According to Victor Burgin, “to look at a photograph beyond a certain period of time is to court a frustration; the image which on first looking gave pleasure has by degrees become a veil behind which we now desire to see”1. In this quotation, the author uses two ways to describe the action of the eye. On one hand, “to look” is the act of directing one’s eyes toward something or someone. It implies that the person who is looking is paying attention to the object of his/her sight.
On the other hand, “to see” means “to perceive with the eyes”2: the person who is seeing doesn’t necessarily have the intention to see. However, this verb also suggests a way of understanding, of seeing through something, hence Victor Burgin’s mention of the “veil”. Through this sentence, he points out that photographs seem to prevent the satisfaction of our desire to see.
In Denise Grünstein’s Figure in Landscape, not only the photograph is hard to decipher but the object of the photograph is hard to discern. At first, we focus on finding the figure which is hiding in the landscape. Once this figure has caught our eyes, we get involved in a play of looks with it. This play of looks requires that we also introduce the verb “to gaze” which signifies to look fixedly and for a long time. Furthermore, in literary theory, the noun “gaze” can also be related to “a particular perspective considered as embodying certain aspects of the relationship between observer and observed”3. In order to analyse this relationship in Denise Grünstein’s photograph, we will replace the nouns “observer” and “observed” by their psychoanalytic equivalents “voyeur” and “exhibitionist”. By doing so, we use terms that suppose a pleasure in looking and/or being looked. We will thus interrogate which respective part the spectator and the photographed figure play in that relationship.
In the same essay we quoted, Victor Burgin adds that “we use them (the photographs) in such a manner that we may play with the coming and going of our command of the scene/(seen)”4. Looking at Figure in Landscape with this excerpt in mind, we may find that the said play of looks may be entailed by our fantasies. By fantasy, we mean an “imaginary scene”5 that enables us to go further in interpreting the photograph. Thus, this essay will try to describe the ambivalence of the parts played by the spectator and the figure as well as defining how fantasies act in this play of looks.
1 Victor Burgin, “Looking at photographs”, The photography reader (Routledge: London, 2003), p. 136
2 http://oxforddictionaries.com, 2012
3 http://oxforddictionaries.com, 2012
4 Victor Burgin, “Looking at photographs”, The photography reader (Routledge: London, 2003), p. 136
5 Jean Laplanche & J-B Pontalis, “Fantasy/Phantasy”, The Language of Psycho-Analysis (Karnak, 1988), p. 314
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