4.2 Including the Shooter

The set of engagements (and non-engagements) is further enriched when the photographer includes himself or herself in the scene. I am not thinking primarily of Cindy Sherman, who includes herself as the main subject, but of photographers who depict themselves depicting. Such acts require mirrors and break the conventional twining of viewer's and photographer's eyes. That is, the viewer cannot be the "implicit photographer" when she sees the photographer represented behind the camera (assuming it is the camera that took the picture, shooting into a mirror). If she sees the photographer viewing through the taking lens, where is she viewing from? The classical precedents for such pictures are the grand canvases of Velasquez ( Las Meninas) and Courbet ( The Painter's Studio ), but as paintings, the "viewer as painter" is less compelling. That is, we know that the painter can paint himself into the scene any day he pleases, but the sense of "shared instant of time" is so much stronger that these reflexive pictures are disorienting. The one resolution, I think, is to back the viewer away from imagining himself as interacting in a scene of photographing and to promote instead a kind of detached analysis (and perhaps admiration) of the artifice--or amusement at what can easily come off as self-deprecating. Jonathan Miller's On Reflection includes a couple of pages (pp. 184-5) of photographer's self-portraits with taking camera; one, by Andre Kertesz uses a distorting lens and model to suggest the queerness of the situation. But perhaps the most copious and now well-discussed body of such self-portraits is by Helmut Newton.


Helmut Newton: Self Portrait with Wife June and Models

Figure 4.14
Helmet Newton, "Self Portrait with Wife June and Models (1981)"

Helmut Newton

An introductory essay by Urs Stahel to Helmut Newton: Selections from his Photographic Work ("Participating without Consequences: Rules and Patterns of Newton's Voyeurism," pp. 19-30) discusses a number of Newton's pictures of himself at work photographing nudes. Among these is one ("Self Portrait with Wife June and Models," Paris, 1981) upon which Victor Burgin has lavished much semiotic and psychoanalytic attention. (see In/Different Spaces, University of California Press, 1996, cc. 2 and 3). Although Burgin begins with a textbook application of Barthesian semiotic analysis (first denotation—the non-codified description of the scene and then connotation—the cultural codes and associations of raincoats, FM spiked heels, pinup posture, followed by "rhetorical" patterning of antithesis and repetition), he moves toward explication of the feminist psychoanalytic argument of Laura Mulvey's work (and toward personal themes engaged by the picture). What both Burgin and Stahel ignore is Newton's opening up of the scene of the work and the consequences of glamour photography. This is a scene for dramatic imagining: what can the model be thinking as Newton's wife sits watching like a casting director? Is she turning toward him to receive instructions? What can Newton be thinking as he positions people (and make no mistake, they are all positioned) and dons a raincoat? Why does he make himself so short? What exactly might June be thinking? Is this a proper use of the Vogue Paris studio? Who's paying the model? and when we have finished all that, what about the other model? It seems to me this picture works exactly against Stahel's title: it drops the screens and baffles to expose relations that do have consequences--personal and material--that visual eroticism attempts to bracket and conceal.


Eduoard Manet: The Bar at the Folies Bergère

Figure 4.15
Eduoard Manet: The Bar at the Folies Bergères

Jeff Wall

The last of these pictures thematizing the acts of viewing, making, and seeing is a near contemporary of Newton's "Self Portrait," namely, Jeff Wall's equally well -known "Picture for Women." Like many other Walls, it has a precursor in Manet, namely "The Bar at the Folies Bergères." This too appears to have a mirror, this time behind the subject, in which her reflection, along with that of a patron, appears. The geometry, as has been noted by a number of critics, does not seem to be quite right: if we are standing more or less directly in front of her (though not meeting her gaze), then it is hard to know where the other customer is located, or else where we are. (One critical cartoon of the times drew the scene up supplying what M. Manet had "forgotten" to put it, namely the figure of the other customer standing to the right, back to our view. In a sketch for the painting, Manet posed the girl looking sharply to her left across the viewer's gaze to the customer.) It is above all the woman's posture that echoes Manet. Here we note a bit of illusionism even in classic realism--it is hard to imagine, given the scene Manet wants to evoke, where he would set his easel, or how it would look if he chose to paint it in. (In fact, he painted it in his studio, using numerous sketches and several sessions with the model.)

