*ooof*: The Gaze

I have noticed this before and I’ll put my neck out and say it again – I think Armitage responds particularly well to women photographers. Or is it the women photographers who are particularly responsive to the man? (Certainly the case for me *ahem*).I consciously observed this for the first time when the Victoria Wills shots came out during the Hobbit promo in December 2012. Then the Tracey Nearmy shots had us all enthralled. I briefly discussed a Sarah Dunn shot (or two???) in my post for the Armitage birthday in August 2013 and then also *ooof*ed a number of shots by Leslie Hassler.

And now Sarah Dunn stuns us with a series of shots out of nowhere. Had I not been so preoccupied with my own imagery in the wake of the Berlin premiere, I would have emergency *ooof*ed this tasty little number:

Sarah Dunn

Bright Eyes, Burning Like Fire
Richard Armitage in a shot by Sarah Dunn
December 2013

Does this look familiar? It should. I certainly didn’t have to look it up separately but I realised immediately that it comes from the same source as the delicious Elvis/Jackson tease from my most recent emergency *ooof*. There are certain hallmarks there: White blown-out background, long depth-of-field, b/w. This pared back visual language works very well in our day and age of information overload and of oversaturation with colour visual imagery in general. Bombarded with photos and moving images, we can allow our eyes rest in a calm, quiet b/w setting. Not that this leaves me calm, however. Undistracted by props and contorted poses, this image hits the emotional centre of brain and body. Ok, every Armitage image does that to me… What’s the big news?

Lit up with soft light from above front right and back left, we get to see every detail of the sitter. His body pose is relaxed and still: Armitage is standing with his body turned at a 45 degree angle to the camera. His face is turned just off -camera, with his gaze going up left. With his hands in his pockets and his shoulders relaxed, he gives off an impression of calmness. Despite a lot of deep black in the image that would draw a lot of attention in a b/w image – the leather jacket, the jeans, the hair – the focus point for our gaze however is something else: Mr Gorgeous’s face. If you look closely you will notice that his face is almost completely framed. Particularly the rather straight hairline on his angular forehead acts as a frame to the face, continuing down the sides with the luscious waves and even covering the bottom corners with delightful little curls peeking behind the neck. The collar of the leather jacket finishes the frame at the bottom (our brain possibly continues the line further to the left where no black line frames the face).

However, it is the eyes that draw all the attention. Some of that is due to the white of his eyes, the only part of the sitter that is as bright as the background. But with the light reflecting in his eyes, they become a marked contrast to the stillness of everything else – where his body posture is calm, the eyes sparkle and look alive. In contrast to everything else the gaze is dynamic – looking up left , the gaze leaves the “default” position (which would either be looking straight ahead or possibly at the camera). As a viewer you can imagine that the sitter has had no trouble standing still like this – except for his gaze flickering through the studio, observing the movements of the photographer, taking in the setting, focussing and seeing.

The characteristic Armitage non-smile smile is in evidence again. This, if it is at all a deliberate facial expression of the subject, is a fantastic device to have at his disposal. Effectively what he does is keeping us guessing. His face asks questions. Do I smile? Do I frown? Am I happy? Am I angry? Am I impatient? Am I ironic? Am I a grumpy guy? Am I a sexy guy? I know how *you* are answering this question, dear readers, but the point is that the unreadable face adds not only a layer of mystique over the image but also the man.

This image unites a number of characteristics that I have noticed in the imagery that is available of RA. 1) Again I find that Armitage is particularly effective in the ovary-busting sense when he does not smile. Armitage does mystery very well. This may be due to his dark facial features – the shadow of the stubble, the angular lines of the forehead, the pronounced nose, the marked line of the thin lips, the dark eyebrows. His own consciousness may also impact in that he has been known to say that he feels his face doesn’t suit happy-smily very well. Rubbish, but well. 2) While he photographs very well in all poses, the off-camera gaze usually seems to work better on him than a direct look at the camera. I suspect that that is due to a general uncomfortableness with connecting through a lens. As an actor he is trained to ignore the “eye” of the camera. It is the one place he is not allowed to ever focus on. Doing so in the photography studio is probably breaking a subconscious rule, and therefore difficult, disconcerting, uncomfortable. While avoiding the camera’s eye, he can “act” the situation, ignoring the actual process of being photographed. Staring into it, on the other hand, means acknowledging being photographed, acknowledging the person behind the camera, and in extension the public who will get to see the image. A disconcerting thought for most of us.

