Diagnosing power relationships: a Foucauldian perspective on the photographed subject

Voase, Richard (2003) Diagnosing power relationships: a Foucauldian perspective on the photographed subject. In: Tourism and Photography: Still Visions - Changing Lives, 20-23 July 2003, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Presentation)
Item Status:Live Archive


The paper is about the predilection of tourists to record, photographically, encounters with visually ‘colourful characters’ whose lifestyle (fishing, farming etc.) is etched upon their faces, and represented in their sartorial style. The paper seeks to analyse the contingent effects of the relationship between power and knowledge which arise when such photographs are taken.

Two bodies of Foucauldian theory will be exposed and applied: that of the ‘medical gaze’, and that of ‘panopticism’, described by Bauman (1993) as a ‘grand metaphor’ by which power relationships within industrial society may be understood.

A handful of photographic examples of colourful characters will be presented, in order to establish the nature of the genre. One in particular, a photograph of a colourful character used in promotional material, is accompanied by advertising copy which, when analysed, is seen to consist of two separate discourses by which affluent consumers are persuaded to purchase.

Analysis of the photographic image of this example, by semiotic means, suggests the construction of a dignified, independent identity for the photographed subject. However, analysis of image and copy in terms of the Foucauldian gaze and panoptic metaphor reveal a degree of mutual dependency between photographed and photographer.

However, the locus of power, contrary to the discursive implications of the advertisement copy, is revealed through Foucauldian analysis to reside with the photographer. The diagnosis of this power relationship becomes complete when set in the context of the need for the aspirational tourist to acquire cultural capital in the fashion outlined by Bourdieu (1984).

Keywords:power, Foucault, Bourdieu, cultural capital, photography
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W640 Photography
Divisions:Lincoln International Business School
ID Code:5542
Deposited On:15 May 2012 09:54

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