Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Introduction to Elements of GAZE Theory

What is “GAZE”?

The term gaze is a technical term which was use in the film theory in the 1970’s but now it has been used by media theorists as it refers to the way people gaze at an image.

Gaze can be defined as the way people look at subjects or objects in a given text.

The concept of gaze (often also called the gaze or, in French, le regard), is in analyzing visual culture, is one that deals with how an audience views the people presented. The concept of the gaze became popular with the rise of postmodern philosophy and social theory and was first discussed by 1960s French intellectuals, namely Michel Foucault's description of the medical gaze and Lacan's analysis of the gaze's role in the mirror stage development of the human psyche. This concept is extended in the framework of feminist theory, where it can deal with how men look at women, how women look at themselves and other women, and the effects surrounding this.

Forms of Gaze

Several key forms of gaze can be identified in photographic, filmic or television texts, or in figurative graphic art. The most obvious typology is based on who is doing the looking, of which the following are the most commonly cited:
  • the spectator’s gaze: the gaze of the viewer at an image of a person (or animal, or object) in the text;
  • the intra-diegetic gaze: a gaze of one depicted person at another (or at an animal or an object) within the world of the text (typically depicted in filmic and televisual media by a subjective ‘point-of-view shot’);
  • the direct [or extra-diegetic] address to the viewer: the gaze of a person (or quasi-human being) depicted in the text looking ‘out of the frame’ as if at the viewer, with associated gestures and postures (in some genres, direct address is studiously avoided);
  • the look of the camera - the way that the camera itself appears to look at the people (or animals or objects) depicted; less metaphorically, the gaze of the film-maker or photographer.
In studying social interaction, Michael Watson (1970) found cultural variability in the intensity of gaze. He distinguished between three forms of gaze:
  • Sharp: focusing on the other person's eyes.
  • Clear: focusing about the other person's head and face.
  • Peripheral: having the other person within the field of vision, but not focusing on his head or face.

Angles of Gaze

While taking about the angles of gaze, the most common ones are the front or the oblique angle wherein the subject or the person is in front of you or parallel to you. This comes under the category of horizontal angles. But the vertical angles are widely noted.

High angles (looking down on a depicted person from above) are interpreted as making that person look small and insignificant, and low angles (looking up at them from below) are said to make them look powerful and superior. Kress and van Leeuwen modify this standpoint slightly, arguing that a high angle depicts a relationship in which the producer of the image and the viewer have symbolic power over the person or thing represented, whilst a low angle depicts a relationship in which the depicted person has power over the image-producer and the viewer.

Apparent Proximity

We have learnt about the different forms of gaze. Now we are to discuss the look of the camera in detail. The look of the camera is the gaze which is done by the photographer or the film maker. While we gaze we tend to build up a certain relationship in the text. The relationship varied according to the kind of shot that has been taken. We have learnt about the different kinds of shot. In a long shot we hardly focus on one subject since there are more than one to focus upon. In the mid shot if you see the person in the picture , he is not looking at you. This looks as if the person doesn’t not know you. But in the close up shot the lady is looking at you. You then build up a personal relationship with the lady. The various kinds of shot give a different meaning when gazed upon.

When it comes to “gaze” there is certain relationship with the person in a text and the viewer.In relation to camerawork there are different kinds of shots.
  1. Long shots
    · Extreme
    · Medium
  2. Medium shots
    · Mid shots
    · Medium close shots
  3. Close up shots
    · Medium close up
    · Big close up

Male and Female “GAZE”

Male “GAZE”

Before starting the topic MALE GAZE, let us first understand the concept of gaze. As I mentioned earlier gaze is used for analyzing visual culture that deals with how the audience views the people presented in a given text. The whole idea of male gaze was given by Laura Mulvey in her essay “narrative cinema and visual pleasures”, 1975. She says that narrative cinema manipulates visual pleasures. Mulvey also states that in film women are always portrayed as an object of gaze and not the possessors of the gaze because the control of the camera (gaze) comes for assumptions that men are the default targeted audience of film genres. Coming back to the definition of male gaze, it means how men look at women. The look can be decent or indecent. But in some societies women welcome male gaze. Models and actress have no problem with the male gaze. Male gaze is divided into:
  1. Scopophilia: [pleasure in looking (Sigmund Freud 1905, in ‘Three Essays’)] This means the pleasure of looking or the love of looking at something. The term refers to the predominantly male gaze of the cinema which enjoys objectifying women into mere objects to be looked at. The most pleasurable looking is looking at the human form or the human face.
  2. Fetishistic scopophila: This term revolves under the idea that female figure is represented simply as a beautiful object of display. This also represents women as powerless and insignificant. The best example of a male gaze film would be “FATAL ATTRACTIONS” (1987).

Female “GAZE”

The female gaze is similar to the male gaze. It deals with how women look at men. Their objectifications of men are done through advertisements and teenage magazines. Woman would be objectifying the man to the subject of their desires and pleasures of looking.

Effects of “GAZE”

When you look at an object, you are not only seeing the object itself but also building up a relationship with it. Gazing provides us with a lot of information about our relationship with the subject or the relationship between the subjects upon whom we gaze or the situation in which the subjects are doing the gazing. The mutuality of the gaze can reflect power structure or the nature of the relationship between the subjects. This is proposed by Catherin Lutz and Jane Collins. Gazing can often reflect emotions without speech. For examples in some culture continuous staring can be at times unsettling to the subject.

Although gaze is just merely looking at something Jonathan Schroeder states that “Gazing signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze". The gaze characterizes and displays the relationships between the subjects by looking.


  1. Excellent comprehension of the 'gaze'.

  2. Do you write the posts or compile it from various sources?

  3. Do you write it yourself or compile it from different sources?

  4. Do you write them yourself or compile it from sources?

  5. Very informative. Thanks for sharing this vital info.