its junction with the Thames viewed in a contemplative way, but after the mindmap exercise, I realised that I want to work with the idea of transience as an inner journey of the mind, rather than something physical. There will/may be time for that if I do the Landscape module. However, I also want to review work by people such as Paul Kenny, who uses natural found materials to express the idea of Now.

The references below have been parked here as they aided my decision making process. They may or may not feature in the finished assignment.

Roni Horn – Still water

Not the right idea, as she is talking about the Thames in terms of looking for something that she knows is there, but needs more time to find. I’m approaching from the opposite point of view – what is there is what is important now. – this one is important – so is this – and this. Most of her work is relevent – serendipity of damaged images saying more than the originals – multimedia event – good blog article


Elina Brotherus & Esther Teichmann


Elina Brotherus and Esther Teichmann are the first of five photographer we are directed to study whose work fits into the category of mirrors. They use their own experiences to examine matters that affect most of us, if not all. Brotherus’s series 12 ans après is a follow-up  to one she made after first moving to France, Suites françaises, and it expands on her increased understanding of the language and society after 12 years. In the original, she shows a novel way of learning a language through Post-It notes (I must remember this in future) which is at the same time a reflection on loneliness and isolation in a foreign country. 12 years later, she returns to reprise some of the original photographs, but with the additional understanding she has gained in the interim. The notes are longer, but less obvious in the images, and one often has to look closely to find them. Brotherus’ work is always about herself, but relates to emotions and situations which many of us recognise. Having moved all over the world as an adult, her feelings of confusion and culture shock about moving somewhere new resonate for me.


© Elina Brotherus

Esther Teichmann

For me, Brotherus’s work seems quite remote. It is considered and set up in an orderly way. Teichmann’s work is almost the opposite – chaotic, dreamy, wildy different formatting and with ideas building up over the course of a series rather than being obvious from the start. To me, it feels much more emotionally led, and the way she goes about making her work is more appealing to me. She says that the process of researching and making a piece is what interests her and the end result is not as important. I like the way she talks about using the ideas of fragmentation and  transience, and her acceptance that freedom from the constraint of being confined to one particular media brings. Her work has a surreal, non-geographic feel which is quite different from Brotherus, whose work is very clearly rooted in her landscapes. The concept that really resonated with me was her desire to explore the gap between solid reality and the inner fantasy world that we all (I presume) carry around inside ourselves, and I want to come back to this later in my work towards my current assignment. I also like the fact that she uses people-free images as part of her portraiture.

On the face of it though, I prefer the look of Brotherus’s work. It is neat and clean and very precise. Teichmann’s work is more of a seemingly random collection of images, sound and voice, which can look very chaotic, but which has an underlying thread which tugs away at the consciousness and reminds us of the private thoughts and fantasies that lurk underneath our outward adult exterior.


© Esther Teichmann

Having just come back from a weekend of mindful photography in Venice, Teichmann’s method of working seems much more in tune with how I want to go about making my own work than Brotherus. One of the things that has been bothering me about my last assignment was the way I had to pre-think and organise what I wanted to do, and although I feel the results were OK, the process felt alien. It was too organised. I’d much prefer to work the other way, by taking images with a concept in mind and seeing what they say to me.


Boothroyd Sharon (2013).  Elina Brotherus Interview [online].  Photoparley.  Available from:  [Accessed 14 February 2017]

Brotherus, Elina (2015).  Elina Brotherus Talk from open College of the Arts [online].  Available from:  [Accessed14 February 2017].

Galerie les Filles de Calvaire.(2015) Esther Teichmann: in search of lightning. Press release. At:

Note on ideas for assignment 3

A couple of ideas have so far presented themselves to me, and I now need to think them through in more detail.

