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The Public Eye and the Citizen-Voyeur: Photography as a Performance of Power

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This paper argues that photography is best grasped not as a medium of visual communication, but as a manifest performance of the power to make visible. As such, photographic practices are central to the experience and demarcation of private/public boundaries in advanced media cultures. In the private domain, photography is both a ritualized domestic activity and provides conventional and definitive representations of the domestic. These functions are ostensibly opposed to photography’s role in the public realm: the same visual technology becomes, in the mass media, both the index and agent of publicness itself, with the paparazzi—especially in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death—symbolizing the violation of the private. The paper explores the ways in which photographic performance at the public/private boundary dramatizes power relations through forms of social transparency, voyeurism and memoralization. It also asks whether momentary crises in the dominant scopic regime can provide the basis for alternative ‘uncanny’ visual practices that are tenable and empowering.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2001

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