Jeff Wall: Picture for Women

Figure 4.16
Jeff Wall "Picture for Women, 1979"

Wall, however, drops the illusion of being anywhere but his studio and also opens up the full apparatus of enhanced warehouse lighting and wiring, all of which set up superb parallel line grids to assist the eye in perspective. The light stands partition the composition into a triptych rather classically occupied by the the three principle persons: the subject, the photographer, and the camera eye/I (but the light favors her). The woman, once again reversing Manet, is looking directly at the viewer in as level a gaze as one could imagine--not challenging, or flirtatious, or submissive, supplicating, the list goes on. Well, of course she isn't looking at you, she's looking at the camera, but Wall stands a good distance away from the camera and farther forward (that is a very long cable release he has there). He appears to be looking, off the mirror, at her. But the effect of moving away from the camera is to vacate the space of the viewing eye, which is then free for the viewer to fill. The central protagonist is the camera, and the camera is you.

In his "Survey: The Mainstream and the Crooked Path" to Jeff Wall, Thierry Duve celebrates this photograph as a breakthrough modernist photograph. For him this means broadly "self-critical and self-referential" and narrowly "conscious of the medium," which in this case is the transparency of the picture's surface (p. 29). But I do not think we are made aware of the materiality of the photograph's (or transparency's) surface; rather, I think that our awareness that we are looking at a photograph collapses. Our brain tells us the woman is posed in an utterly contrived position with her hands resting on the edge of a plywood sheet not more than 4 feet wide facing directly into a large plate glass mirror. If we stood where the camera is pointing and the woman appears to be looking, we would see the back of a large mirror, or else the other side of the wall on which the mirror was mounted. But perceptually one or two (incompatible) conclusions seem evident: either she and her assistant Mr. Wall are waiting for you to come to the camera to take the shot, or they are about to take your picture. This completes the turning of the tables on the viewer, who becomes, finally, the viewee. Surely the title, "Picture for Women" is some sort of pointer. Then her remarkable gaze becomes The Gaze, the regard classically directed from the male observer toward the female object, now here reversed.


Agfa advert from Wired, Aug. 1999

Figure 4.17
Agfa advert from Wired, Aug. 1999

You-the-shooter in an Agfa advert

Even locating the viewer as the maker of the image can be brought off, say, in a camera ad. Here is one last image--an advert for Agfa's digital camera from the August 1999 edition of Wired. In broad outline, of course, this is conventional to and beyond the hackneyed point, selling the camera as a sex-appeal-enhancing possession. But there is a special twist--this happy encounter occurs as the camera is being used, not just displayed. Assuming the picture is what "you" see, "you look up" seems to refer to the moment when you look up through the camera's viewfinder to shoot the woman in the second story window (this is why the window casement is appears so tipped inward at the top); "she sees you" in the act of shooting , approves of your somewhat cyborgian mien (face mostly obscured by camera—which of course is not depicted), and blows you a kiss. The crucial clue for this interpretation is the slight vertical pinching in the middle of the picture (i.e., the top and bottom edges are not straight but curve inward, then outward again). This gives a "viewfinder" look. So you want us to think about the scene of shooting? OK, we can use that to sell cameras too! "incredibly easy to use ePhoto digital cameras."

This image does not represent the shooter/you, but it does address him/you visually and verbally and implies him/you as the one viewing through the viewfinder. It provides a good image of what it means to say "images imply their model/ideal viewers." It does provide a bit of a puzzle to solve, requiring us to make these coordinations. Similarly, all included-shooter photographic images are puzzles or paradoxes that we may find some pleasure in solving. They invite a static diagram of the scene of taking and our minds may bounce from one possible analysis to another in the course of working out the diagram. In the next section, we will move from the scene of (still) photography to the scene of Web viewing and the very considerably enhanced repertoire of subject positions as we enter the world of information seeking and web viewing.