  1. A study of the Victoria Cross event which will be happening in the village in April, showing behind the scenes and the event itself. (Window – as I will not specifically be involved myself, but functioning in an observatory capacity). It would be relatively straightforward, and continue with the themes of village life which I have explored in previous work.
  2. A response to my frustration that middle aged people, and particularly women seem to be an almost completely invisible group in advertising and are hugely under-represented in literature and visual media unless they are functioning in a business capacity. I need to work on the background to this, with a feminist perspective, but my initial thoughts are along the lines of a series of diptych images, of local group scenes with the middle aged women blanked out, and then portraits of them alongside, explaining who they are. I did a quick test as an example below.

img_2168-ass-3-trialThis would be accompanied by individual portraits of the people, with a short explanation of how they would describe themselves, e.g. in the above photo – Holly, photography student and local councillor; Bronwen, author and creative arts teacher; Sandra, TEFL teacher and runner. This is definitely a Mirrors piece, in the same vein as Exercise 3.2 and I need to think over who would be the best candidates to ask to participate, as they need to be willing to show something about how they see themselves in the individual portraits.

Thinking a bit further about how the individual portraits might be set, I also need to pin down how the portraits should be set and the type of gaze they include. Direct would indicate, “Here I am. Look at me, please!”, while Averted might give a more diffused feel. My initial reaction would be for Averted, but on reflection I think that it continues the trope about invisibility, but in a voluntary, almost participatory way. The more I think about it, the more complex and important the gaze will be to the series.

Exercise 3.1 – Windows or mirrors?

As I understand it, mirrors and windows can be described as follows:-

  • mirror – an expression of how you see the world, as opposed to how others see it. It expresses as much about you, the photographer as it does about the subject of the image
  • windows – a warts and all exploration of what the world has to offer, without any personal agenda.

However, there is considerable overlap between the two ideas, depending on their contextualisation, and the relationship between the photographer and the viewer can change the perception of the two concepts in many, if not all circumstances. One person’s family photos are another person’s documentary series, for example. Also, how we, as photographers, choose to position ourselves in relation to the subjects we photograph may not be what the viewer understands, and our contextualisation can a gentle steer to how the images may be read, but not a directive.

As I looked through the archive of images I have taken since taking up photography seriously, I see that I shied away from taking photographs of people, even close family, for a long time. It was only last year when I began this module that people began to appear regularly in my personal images.

Version 1 – All images are ordered by the most recent one first and they are taken from non-OCA related work.



It has been difficult to decide what image should go into which set, because I believe that all of them reflect my own personal response to the world rather than anyone else’s. As I have mentioned previously, I am a keen practitioner of Mindful Photography, which teaches one to look at the world with fresh, open eyes, and to photograph whatever catches my eye without making any personal judgements about the subject. I can see this in the majority of the images above. After all, I decided to make these images which reflect something I have seen, and another person’s interpretation of the same scene might be very different. All of them tell a story, with the probably exceptions of No5 in set 1 and Nos 3 and 5 in the second set. The meanings of the first set’s photos are particular to me (again a possible exception in No4), while the second set is more observational and about the external world.

There are several observations I have made during the selection process which need to be considered in more detail in future projects. Firstly, I seem to have many, many more images of scenes and situations which are observational of outside subjects; in fact, the vast majority fall into this category. When I look at the images above, I see that they are mostly taken during holidays and specific photo shoots and they are responses to those situations, almost documentary in fact. Equally, most of them are about things or specific self-contained subjects. The only ones which reflect my own life are Nos 1,3 and 5 from the first set. So, another way of dividing the images up might be



The exercise has drawn my attention to the fact that most of my photography is about external subjects in which I have no emotional investment. They are documentary. However, my last assignment has been more about my own life and the people and situations within in, and I think I need to spend more time on this aspect of my work, rather than observational travelogues. A test for this is coming at the beginning of next month, when I am going on a Mindful Photography weekend to Venice. My aim for it should be to come back with more mirror images and fewer window ones.

With this new understanding in mind, I went back to my 2016 archive to see whether I could collect a group of six images that I feel confident are Mirrors, and they are shown below. Not all associations are immediately obvious to the outsider, but they are to me, and each of these says something about how I view the world around me. I have included two abstract nature photos, as this is the photographic area I tend to play about in, making composites and experimenting. I have also decided that Assignment 3 will be a mirror based project, most probably on my relationships with people I have met through the internet.