While developing a project directed towards children audience, it seems useful to investigate how children look at the world and what their gaze implies. Therefore, this post will focus on a child’s gaze in visual media.
A number of scholars and theorists have discussed the notion of gaze in detail, often focusing on the power relation between the gazer and the object or person who is being looked at. Daniel Chandler explains that gaze refers to “the ways in which viewers look at images of people in any visual medium” (2020). Depending on the type of the gaze, the way of looking at an object or person will be affected by the way how the image maker imposes the gaze upon the object or person photographed. Meanwhile Jonathan Schroeder suggests that “to gaze implies more than to look at – it signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze” (1998: 208). This superiority, power of a gazer upon the object being looked at, may have a positive or negative reflection towards the object being looked at. In the case of exposing children to the world, adults have the power of directing children towards certain values, which then might reappear or be represented through their gaze towards the world. Sevasti-Melissa Nolas explains that “as people, in our early years, we come to know ourselves through the gaze of our primary carers, and as we grow the gaze of significant others also informs our understanding of who we are at any given moment in time” (2019: 4). As adults we influence the way how children will look at the world when they grow up, therefore we should be careful about what we expose them to and evaluate whether what we expose them to has positive or negative values.
POSITIVE EXAMPLE OF A CHILD’S GAZE
In 2018 Flipkart created an advert “Let’s raise a generation of equals!” (Figure 1). The commercial is created in a way that represents a child’s perspective towards the world of the 21st century. This attempt seems like a positive representation of a child’s gaze as the commercial tries to break down the gender stereotypes and focus on the fact that children don’t care about the world being divided into two opposite camps: either “pink” or “blue”. It’s us adults who look at the world in this way and push the new generation to accept the old gender role stereotypes, but it’s not the way children see the world. They want to discover the world through play, and they want to try out different things and find what fits best for them.
Fig.1: Flipkart 2018. Let’s raise a generation of equals! [commercial still]
Link to the full commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVPlEiWNUxU&t=60s
Furthermore, the simplicity and represented point of view in this commercial is not far away from how children actually perceive the world. The Children’s Photography Archive offers the child’s gaze exhibition catalogue that includes images taken by children, and it offers an opportunity to see what a childhood gaze might look like, what children actually focus on, while for children it was an opportunity to freely express themselves. For example, the image “Ecstatic encounters” (Figure 2) taken in 2016 by a 7 year-old girl shares similarities with Flipkart’s still image from the video clip. They both send a message that children learn about and enjoy life through play.
Fig. 2: Anonymous girl 2016. Ecstatic encounters [digital photographic image]
Sevasti-Melissa Nolas explains that a childhood gaze “offers a playful askew view on the world, whether that’s found in the movement and blurriness of an image or the slightly ‘odd’ choice of photographic subject and the ‘off’ angle of the photograph” (2019: 4), which means that children gaze at the world in a slightly exploratory way that is driven by curiosity. This can be clearly seen in the image ‘Lampshade’ made by a 5-year-old girl (Figure 3). The viewer is invited to investigate an everyday object in a close-up shot, slightly slanted and with a cut off side. The child’s gaze is focused on exploring the object, not on the aesthetics of the representation of the object.
Fig. 3: Anonymous girl 2015. Lampshade [digital photographic image]
In my project, I have tried to incorporate this odd way of looking at the world, creating and presenting images in an exploratory way that can be seen as an invitation for further discussion between a child and an adult about the natural world. For example, the image ‘The Hanging Leaf’ (Figure 4) is a representation of a leaf that has no particular significance on its own, but as a well-recognizable object coming from nature it can be a subject of discussion around its origins and appearance, for example, children can be asked such questions as “what kind of trees have leaves, do all leaves look the same, what happens to leaves in autumn, why do leaves change their colour”, etc.
Fig. 4: Kalmane Saksens 2022. The Hanging Leaf [digital photographic images]
NEGATIVE EXAMPLE OF A CHILD’S GAZE
Saatchi & Saatchi’s advertisement for Fruit Gushers created in 2010 might be perceived as a negative representation of a child’s gaze (Figure 5). The commercial is showed through the perspective of a young girl telling a story about a boy born with a squirting blue Fruit Gusher instead of an eye.
Fig. 5: Saatchi & Saatchi 2010. Gusher for an Eye [commercial still]
Link to the full commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3CcKvU4NXg
In my opinion her story makes fun of anyone who is born with a disability, implementing that they will always have the otherness. Especially the episode that starts at 1 minute 6 seconds, where the girl sings “when he grows up, he can be a surgeon, but then it probably won’t be as much fun for Todd” seems like a sort of implied message that disabled people even as adults most likely won’t be fully accepted by the rest of the society. Another episode suggests that a child with a Fruit Gusher eye would feed young bird chicks with the sugary substance that comes out of one eye. What kind of message does it send to children who watch this commercial? Is that an invitation to try out feeding animals with sugary sweets? It makes one wonder what was really the main goal of this commercial, what point was the ad agency trying to make by creating this video clip? Are they implying that children have disturbed fantasies?
In conclusion, I believe it’s important to attempt to learn about different gazes to broader our perception of the world. “Other, different ways of looking at things, whether that be along the lines of age, gender and/or culture, may not only be telling about those others to whom these gazes belong, but may as well open new pathways to novel knowledge about the world” (Nolas 2019: 4). A childhood gaze is something that all of us have once experienced, but most of us have lost/forgotten with time.
LIST OF REFERENCES
CHANDLER, Daniel. 2020. Notes on ‘The Gaze’. Available online at: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/gaze/gaze01.html [accessed 22 February 2022].
NOLAS, Sevasti-Melissa. 2019. The Child’s Gaze. In the ‘Children’s Photography Archive’ [online catalogue]. Available at: https://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/25583/1/Children's%20Photography%20Archive%20catalogue_CPA_ExCat_WEB.pdf [accessed 17 February 2022].
SCHROEDER, Jonathan E. 1998. 'Consuming Representation: A Visual Approach to Consumer Research'. In Barbara B. Stern (ed.). 1999. Representing Consumers: Voices, Views and Visions. London: Routledge.
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1: FLIPKART. 2018. Let’s raise a generation of equals! [commercial still]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVPlEiWNUxU&t=60s [accessed 17 February 2022].
Figure 2: Anonymous girl. 2016. Ecstatic encounters [digital photographic image]. From the ‘Children’s Photography Archive’, p. 12-13 [online catalogue]. Available at: https://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/25583/1/Children's%20Photography%20Archive%20catalogue_CPA_ExCat_WEB.pdf [accessed 17 February 2022].
Figure 3: Anonymous girl. 2015. Lampshade [digital photographic image]. From the ‘Children’s Photography Archive’, p. 26 [online catalogue]. Available at: https://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/25583/1/Children's%20Photography%20Archive%20catalogue_CPA_ExCat_WEB.pdf [accessed 17 February 2022].
Figure 4: KALMANE SAKSENS, Ruta. 2022. The Hanging Leaf [digital photographic images].
Figure 5: SAATCHI & SAATCHI. 2010. Gusher for an Eye [commercial still]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3CcKvU4NXg [accessed 17 February 2022].