The photographic portrait: a means to surveillance and subversion

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The surveillance model, most notably expounded by John Tagg, has long held orthodoxy in photographic theory. In this reading, the lowering of the gaze of the camera, far from being inclusive, acts when a tool of state, to be a means for exclusion. In essence, what we recognise as the mugshot is a highly coded form of portraiture. I argue that a general knowingness about the conventions of photographic portraiture in the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries allowed the intended discursive power of a regime of visibility to be undermined, contested and destabilised through acts of dissembling, resistance and counter-strategies that drew on the conventions of honorific portraiture. To support this argument this article focuses on photographs of the Fenians (a secret, oath bearing separatist Irish nationalist organisation) who both were photographed as prisoners and commissioned portraits of themselves to further their radical cause.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalEarly Popular Visual Culture
Issue number1
Early online date30 May 2018
Publication statusPublished online - 30 May 2018


  • honorific portraiture
  • regime of visibility
  • counter narrative
  • mugshot
  • subversion
  • popular practice


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