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The Concerned Eye: Visual Inclusion and Citizenship by Milton Guran

by on October 26, 2011

The article “The Concerned Eye: Visual Inclusion and Citizenship written by Milton Guran is about how media images through photography and advances in digital technology are changing and influencing cultures around the world. Guran emphasizes how much cultural and social identities have recently become heavily reliant on how we are perceived through images rather than written text or historical events. This relatively new concept in image portrayal has developed a different form of cultural identity through “hegemonic” pushes of cultural blending, or as Guran calls it, “cultural hybrids.” According to the author, these less developed groups have been forced to incorporate certain aspects of a dominant culture into their own society in order to keep up with modernization and globalization. This idea of progression popularizing across the planet is thought to be led by the use of photographic images. Image has become the most important aspect of one’s group, and withholding a certain reputation drives the promotion and overall acceptance of a culture. Guran also argues that photos have now replaced our ideas of the real world through two dimensional perceptions rather than us going out and being in a place and seeing it for ourselves. He claims that picture images are used as a window into the outside world and are used to explain what we do not know and have not experienced ourselves. Guran believes that by “broadening our field of vision,” the world becomes smaller, and therefore hinders our ability to learn and understand others beyond what we see from a piece of paper.

The author also focuses on how advances in photographic digital technology have greatly influenced the extent and speed of the process of globalization. He talks about how these advances have made image portrayal even less credible with the use of Photoshop and digital manipulation of photographs in order to produce an image that seems even more “real” than it is. People of all cultures see these pictures as proof, truth, and evidence based off of this idea that a camera captures actual moments in time. For whatever reason, we have been taught to believe that words and art can be manipulated by the maker, but photographs are completely authentic. Guran also asserts that what goes on behind the camera is just as important in the validity in the image as the picture itself because the photographer is manipulating the environment by focusing on what he/she wants the audience to see. The person taking the picture is able to control the “other” by using their preconceived notions to their advantage by representing a person, place, or object based off of what the photographer believes is appropriate.

Guran talks about two examples of “visual inclusion” projects taking place in two different cultures and shows how much image portrayal affects a cultural identity both from the inside and outside’s perspective. These projects take young people living in poor communities and give them a sense of democratic citizenship through photographic projects focusing on how they want their cultural image to be seen by others. They are told to capture images of their community that focuses on something like the underdevelopment taking place, or rediscovering the beauty of their community in order to expose them to the world through a particular view.

In light of the discussions that took place in class today and a little bit on Monday, we have all come to realize that image portrayal gives an audience a sense of understanding of another culture, but these images are part of the problem as to how we perceive an idea of the outside world. For instance, the TED talk had various images of different ethnic groups that many of us had never heard of or known that much about, and at first we react in a way that makes us feel closer to these people and think that we need to help them from losing their cultural identity. However, these images are putting preconceived notions in our minds about who these people are and without realizing it, we begin to separate ourselves from them by focusing on our differences between them and us. I believe that Milton Guran would be against the “noble state” myth from the article by J.B. Alcorn because he sees how federal and national governments and hegemonic states alter and control cultures by making them adapt and change according to how they see fit. Image portrayal of cultural images has become difficult to understand because I think that it is necessary for us to be able to utilize this technology in order to visualize something we otherwise would never be able to experience or comprehend, but on the other hand, the fact that someone was there to take that picture and influence that environment and then bring it back to us and expect us to understand a whole culture based off of one image negatively influences the whole concept.

Questions:

How are the ways that a culture is both negatively and positively portrayed through photographic imaging reflect on how you perceive your own community and the outside world?

Do you agree or disagree with Guran’s idea that consumption, production, and photographic advertising have replaced our perceptions of the “real world” and why?

In what ways do images affect not only how we perceive something, but also how we react physically?

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12 Comments
  1. Depending on the kind of image, I think we react physically in many ways such as our health and wellbeing. For example, the model industry has been known to influence young adults on body image and has been scrutinized many times for negative outcomes. The industry is constantly forcing images onto the public of tall and very thin girls usually with long straight hair. Many images of these young girls have been altered to show perfection, but this is not reality. Majority of young girls in America do not have the body structure or genes to attain this altered state. Yet, many girls want to fit into the beauty standards of these images and will go to any extreme to achieve this desired look—including risking there physical health by starving themselves. The powerful messages these images send to young adults controls and influences them more than we think.
    Another example of how images physically influence us is our wellbeing. When we see photos of favelas or slums, powerful images of violence, or animal cruelty we might react in a way that would protect our physical safety. We might associate violence and crime with the place where the image is coming from, when that particular event might just be an isolated event. Images are so powerful, that one image can draw our focus on one story instead of many events going on in one place at a particular time. Those images can carry on forever in our head and shape our understanding of a place.