For 3) I need to start a new paragraph because this is a fascinating topic that I have often pondered. I come back to my initial point: Armitage connects particularly well with women photographers. This, of course, is my own personal opinion – I would back it up with photographic evidence. Dunn, Wills, Nearmy, Hassler, Lewis, Newman Williams. But I am aware that my opinion is of course shaped by my consciousness. I *know* which of his shoots were conducted by women. And I subconsciously assume that they see him the way I do – an attractive man with peaches and smoulders a number of attributes that stand out and that need to be are focussed on in his photographs. No doubt the male photographers know and notice that, too – but they have a different visual language to women. If you allow me to generalise – men concentrate on the obvious sexual markers. The strong biceps, the narrow hips, the wide shoulders, the assertive look. Women have a wider perspective. They take in more than just the sledgehammer charactertics of sexual attractiveness. We like to observe the whole picture. And I don’t mean that in a “full length” sort of sense but as in the extension of the image from mere depiction to more connotation.

Now, today’s visual imagery – particularly because of the proliferation of cinematography – is oversaturated with the male gaze. That is, the appraising body shot of an attractive female, lingering and focussing very closely on the sexual attributes. The boob shot, basically. It has been argued that the male gaze is demeaning for women, reducing them to the size of their chests and the roundness of their bum, objectifying and disempowering them by making them objects. The female gaze certainly appreciates the male sexual attributes as well. However, (particularly in cinematography) these are usually shot from further away. While they certainly also include markers such as a defined six-pack, wide strong shoulders or even an impressive bulge, they tend to picture men with what I would overemphasisedly describe as an “air of awe” – admiring the power and the strength of the male. There is less objectification in this, in that it empowers men, focussing on a connotation (“power”) more than the denotation (“biceps”) (cf. Barthes *ggg* had to slip that in here) and possibly depicting the male as a role model rather than an object. I would argue that female photographers tend to shoot from the perspective of the female gaze – essentially an egalitarian perspective that does take in the sexual attributes but avoids objectification. However, I must admit that the whole discussion of this issue is slightly skewed – the imagery of Armitage made by male photographers possibly also avoids objectification, probably due to the lack of (potential) sexual chemistry between the subject and the photographer (assuming that they are both straight). Plus – I *am* a woman. Of course I will praise my sisters and mock the opposite gender *ggg*.

And yet I find the shots by female photographers more intimate, more telling and more emotionally affecting and effective than those by male photographers. Is that because I *know* that they are taken by women? And that I assume the female photographer approaches the subject in a similar way as I do? That she has shot this with a female audience in mind? Do I possibly *want to* believe in this more intense rapport between a female photographer and RA because it suits my own interpretation and/or fantasy of him? I would argue that RA connects more to women photographers based on the evidence that the shots that originate from such sessions are more varied in unusual poses. Dunn gets RA to do the Elvis/Jackson move, in another set of images she makes him ruffle his hair and dangle sexily from a ladder. Wills got the more unposed but varied shots of RA seemingly letting his guard down while talking with her in a chair. Nearmy manages to get very close to RA with intense, open-eyed shots of him. Beside the blander fashion images Hassler gets RA to peer through his fingers and to incline his head flirtily towards the camera. Is this due to the rapport between female photographer and male sitter? I would argue yes – but with our subject being a gifted actor, he surely could act out similar directions for a male photographer, too, couldn’t he?

The fact of the matter is that he doesn’t. He doesn’t get asked, he doesn’t do it. Or those images do not cut it in the editing process and are omitted from what the public gets to see? Or there is a different kind of willingness to cooperate at play here. Maybe RA favours his women photographers with more tolerance of such direction. Playing the gender game, it may be quite fun flirty to do some sillier more outlandish poses. Women being by and large very good at communicating, empathising and establishing rapport on a personal level, may also have more persuasive power then men. And the naturally reserved sitter may be more inclined to oblige a woman than a man with requests for poses that he might not consider for himself.

