Un Regard Oblique

No other photograph was this thoroughly analyzed — or, overanalyzed. The above photo, Un Regard Oblique, has been a fixture in sociology, psychology, psychoanalysis, and gender studies circles since it was taken by Robert Doisneau in 1948.

A couple looks at the window and the man is enthralled by the portrait of a naked woman (very salacious one  by the standards of the time) while his wife talks to him about a photo which is presumably more modest. A simple image, but not quite a decisive moment.

For his Life magazine assignment, Doisneau hid his Rolliflex behind an antique chair on display at Romi’s art gallery in the 5th arrondissement. With his usual flair for humor, he had set his camera at the correct angle to the nude to take a series of furtive photos of male admirers. The above photo was his last shot.

Many scholarly articles written about it followed the example of this intricately written piece from 1982 by that great pioneer in film-gender studies, Mary Ann Doane:

“The photograph appears to give a certain prominence to a woman’s look. Both the title of the photograph and its organization of space indicate that the real site of scopophilic power is on the margins of the frame. The man is not centered; in fact, he occupies a very narrow space on the extreme right of the picture. Nevertheless, it is his gaze which defines the problematic of the photograph; it is his gaze which effectively erases that of the woman. Indeed, as subject of the gaze, the woman looks intently. But not only is the object of her look concealed from the spectator, her gaze is encased by the two poles defining masculine axis of vision. Fascinated by nothing visible — a blankness or void for the spectator — unanchored by a ‘sight’ (there is nothing ‘proper’ to her vision — save, perhaps, the mirror), the female gaze is left free-floating, vulnerable to subjection. The faint reflection in the shop window of only the frame of the picture at which she is looking serves merely to rearticulate, en abyme, the emptiness of her gaze, the absence of her desire in representation.

“On the other hand, the object of the male gaze is fully present, there for the spectator. The fetishistic representation of the nude female body, fully in view, insures a masculinization of the spectorial position.”

Actually, that is just a tenth of what she wrote. The full article is called, ‘Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator‘.

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