One of the troubling ideas that I see among photographers is that somehow when they are engaged in street photography, they have a “neutral gaze” where they simply “observe” and do not impact the surroundings. This myth is borrowed from colonialist mentality where the White Gaze is deemed a “neutral” one that can “observe” cultures through consumption, appropriation and exploitation, but that Gaze has no impact since they are not a part of the culture in question and thereby are “objective.” Such an “objectivity” rests on the illogical notion that one is “rational” if one is less informed and less experienced with the culture one gazes at. (It also rests upon a false notion that emotions and logic are completely divergent and raced/gendered.) It blatantly ignores the structural power that Whiteness affords. (In fact, see this great thread of people speaking on the colonialist gaze and Steve McCurry’s photograph of “Afghan Girl.”)
There is no neutral gaze. Our identities, privileges/oppressions, appearances and behaviors as photographers affect our experiences as photographers and as subjects. It affects how we interact with subjects and how subjects interact with us, period.
I’ve been out doing street photography and caught the eye of a White male photographer doing the same. We of course exchange the knowing photographer slight grin and keep moving. But let him walk by a group of men and ask to photograph them. The level of respect given to him and enthusiasm those men have is much different from those same men street harassing me if I don’t ask to photograph them or them assuming I have some sort of sexual interest in them if I do ask to photograph them.
There is no neutral gaze because there are no neutral identities. The idea that there is a neutral one rests upon White supremacy and how that creates the idea that White is “normal,” because of racism non-White is “not normal” and because of anti-Blackness Black is “not human.” And these particular politics cannot be ignored no matter how much complacency and ignorance some photographers have about people…yet they want to photograph people.
The fact that primarily cishet White male photographers give street photography “advice” to photographers yet never address how Black male photographers could experience police harassment or how women photographers, especially Black women, could experience street harassment, remains a problem. But let a cop harass a White male photographer, a man who would NEVER be harassed otherwise, and that’s the central focus of photography and harassment while doing street photography. Right.
There is no neutral gaze. There are no neutral experiences. There is no neutral identity.
Related Posts: 8 Good Reads On Black Women and Photography, As Photographers and/or Subjects, The Clients Who Didn’t Want A Black Woman As Their Photographer, Not All Street Photographers Are Treated The Same, Respect Subjects of Photojournalism and Street Photography, White Privilege and The Photography Industry
Years of fucking shit up pretty bad and trying not to do it the same way next time.
Intersex babies are not having difficulty with sexual identity or self-image. The parents are, and parental anxiety about the appearance of a child’s genitals should be treated with counseling, not with surgery to the child.