There is no conclusion – only my own personal interpretation. Only the photographer(s) and the sitter could enlighten us with their knowledge of the actual situation. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Dunn’s images are certainly delightful – varied, crispy clear, focussing on the essentials, adding another little facet to the precious diamond. I certainly appreciate what she has created.

~ by Guylty on December 17, 2013.

44 Responses to “*ooof*: The Gaze”

  1. Interesting as always, Guylty. I think you’re right about female photographers. And I do love love this shot! 😀

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    • As I said – I may just be a case of wanting to believe *ggg*. I do think that she got a very nice shot of him here, though, even though I am not mad about the composition shot that she released yesterday. This one is quite iconic in its own way – the elevated pose, shot from below, the gaze into the distance. If he was wearing different clothes and stood in a less relaxed pose it would be a total hero shot…

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  2. What a great “ooof” both in terms of photo choice and the discussion of male vs. female photographers of Mr. A and the variance we do seem to see in the poses and, dare I say, attitude reflected in the sitter.

    Personally, I do seem to feel a greater emotional impact from many of the photos taken by female photogs, but is that mere coincidence? I have also noticed a tendency for that flirtier, funnier Richard to come out in interviews with females.

    Who knows? But long may we reap the benefits! Oh, and i have a little something I made for you the other day, too, Guylty. 😉

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    • Gender relations and gender characteristics are something that I find infinitely fascinating. It’s a bit of a tricky subject, I guess – often not really back-up-able by hard evidence. And let’s face it, photos are not necessarily hard evidence, either, because we only see what we want to see… I bet someone could find me a shot by a male photographer that is equally hot and flirty and interestingly composed/posed. – In interviews, I definitely think that he enjoys talking to female interviewers in a different way to male interviewers.Sometimes in a flirty way, sometimes in a very sweet, tolerant way, gentlemanly, I guess, respectful of a woman? I suppose you can be a bit more jokey and hoaxy with a fellow man?
      oooh, and what did you make? The leather fetish post? *moanssoftly* I looooved that – all my favourites in one post, Ricky and Guy *ggg*.

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      • Yes, he’s very patient and sweet with some of the gushier, giddier female interviewers, isn’t he? Such a well-brought-up gentleman that John and Margaret have. Gotta love him. My mother would have adored him. Well, I certainly thought of you with the Guy/Ricky post but I have a little something ELSE just for you for Christmas. That’s all I will say for now . . .

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        • Although there is always the danger of being labelled sexist, I think it is a sign of awareness when men treat women slightly differently than men and not sexism. If I were his mother (and thank God I am not *ggg*), I certainly would be proud of him.
          And ooooh, you are really making me curious now, Angie… I’ll keep my eyes peeled then… can’t wait… 😀

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          • I agree! I remember a wonderful southern gentleman (who sadly passed away this year) who, in spite of his infirmities, pulled out my chair for me at a function we were both attending. “My mother would be very upset with me if I didn’t do that for a lady, Angie,” he said with the sweetest smile. I was truly touched by his gallantry. And yeah, I am SO glad I am not his mom LOL but Margaret has to be proud of her beautiful, talented son and his lovely manners. I am saving the little surprise for closer to Christmas. A happy holiday elf am I!

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  3. I love this whole OOf Guylty. While Richard Armitage did connect with a handful of male interviewers in videos during the last round, 2 he seemed to know well and one was just so knowledgeable, I agree that the ones with women were more interesting, both as to at least one question or his demeanor. Too bad there aren’t more examples of female photog shoots (hint hint). It may be the connection that makes them more interesting and/or it can also be that females have more of a sense of whimsy. Either way, this particular Oof photo is fast becoming a favorite – yes shades of Guy and Ricky. For some reason Sunday I needed a break form Hobbit stuff and chose a quiet 90 minutes with George Gently and Ricky Demming. Thanks for this – and what does *ggg* signiify ( I looked it up thinking it would say giggles, but no luck).

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  4. So much food for thought here! I’m not particularly delighted with this shoot – except maybe this photo. But there definitely is a difference with woman photographers (and interviewers) – being a receptive and sensitive person that he seems to be, I guess he picks up the female vibe and plays along…

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    • I am not a fan of the ladder shot (too contrived, despite the nice unrestricted view of the hips and what is in between), and the composition shot has some poses that made me giggle – for the wrong reasons. But this one is definitely great.
      “The female vibe” – what is that *ggg*??? Do you mean to imply that all females unfailingly fall under his spell and have to flirt ;-)? I do actually wonder whether there are women who are immune to his good looks and his charm? I mean, there must be. And I wonder how people who are indifferent about him, see him? I have long passed the stage where I could look at him objectively. I try to put myself back into that frame of mind when I study the images for my *ooof*s, but it is actually really hard not to drool.

