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‘.

11 thoughts on “Un Regard Oblique

  1. “Actually, that is just a tenth of what she wrote.”

    Actually, that’s more than enough.

    Doane clearly had read translations of intellectually incompetent German writers. “The problematic” is a translation of “das Problematisieren” which doesn’t sound terribly deep in the original, let alone in a barbarous English.

    Let’s try English: The wife is a proper Frenchwoman, showing her husband an object that one could publicly gaze at, without embarrassing oneself. The husband, meanwhile, is trying to be a proper Frenchmen, and humor his wife, but at the same time, he is a Frenchman. And so, he is naturally indifferent to that which enamors her, and is instead interested in the salacious picture of the nude admiring herself in the mirror, but dare not openly reveal that. See La Rochefoucauld.

    The story is not about the nude at all; it is about married life. The picture is a gentle bit of French humor which Doane, in her blindness and humorlessness, murderously misrepresented.


  2. I wonder how much would she write on all other pictures in the series -and what. F.i., that same setup but with a woman looking at the vulgar painting.

  3. 1948 Paris? I find it a little difficult to swallow that such a “risque” painting would be regarded as something unique in the town that spawned the words of Henry Miller in Tropic Of Cancer more than a decade earlier.

    In a New York window I could understand the shock factor at the time, but I imagine many thousands of Parisians passed by this window without even noticing anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps the blatantly powerful lighting on the grotesquely overdone frame on the one painting as opposed to the likely poorly lit and bland frame on the other could have been a factor.

    People, for the most part are no different than any other animal and will be drawn toward the brightest light. Why do they have lights in Vegas?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s