  2. Images that portray scenes in underdeveloped areas or places that need help after a disaster like an earthquake or flood, are examples of how we are influenced by images. When we see these images we usually think that they must be helped, that we feel sad, and so on. Images can influence our judgement and behavior, thats why we see it done all the time on television. Though the main problem, as mentioned before, is that with the advancements in technology, images can be manipulated so the truth is altered or fabricated altogether. Some of us know better than to immediately believe what we see, but like those mentioned that are living in places that dont have as much access to technology would not know this and would be more likely to be deceived by those who would take advantage of these people. So images, in my opinion, can influence people in a positive and negative way. From promoting something like sending funds to help aid a disaster, to convince someone that something is far worse than it is, to trick those that do not know any better, or even in the U.S. like what was said about how we view ourselves and how we should look as said by magazines, TV, and celebrities. Images can help, but they can also make things worse.

  3. I found this article very interesting because I have often found myself drawn to photography but I rarely think much about what the photograph is saying about that particular place. I agree with Guran in term of the ways that consumption, production and photographic advertising have at least changed the way we see our world. I have never been to Asia but I feel like I could tell you what the streets of China look like because of the photographs I’ve seen of it when in reality, I have no idea what is happening next to the camera or behind it. It’s the same with advertisements, especially newer commercials about vacationing to certain hot-spots like California (especially the commercials with Arnold Schwarzenegger). You only see the ‘exciting’ parts of California, leaving out the actual lives happening there. I thought it was especially interesting when Guran mentioned that photographs can be manipulated more easily than text and get away with it. This reminds me of advertisements for beauty products, or models just in general and the photoshopping that occurs in order to create ‘idealistic’ people. In this case especially, I think we have shifted to living in an almost completely surreal world where we expect places or people to look like images we have come across in the media.

    • Megan,
      I think you bring up a very interesting point here. Guan’s main argument states, “the technical image – photograph, cinema and video and the digital image – has been the indispensable tool in the establishment of mass communication, this uninterrupted circulation of information of all kinds that constitutes the crux of contemporary globalization”(5). This fast spread of images around the world allows individuals to visually interpret regions in which they had previously only imagined. During the war in Iraq, I observed many pictures, formulating my conception of what that region looks like; when in reality those images represent only a mere fragment of the regions composition. Especially during wartime, photography, as Grun mentioned, holds so much power, and can generate uninformed public opinion’s. It is just interesting that people conceptualize photographs, formulating their opinions about the bigger picture based of the images.

  4. 242colleencarey permalink

    We’ve been talking in class about how people living in the West and know the West still have preconceived notions of it due to photographic imaging and media. This is an example of what Guran is saying a photograph can do. From my experience before coming to Colorado, I pictured Colorado as super green, nature everywhere,and mountains everywhere. Even though this is accurate for some places, not all of Colorado is like that, which I now no. But, due to photographic imaging, this was my perception of Colorado.
    I do agree with Guran’s idea to a certain extent. Many people don’t like to travel or have this urge to see the “real world.” Only 21% (http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/why-americans-dont-travel-overseas/ ) of Americans own a passport, which means they aren’t able to leave the country. So the only way many of them are able to se other parts of the world are through consumption, production and photographic advertising. This can be said for many cultures and people that don’t escape their comfort zone to see what’s out there. Images provide us with a visual and therefore also with an emotion. The emotion can inact a physical want or desire.

  5. ShaneWyenn permalink

    Oh I wish we had to read this article before we turned in our midterm papers! Anyway,to answer the third question, I would like to use the examples of the Sarah McLachlan’s ASPCA commercial and images from the PETA website. The ASPCA commercial was a full two minutes long and showed images of dirty, matted, malnourished, and diseased dogs and cats to the music of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” song in order to rip your heart open and stab it with a knife to persuade you to donate money to the ASPCA and/or adopt a dog or cat from an animal shelter. Now, when I hear that song, I always think of that commercial. Images from the PETA website have the same affect. They show pictures and videos of cows and chickens in the process of being inhumanely slaughtered and make any viewer can’t help but want to become vegan. So to answer the question, the images from the ASPCA commercial and the PETA website greatly affected how we perceive animal shelters and the meat industry and for most of us, ripped our heart open and caused some of us to take action and help the cause.