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      • We agree on the pics. 😉
        I’ve discovered recently there are women who are indifferent or even dislike him. *gasp* But they haven’t met him in person, of course.
        Hehe, that’s not quite what I meant though – it was basically what you said above, that women see things in a different way, look for different details, and communicate differently. Call it female energy if you will.

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  5. Interesting thoughts, Guylty. Wouldn’t it be great to talk shop with these photographers and ask them these questions? Wonder if any of them blog or are available to chat.

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    • Hugely interesting, yes. I wonder so often who comes up with the poses, how strong was the direction, how good the response, was there interaction or only reaction. I’d like to know how much pre-planning is done – have the set-ups been decided or are they spontaneous. How photogenic is this particular sitter – are there many duds? Is there voluntary input from the subject’s side – and does the photographer in question appreciate that. Do they acquaint themselves with the sitter’s body of work/previous photographic work in the run-up to shoot? Do they factor in time for minimal establishing of rapport before starting to shoot? Do they test different light set-up with the challenging sculptural characteristics of his face?
      It is already clear that a lot of my questions refer to RA as a sitter specifically – not sure if photographers appreciate that. In a way it seems slightly discourteous to refer back to RA all the time when the photographers are artists in their own right whose work merits discussion.

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  6. Remember, he looked up to you, straight into your camera, maybe you´ll find it out yourself, one day 🙂

    Great *ooof*, great new pic, thanks.

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  7. Interesting. I hadn’t considered the differences in the photos from female photographers and male photographers. The examples you gave are some of my favorites especially those Nearmy ones. Yeah, getting a chance to get his flirt on may make him more amenable to doing more whimsical/interesting poses. Also, a woman asking nicely with a genuine smile can get a man to do lots of things he might not ordinarily consider doing.

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    • The Nearmy images were never my absolute favourites, but I could see, at least from the close-up image, that a connection was there to make a special photo.
      I am in two minds about the whole gender-specific work relationship thing. Personally, I abhor manipulative use of “female charm” (probably because I haven’t got any :-D). But I suspect that there is some sort of difference between men and women photographers. I wouldn’t say that people are more susceptible to my suggestions/direction when I shoot portraits, but I certainly do think that I am perceived as more well-meaning, less of a threat, than a man – and therefore sitters tend to be more willing to do what I suggest. But well, what do I know – I have never tried doing this as a man, so I have no comparison…
      Thanks for commenting x

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      • Wow, this is a fascinating discussion about female vs male photographers. Having worked with hundreds of togs over the years in various newsrooms, my observation is that it’s less to do with sex than age. The older togs I’ve worked with tend to repeat what they think has worked in the past. As an editor I was getting so many pics in which the subject was glaring into the middle distance with arms folded defensively across chest that I had to issue a ban in writing. I’ve lately worked with togs aged mid 20s to late 40s and have found them far more creative. They like to listen to the subject be interviewed and use what info they discover to work out a series of pictures. They have to work quickly, with whatever is around them, but seem to enjoy those limitations. One of my favourite togs (a self-taught genius) is so exuberant, he can energise the tiredest, grumpiest sitter and win them over to whatever pic he has in mind. If he and RA got together for a shoot, they’d be ROFLing all over the place.
        Great *ooof* as usual, Guylty! Thanks for the whole darn brilliant *ooof* series this year. I hope you have a fabulous holiday in Germany.

