November 2003

Liz Miller

nonfiction

Living With His Camera by Jane Gallop, Photos by Dick Blau

It takes a lot of balls to stand in front of a camera, especially if being photogenic isn't a quality found in your genes. Airbrushing, soft focus, and Photoshop can help photos lie, but they're still a harsh reflection of reality, capturing the angles that escape the naked eye, showcasing the flaws that never seem to show up in mirrors.

Jane Gallop has balls, and I don't just say that because she's naked on the cover of Living With His Camera. Over the course of being married and having two children with photographer Dick Blau, Gallop found herself the perpetual subject of his richly textured black-and-white photographs, often taken in candid moments at home. As a result, Gallop developed an acute interest in the deeper implications of being the photograph's subject, eventually analyzing the relationships that exist between people and the unflattering third party of the camera. Blau's talent for finding the perfect picture in the mundane moment is evident from the many photos presented with the text -- what makes them stand out is Gallop's commentary, both as subject and as scholar.

Gallop, a respected professor and academic, isn't afraid to show off, working with her own translations of French texts and breaking down critical theory with ruthless, keen reason. Each chapter jumps off from analysis of an influential book concerning photography -- including Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida and Susan Sontag's On Photography -- to look closer at the Blau photographs presented. In them, she finds deeper themes regarding male/female relationships, sibling rivalry, childhood and the camera's role in capturing these moments. For, rather than being a tool in the hands of her husband, the camera has become a third person in her relationship with Blau, creating a strange triangle of photographer, camera, and subject -- the camera always looking over their shoulders, showing them the flaws and angles they cannot see themselves.

Living With His Camera is rich with ideas, Gallop's determination to be more than the person in front of the camera making for a rather fierce work of academia. Some of the dense passages take more than a little effort to wade through -- the least compelling sections, by far, are those that rely too heavily on the texts under consideration. At continual war throughout the text is Gallop's academic background and her role as wife and mother -- while defending the family photograph as a valid form of photography, despite the Kodak snapshots cluttering the field, she pauses to reflect on the almost unearthly beauty of a photograph of her son. Her detached close reading of the photographs does not flinch from considering the strange, almost Oedipal connotations of a picture of her and her son lounging naked together, not to mention the sexual nature of photographs of a family friend and his daughter. But in comparing the picture of her son, dressed up as Captain Hook, to the photos of children taking by J.M. Barrie, she mentions that she drew Max's mustache on with an eyebrow pencil.

But there's an intimate feel to her description of how certain photographs came to be -- the cover image, featuring her bowed head, her unclothed back, a mop in hand, feels incomplete without the backstory concerning their first night together in a new apartment. When I say Gallop has balls, I don't mean that literally, because I've now seen her having her pregnant belly measured, lounging naked on the couch, and giving birth to her first child (there was only one visible head in the picture, and it wasn't hers). In combining this very candid view of her body with her very candid thoughts, Gallop ends up creating her own self-portrait -- more vivid than any camera could capture.

Living With His Camera by Jane Gallop
Duke University Press
ISBN: 0822331020
197 Pages