  6. amygraceaustin permalink

    I find that this article has really interesting insight on the politics regarding the culture of power embedded in images. By politics I mean the systems involved in answering questions such as “who has the ability to take a picture?” “What agenda does that person hold behind that picture?” “How do they choose to portray their subject?” I think Guran hits it key-on when he talks about “hegemonic pushes of cultural blending”. From my experience in Bolivia, nearly the only people who have access to taking photographs are the hegemonic majority, otherwise known as the upper-class still bent on “civilizing” much of the lower parts of society. The way they pose the photographs reveals to the rest of the world their political discourse, often in an unnoticed subliminal way. Guran’s message suggests that by giving photographic capabilities to individuals traditionally viewed as “subaltern,” the paradigm of photographic portrayal could shift and be used as a social tool for empowerment. This is why when I traveled, I didn’t enjoy taking very many pictures of people on the streets, in fear of my perception tainting their reality, but when the opportunity arose, I enjoyed allowing my local friends to take pictures of their world with my camera.

  7. janellekramer permalink

    I am taking a video production class focusing on global warming. Yesterday, we watched a video about how many people dismiss global warming and how catastrophic it is until they see pictures, visual proof, that it exists. There were pictures of ice sheets dramatically melting away, and the maker of the video said that only when he saw those pictures did he admit that global warming was something we could not ignore. I believe this demonstrates the sheer impact a photo, or a compilation of photos, can make. A picture can be a very powerful tool. It can make a statement, be used as proof, hold as an art form… In this case, I feel that pictures can be used to dramaticize real life, yet silence a disbeliever.

  8. In regard to your first question Kelcy, photographic imaging can portray a culture both positively and negatively. Today we are living in a complex globalized world. As Friedman states, we are now living in what is known as “Globalization 3.0” altering the world size from small to tiny, making global interactions more frequent, thus influencing nations cultures. Grun explains that this, “places hegemonic cultures’ control over the means of communication and their tool, that has been leading to the annihilation of demographically and economically more vulnerable cultures”(1). Innovations in technology, such as photography, have aided in deepening this disparity, as some cultures don’t economically have the means to acquire such goods. “Photographs were like seeing the world with one’s own eyes, as photographs were considered to be the exact scientific representation of the visible world”(2). By perceiving photographs to be an exact scientific representation, individuals were able to portray the images through their personal, cultural lens, and have them viewed as exact representations. This could be a negative aspect of photography because it allowed the photographer to manipulate reality. This can also be seen as a positive because for the first time photography allowed people to portray, “people as they were and the world in which everyone lived”(2).

  9. Benjamin N. permalink

    The way that the world is portrayed through film and photography is how I construct most of my worldview, to be totally honest. For me, and many others, it’s all we have. I can’t see the entire world, so I have to take whatever information I can to construct my idea of it. I think the most important thing for me and others in my position is to gather as much information as possible to get a deeper understanding and bigger picture. Rather than just looking at one source and jumping to a conclusion, we should try to get as many viewpoints as we possibly can.

    Consumption, production, and advertising have all changed our perception, without a doubt. We can look at a picture of a place and assume we know what it’s like. However, in reality, every location is multifaceted. There are beautiful and repulsive parts of just about every single place on the planet. Marketing folks are going to try to portray the most appealing image they possibly can in order to rile emotions and ultimately sell a product, so it’s a definite shift of perception in that it potentially narrows peoples views and experiences.

  10. I think that visual imagery is so important to cultural understanding and also misunderstanding. I often read articles like this that make me think of National Geographic and how images are a wonderful tool that anthropologists and journalists can use to actively express what people and landscapes are going through. However, imagery is also up for interpretation, and so it becomes difficult to keep the truth behind the image. Taysank makes a good point about manipulation through imagery, and I think it goes along with my own concept, that pictures are about interpretation and that, if the picture is approached with the wrong mindset or if it is placed in the wrong journal then it can be completely altered and therefore misunderstood. Once this happens, the entire point of the image is defunct. All that being said, though, I find that visuals are a key aspect in gaining the sympathy and the support of the public, who can help to enact change in any given situation. Sometimes, visuals are the best means by which positive change can occur.

  11. punam123 permalink

    Yes, i agree with Gurans idea that consumption, production and photographic advertising have replaced our perception of the real world because human do not have the time to go and see analyze everywhere whats going on. We like to research more in computer then go to actual field work and see what’s happeing. We gather information what is written in the book, photo and we like to adapt what has been used for production. We get to see what kind of place or object is from the media, photo and we either get a good one feeling or bad one. But in reality every place or object portray by the media varies.

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