“The Camera Is Not Innocent”: A History of the White Gaze in Photography

“The Camera Is Not Innocent”: A History of the White Gaze in Photography

In Daniel C. Blight’s new ebook, The Graphic of Whitenesswe are confronted with the “troubling story” of racial and political whiteness. Mixing artwork, photography and tutorial discourse, the task explores the falsehoods and paradoxes of whiteness, as properly as its oppressive nature. It also highlights the essential work present-day photographic artists are doing to “subvert and critique its picture and its continuing power”.

In the reserve, Blight examines whiteness not only as a political or social phenomenon, but also as a visual construct. ​​”From early colonial pictures in the 19th century to modern social media and photographic art, photography has usually played an integral job in the maintenance of the political and social hegemony of whiteness,” explains the London-centered academic. “The technological innovation of the camera is not innocent, nor are the pictures it generates or the men and women who make them.”

The Graphic of Whiteness was born out of a convention that Blight organised in 2017. The party was linked to investigate he carried out in the several years prior, which examined the role that modern visual artwork practice performs in sociological and vital race theory discussions, precisely with regards to the idea of “whiteness“. Blight brought jointly a group of scholars, sociologists and philosophers for the meeting, including the keynote speaker and distinguished American philosopher George Yancy.

However, as he ventured further into the topic, he rapidly realised that there have been lots of more folks who ended up hard the idea of racial whiteness – lots of of them doing work across various distinct disciplines, these kinds of as portraiture, images and montage. “The ebook itself is generally visible, comprised of a sequence of pictures all-around a variety of themes identified in my introductory essay,” points out Blight. 

A main topic of the guide is the bias of photographic technology – a medium designed and dominated by white individuals, as an extension of “the white eye” – which performs an active position in reinforcing troubling narratives of whiteness. Blight incorporates illustrations or photos that disrupt this notion, with function from picture-makers like Buck Ellison, Nancy Burson and Hank Willis Thomas.

Another of the book’s themes is the fluidity of racial whiteness. Blight explores how, traditionally, there have been many groups of men and women with white pores and skin who ended up not generally observed as racially white (this sort of as the Irish and people of Jap European descent). The exclusivity of whiteness in this perception bolstered the idea that it was a class-based privilege, rooted in a discourse of racial purity. “Certain individuals historically have been invited to develop into white,” Blight explains. “For illustration, as explored by Noel Ignatiev in his ebook How the Irish Became White, when the English invaded Ireland, the Irish have been regarded as ‘savages’ and hence not white, regardless of sharing the exact same pores and skin tone as their invaders. Similarly, the mass migration of Irish persons to America led to a tense social scenario in which established white Anglo-Saxon Americans did not see the Irish as white.” 

Asked to share his stance on the part that whiteness performs in modern society today, and what he feels really should be performed about it, Blight aligns himself with the “logic” of abolitionism. “Instead of striving to reform whiteness, I argue that we don’t have to have it in any way. It’s a sort of specious, violent creation that simply cannot be saved, properly,” Blight states, finally. “Of class, there is a huge big difference in between getting white pores and skin and becoming racially white.”

The Picture of Whiteness: Present-day Pictures and Racialization is co-released by SPBH Editions and Artwork on the Underground, and is out now.