The photographer’s eye is the tool used to set up a shot. The eyes are also the focal point of the image (if the subject is a person). Looking directly at the camera or staring into space, the eyes have become a key component of portraiture and fashion photography. A photograph recreates and captures that fleeting connection we find in the gaze of a stranger, just like in real life. I won’t go into recursion: the subject looking out at the onlooker; photographers are always between the two, a state that the camera alone can make sense of. Let’s take a look at how they deal with this disorder.

In this strikingly framed and composed image, created by Jeanloup Sieff for Harper’s Bazaar in 1964, the exchange of glances materializes in the cigarettes: a profound invisible connection, a moment of complicity. We witness the connection yet remain excluded.



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Paolo Roversi produced this portrait shot of Natalia Vodianova for issue No. 15 of Egoïste magazine. The photographer departed from his desaturated palette in favor of a soft-focus black-and-white, which renders the pale eyes of the model haughty and intrusive. The image veers between fashion and a Russian expressionist film. The entire shot is built around the withering look of disapproval the model directs at the viewer.


I’ll spare you the slashed eye in the film Un Chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog), but equally as memorable an image is Tears by Man Ray. This surrealist shot is composed of a faraway gaze and beads of water. The eyes well up with the emotion of a very real sadness.


Another way to study a look is through side-by-side comparison. Richard Avedon captures with irony a dog’s gaze imitating that of its mistress as the two sit side by side. The distracted elegance of one and the panting eagerness of the other are quite a match, allowing us to momentarily forget the improbability of the scene.


A few years earlier, in 1950, Erwin Blumenfeld took an eraser to the face of a model to remove all but a full pout and a disdainful, feline eye, overarched by a brow. In these two features, the photographer distills all the glamour a face can express.


Staying with the classical theme, Helmut Newton leads the viewer astray with this minimally styled full-length portrait shot. Although the eye is drawn to the toned, muscular body and ample bosom, the energy of the shot is focused in the model’s eyes, which stare down the camera with a quizzical look: what do you want?


Rendering the eyes is not limited to the pupil and iris; a look can also be captured by lines. Peter Knapp, who often featured pieces by Courrèges in his work, created this eyeless portrait in which the eyes nonetheless have a palpable presence.


In this regard, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the tireless work of i-D magazine, which features a wink as its logo and on every cover. i-D has been closing or hiding one eye to direct attention to the other since 1980.


Inez & Vinoodh also play peek-a-boo in this series of portrait shots in which models hide their faces with hands painted with eyes and lips.


The newest image in this collection has been created for Kenzo by Toiletpaper (Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari). The shot depicts a (friendly) invasion of eyes, across a flag or headed for a couple, drawn to the glasses worn by the pair.

To be continued elsewhere – keep your eyes peeled!