The Precarious Gaze: Contemporary Documentary Photography by Jeff Wall and Tom Stone
Jeff Wall, one of the most influential photographers working today, stages photographs of homelessness (Night) and day laborers (Men Waiting) to capture what art photographers usually eclipse. Wall’s “near documentary” photographs render the precarious realities almost invisible, but nonetheless make aspects of precariousness palpable by eliciting a precarious gaze. The lesser-known documentary photographer Tom Stone depicts a wide range of homeless men and women, usually in black-and-white and from up close in order to draw attention to the eyes, and thus the humanity, of his homeless subjects, while the accompanying captions offset the viewer’s initial impression. This experience of ambiguity allows for the symbolic encounter between the viewer and the poor that preempts voyeurism. Building on cultural and film studies scholarship, Lemke develops a theory of the precarious gaze.