Understanding Visual Culture- Exercise- Looking, observation or surveillance?

Before completing this exercise, we were asked to read Michel Foucault’s Panopticism from the course reader and make notes.

Task 1

Our first task was to look at how video artists, who use themselves as the subject, relate to panopticism. I looked at the work of Lindsay Seers (as suggested) and Chantel Akerman.

I found a number of points where they related to panopticism

  • the viewer has the power over the artist
  • the artist/their work is always available to view however they are unaware of when they are being watched and who by (visible and unverifiable)
  • as they usually use their own surroundings or least familiar ones (Akerman films herself doing tasks in her own home) it is as if they are opening themselves up to surveillance.

Task 2

In this task, we had to find 6 images in any medium

  • two that are the result of looking
  • two that are the result of observing
  • two that are the result of surveillance

Once we had chosen them, we had to explain our choices.

I started, by first, exploring what each word meant

  • Looking- to direct your attention to something and they be aware
  • Observing- standing away from the subject and watching a situation unfold
  • Surveillance Standing back, watching and waiting for something to happen i.e. monitoring CCTV

As my main interest is photography, I chose photographs for all of my images.




I have chosen these two images, as they show the photographer looking directly at the subject and the subject being aware that they are being photographed. I feel that when an image is the result of looking, the final image is a more staged and managed.








I have chosen these two images as I feel they perfectly sum up my thoughts on observing in that they both show a situation unfolding or with something going on. In the first image, the photographer is stood quite close to the situation however, they are evidently not involved and is just capturing what the rest of the room looks like when Barack Obama holds a conference. In the second image, there are 2 women arguing outside of a motel and the photographer is stood away from the situation.







I chose these 2 images for surveillance as I felt they perfectly summed up my idea of it which is to stand back and wait for something to happen. When I think of surveillance, I think of CCTV and the “big brother” idea of looking down on people. Both of the images show the photographer or watcher raised above the people they are watching, waiting for something to happen.


About kunsworthphotography

I am currently studying towards a BA (Hons) in Photography with OCA and I have 2 children, Evie(4 years old) and Connor(3 years old)
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