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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Informing Contexts – Gaze

I look at the world in a theatrical way. I see ordinary things as a performance.  I understand the world this way too.  When I view photographs, this does affect how I understand and interpret the image in front of me. I look for the back story in the image and don’t always draw the obvious conclusion about the intended meaning.

In my practice, the female gaze is dominant.  I am interested in the portrait as both a mirror and a masquerade.  The imaginary and the mirror.  My subjects include anyone whether or not they conform to accepted notions of female beauty standards in terms of age, size etc.

All Photographs above: Sutherst 2016 and 2017

My subjects go through a metamorphism in front of the camera.  They wear a mask and through the mirror of my lens, see themselves in a different way.  Very much like Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage, they sometimes truly see themselves for the first time.  They put on a show in front of the camera.  The subject in the photograph below commented to me before the shoot that she hated having her picture taken. During the shoot, she told me that she was acting for the camera and afterwards, she messaged me to say that she felt empowered and full of confidence. She has finally seen herself in the mirror for who she is.  But is the image a masquerade?  Is she wearing a mask?


Figure 1: Sutherst 2017

Doane (1982:81-82) states that “The masquerade, in flaunting femininity, holds it at a distance. Womanliness is a mask which can be worn or removed. The masquerade’s resistance to patriarchal positioning would therefore lie in its denial of the production of femininity as closeness, as presence-to-itself, as, precisely, imagistic. The transvestite adopts the sexuality of the other – the woman becomes a man in order to attain the necessary distance from the image. Masquerade, on the other hand, involves a realignment of femininity, the recovery, or more accurately, simulation, of the missing gap or distance. To masquerade is to manufacture a lack in the form of a certain distance between oneself and one’s image.”

I create a connection with my subjects that feels intimate and makes them feel comfortable and confident when the camera is pointed at them.  There is a distinct collaboration between me and my subjects that allows me to capture the images I get.  My photographs are very reflective of my personality and imagination and I obtain a closeness to my subjects.  This is in stark contrast to the gaze of a voyeur. Angier (2015:79) commented:”…The basic condition of the voyeuristic scenario is distance, an essential separation between the seer and seen…”

And to use Barthes (2000:10-11) words, perhaps we all masquerade in front of the lens: “But very often (too often, to my taste) I have been photographed and knew it. Now, once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of “posing”. I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image. This transformation is an active one: I feel that the Photograph creates my body or mortifies it, according to its caprice (…).”


Angier, R. (2015). Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography (Required Reading Range). 2 Edition. Fairchild Books.

Barthes, R. (2000). Camera Lucida. Edition. Vintage

Doane, M. (1982). Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the Female Spectator. Screen, 23(3-4), pp.74-88.

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