Monday, April 28, 2008

Gaze: demand and offer

People in photographs can generally be divided into two categories: those who look at the camera and those who do not. Advertisers use the gaze of the people they picture to convey particular attitudes---pleasure at use of a product or displeasure at the absence of a product, for example. Kress and van Leeuwen characterize the gaze of a person as either a "demand" of or an "offer" to the viewer.

"Demand" pictures are those in which its participants are looking directly at the camera (and therefore, the reader). Kress and van Leeuwen assert that vectors, following the gaze of the photographed participant, connect participant with viewer. "Contact is established, even if it is only on an imaginary level." (p. 122) Using a "demand" picture acknowledges the viewer, "addressing them with a visual 'you.'" In addressing the reader directly, the participant's gaze demands an imaginary relation with the viewer.

In advertisements, the visual "demand" is usually one of participation or acknowlegement, where the picture seems to say, "I demand you to enjoy this product and its benefits." The woman in 25 Michelob says, "I demand you send me a beer---but only a Michelob."

On the other hand, pictures in which participants have a indirect gaze address the reader indirectly. "Here the viewer is not object, but subject of the look, and the represented participant is the object of the viewer's dispassionate scrutiny" (p. 124). The photographed participants are "offered" to the readers "as though they were specimens in a display case," and the relationship between participant and reader is one of unfamiliarity rather than the intimacy of a "demand" photograph. In contrast to the visual "you" presented in "demand" pictures, "offer" pictures lack the corresponding visual "I." Instead, just as the participant becomes the object of the picture, "I" is objectified into a visual "he" or "she."

In "offer" advertisements, the picture visually speaks to the reader through the author of the picture rather than the picture's participants. The author of 28.2 Rave says, "I offer you proof that Rave hair gel really does work."

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