The Camera as Desirable Prop

My study looks at how photography fits within discourses about society. As I’ve talked about before, photography itself is a site of contestation, where certain people are accorded the ‘right’ to take photographs more readily than others. So because of this, I find it interesting to note where cameras appear within advertising, as they would seem to suggest having a particular subject position.

CameraTo give a subject a camera is to convey certain authorities on them, to look and record, and define reality on their own terms. The woman in the advert above uses her camera to suggest an ability to look back at us.

Camera4The shop display to the right uses the camera as a fashion accessory, desirable for its connotations of creativity and adventure, but also perhaps (call me a cynic) because it fits so well with the colours of the ensemble. But aside from questions of colours, the camera here conveys cool by suggesting the position of flâneur, perpetually about to do something or go somewhere interesting, and who can record and interpret life on their own terms. The camera is therefore a potent signifier of ability – to do, to see, to know, to show.

But it is also emblematic of a desire which reaches beyond the acquisition of personal agency – placed within the fantasy of the advert, photography reiterates the process of looking, and signals the ability to make real that which is observed. This ability to ‘make real’ is the same as that which is promised by the purchase, where the picture and the transaction imply having attained something – whether a product, or a state of being, or both.

The shop display below uses an overtly vintage-esque camera, combined with maps and trunks, to connote a fantasy golden age of travel and leisure, back when both high-end camera equipment and the transatlantic flight were only available to the privileged few. The oversized camera here is therefore inviting us into this special world, a world which is worthy of being photographed (purposely, with difficulty, in contrast to the devalued ubiquity and ease of the camera phone), and that is brought into being by our looking along with the camera and desiring what it sees, and achieved by the purchase of a Fred Perry cardigan.

Camera2The camera, therefore, is anything but incidental when appearing in advertising. In conveying an authoritative look, a look with agency, that can command the possession of that which it sees, the camera is a powerful marker of a desirable subjectivity. And by highlighting attention, or attention-worthiness – whether looking at cardigans or pointed out at you, the customer – the look of the camera indicates (and designates) importance.


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