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        • Thanks for bringing your perspective from the other side of the newsroom to the table here, Groovie. Really interesting (and useful for me as a practitioner). You make a valid point. I agree that age is another factor in the way photographers conduct their shoots. There is that tendency to stick with the stuff that works the older one gets. I also believe that there is a fundamental difference in approach to (press) photography then vs now. Some of that is the (old) perception that (press) photography is a craft, and technical abilities are enough to create sufficient portraits – placing the denotation over the connotation. Contemporary photographers, imo, are more aware of the connotations, and are more sensitive to the subtleties of personalities. I was taught in college exactly what you describe – that as a photographer you need to *engage* with your subject (static or living) and create an awareness of your own emotional response in order to interpret your subject (or object) properly. That means researching your subject prior to a shoot, and taking time to establish rapport before you start snapping. The latter is something that women tend to do automatically (more than men, I think). [I am generalising] Creating a connection with the sitter, comes pretty natural to women. In reverse, even if men are not “naturally” inclined to create these connections, they mostly humour us with that, I suppose. We are good at creating trust – because we are not perceived as threats (especially from men). That is what the young photographer you are mentioning probably has a talent for – he can establish a connection of mutual trust and elicit that cooperative spirit of fun to get what he wants. That’s my theory – could be utter BS, but there.
          Nothing to do with the gender issue – but just to say that I find limitations actually really useful in photography. It’s when you are challenged to work in less than ideal situations that the best work is created. Because you are forced to engage much more consciously, you can’t be automatic. Even though I always feel apprehensive about shoots, I tend to come away with results and with renewed confidence in my abilities and general insights into photography. I love the unpredictability of this craft/art/job.
          Thanks for your thanks, Groovie – it is such a pleasure to write my *ooof*s with such an appreciative readership in mind. When I finished my degree in photography last year I fell down a massive hole and had difficulties motivating myself. That changed when I started *ooof*ing on tumblr and then guestblogging here. Apart from studying photography in college (where I lived and breathed photography for three years non-stop) I don’t think I have ever been as engaged with photography as this year. It’s amazing what an initial impetus a muse can elicit – and how the regular discourse with interested readers can carry that even further. My thanks go back to you.

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      • interesting you mention women not being perceived as a threat. That was my other thought about male vs female photographers. Certainly, IMO most men do not view women that way. Perhaps, with a male photographer, RA reacts by upping his alpha maleness while with a female photographer the less he feels the need to do so. I don’t know. I’m just speculating wildly with no basis.

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        • I agree with that interpretation, Little Red. I think in all human interaction there is an element of fear. We need trust to open up to another (unfamiliar) human being. And particularly in photography. I see that all the time when I shoot – those sitters that are timid and suspicious just cannot let go and will always end up looking uncomfortable. Those who trust and feel unthreatened, come out with amazing pictures. It is by and large a personality issue – and an issue of previous (good or bad) experience. It cannot be forced – I, as an example, *know* all this, and yet I am so convinced of how unphotogenic I am that I cannot let go in front of the camera. I look shit in photographs *lol*. The only time I get ok-ish photographs of myself is when I do self-portraits or when I shoot with really good photographer friends whom I implicitly trust to represent me faithfully (and flatteringly *haha*). And even then in takes hooooours to get a good shot *ggg*.

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  8. […] am in love with all the new photos of Richard Armitage. Guylty’s *Ooof* of the Sarah Dunn photo of Richard Armitage in a leather jacket. Does your arrow point towards […]

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  9. Loved this oof!! Sorry I’m so slow to comment but I do LOVE it, and, erm, I’m waiting for the ficlit 😉

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    • Never too late, Carly :-).
      Ficlet? I know, right. Somehow I just couldn’t find a handle on it *ahem*. I think I will need a bit of a recuperation period – from seeing him live, from all the interviews, from all the shoots. I was thinking of sitting down over the holidays with a number of photos that I have printed out and then waiting which ones will get my (writerly) juices to flow…

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      • Ah yes, I didn’t think of that. You ACTUALLY SAW HIM. I’ve been absent because too much of him makes it difficult to write…headbang…..I can’t imagine that other part! It will come back though, I’m sure. In the meantime, I love seeing his pics through a photographer’s eyes.

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        • Yeah, I can already feel some of my inspiration returning… A little bit of enforced distance is always conducive to renewed creativity, I find. I know exactly what you mean by “headbang” 😀

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  10. […] took him outdoors on the street in a coat. Dunn did the same here – she shot the ubiquitous blown-out white backdrops, she shot some moody pictures with RA reclining in a chair, and she undoubtedly spotted this […]

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  11. […] images are often monochrome and deliberately colour-drained. Watch out for her focus on the eyes. ooof ooof ooof ooof ooof ooof […]

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