Looking at someone using a camera (or looking at images thus produced) is clearly different from looking at the same person directly. Indeed, the camera frequently enables us to look at people whom we would never otherwise see at all. In a very literal sense, the camera turns the depicted person into an object, distancing viewer and viewed.
We are all familiar with anecdotes about the fears of primal tribes that 'taking' a photograph of them may also take away their souls, but most of us have probably felt on some occasions that we don't want 'our picture' taken. In controlling the image, the photographer (albeit temporarily) has power over those in front of the lens, a power which may also be lent to viewers of the image. In this sense, the camera can represent a 'controlling gaze'.
In her classic book, On Photography Susan Sontag referred to several aspects of 'photographic seeing' which are relevant in the current context (Sontag 1979, 89):
The functions of photography can be seen in the context of Michel Foucault's analysis of the rise of surveillance in modern society. Photography promotes 'the normalizing gaze, a surveillance that makes it possible to qualify, to classify and to punish. It establishes over individuals a visibility through which one differentiates and judges them' (Foucault 1977, 25). Photography was used in the second half of the nineteenth century to identify prisoners, mental patients and racial types (Tagg 1988). However, looking need not necessarily be equated with controlling (Lutz & Collins 1994, 365).
Both film and television, of course, involve audio-visual 'motion pictures' - which sets them apart from still photography - but it is important to bear in mind key differences between these two media. John Ellis argues that 'gazing is the constitutive activity of cinema. Broadcast TV demands a rather different kind of looking: that of the glance' (Ellis 1982, 50). Whilst there is a danger of such viewpoints reflecting a certain élitism about 'art film' versus 'popular television' it is clear that the conditions of viewing in the cinema are significantly different from the conditions of viewing in the home. For instance, in the cinema one watches a narrative which is beyond one's own control, in dreamlike darkness, in the company of strangers and typically also with a close friend or two, having paid for the privilege; it is hardly surprising that in the context of the nuclear family, with companions one might not necessarily always choose as co-viewers and with channels which can easily be changed, viewing is often more casual - indeed, many televisual genres are designed for such casual viewing. Ellis argues that the conditions are such that 'the voyeuristic mode' cannot be as intense for the television viewer as for the cinema spectator (ibid., 138).
Film theorists argue that in order to 'suspend one's disbelief' and to become drawn into a conventional narrative when watching a film one must first 'identify with' the camera itself as if it were one's own eyes and thus accept the viewpoint offered (this is, for instance, an assumption made by Mulvey 1975). Whilst one has little option but to accept the locational viewpoint of the film-maker, to suggest that one is obliged to accept the preferred reading involves treating viewers as uniformly passive, making no allowance for 'negotiation' on their part. There are many modes of engagement with film, as with other media.
The film theorist Christian Metz made an analogy between the cinema screen and a mirror (Metz 1975), arguing that through identifying with the gaze of the camera, the cinema spectator re-enacts what the psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan called 'the mirror stage', a stage at which looking into the mirror allows the infant to see itself for the first time as other - a significant step in ego formation. Extending this observation to still photography, Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins observe that 'mirror and camera are tools of self-reflection and surveillance. Each creates a double of the self, a second figure who can be examined more closely than the original - a double that can also be alienated from the self - taken away, as a photograph can be, to another place' (Lutz & Collins 1994, 376).
In relation to film and television narrative, camera treatment is called ‘subjective’ when the viewer is treated as a participant, as when:
An empirical study has shown that a subjective version of a television commercial received higher scores and better evaluations on measures of viewers’ involvement (Galan 1986, cited in Messaris 1997, 32), supporting the notion that subjective camera treatment can help to make the viewer feel more involved in the situation depicted.