Directness of gaze is closely related to the issue of the camera's angle of view. In an experiment reported in The Psychology of the TV Image, Jon Baggaley found that a person talking for one minute on law and order was considered 'less reliable and expert' when addressing the camera directly than when seen in profile. He comments:
Baggaley added that another reason why profile views on television led to speakers being rated as more expert might be that where an autocue is being used, the full-face angle might make this more obvious, whereas 'in the profile condition signs of autocue usage conveyed by a performer's eyes are less apparent' (ibid., 67). Even if an autocue is not being used, the 'unusual intensity' of the speaker's eye-contact with the viewer may tend to diminish the speaker's credibility (ibid., 30). One experiment suggested that 'the greater visibility of a performer's eyes may increase his perceived tension' (ibid., 68). This might not apply, however, in the case of a skilled actor who could treat the camera to 'the repertoire of temporary looks and glances that he would use in normal "unscripted" social interaction', varying eye-contact discreetly even when reading from an autocue (ibid.). Gaze can signify persuasive intent (Argyle 1975, 161). Perhaps it is relevant here that another televisual context in which direct address is often used is in advertisements, the persuasive purposes of which typically lead adult viewers to be cautious and sceptical, although in face-to-face interaction 'those with higher levels of gaze are seen as credible and trustworthy, and are indeed more persuasive' (ibid.).
Peter Warr and Christopher Knapper found that significant differences in viewers' perceptions were generated by front-view photographs compared to side-view photographs, although neither view generated more favourable or more extreme impressions (Warr & Knapper 1968, 307).
An empirical study of a commercial suggested that direct views were more conducive to identification than side views (Galan 1986, cited in Messaris 1997, 47). Following a major research review, Cappella argues that human beings probably have an inherent disposition to empathise in reaction to the facial expression of emotion by others (Capella 1993, cited in Messaris, 47), and Messaris suggests that a direct gaze is likely to enhance the likelihood of both empathy and identification.
Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen have also discussed the issue of the adoption of either a frontal angle or an oblique angle in scenes which already have a linear orientation. Where there are straight lines in a scene (such as in the outside or inside edges of a building or people standing in a line) the image-producer has the option of choosing a frontal angle in which such lines are parallel to the picture plane or of shifting the horizontal angle of the depiction to a more oblique point of view. Kress and van Leeuwen argue that the horizontal angle adopted represents ‘whether or not the image-producer (and hence, willy-nilly, the viewer) is "involved" with the represented participants or not’ (Kress & van Leeuwen 1996, 143), with the frontal angle representing involvement and an oblique angle representing detachment. They do not, however, cite empirical studies in support of this argument. John Tagg argues that frontality is a key technique of 'documentary rhetoric' in photography, offering up what it depicts for evaluation (Tagg 1988, 189). He shows that historically the frontal portrait has been associated with the working class, and that frontality is a 'code of social inferiority' (Tagg 1988, 37).
The function of vertical angles is widely noted: high angles (looking down on a depicted person from above) are interpreted as making that person look small and insignificant, and low angles (looking up at them from below) are said to make them look powerful and superior. Kress and van Leeuwen modify this standpoint slightly, arguing that a high angle depicts a relationship in which the producer of the image and the viewer have symbolic power over the person or thing represented, whilst a low angle depicts a relationship in which the depicted person has power over the image-producer and the viewer (ibid., 146). Empirical studies have supported the idea that low angles can make those who are depicted in this way appear more powerful, provided that they are already recognised as having some authority rather than as having equal status with the viewer (Mandell & Shaw 1973; Kraft 1987; McCain, Chilberg & Wakshlag 1977; Tiemens 1970; all cited in Messaris 1997, 34-5; Messaris 1994, 158). Messaris notes that a low angle combined with a frontal view and a direct gaze at the viewer may be interpreted as overbearing, intimidating or menacing, and that when the intention is to use low angles to suggest noble or heroic qualities, side views are more common (Messaris 1997, 38).
In rear views we see the back of a depicted person. As Paul Messaris comments, ‘in our real-world interactions with others, this view from the back can imply turning away or exclusion’ (Messaris 1997, 24). In travel advertisements where there are rear views of people this tends to be either in longshots of landscapes or in midshots or close-ups of semi-naked bodies in seascapes (Messaris 1997, 24-7). In the landscapes, Messaris suggests that there may be echoes of a painterly tradition in which this signifies turning away from the everyday world in order to marvel at the spectacle of nature. In the seascapes, exposed flesh clearly invites sexual curiosity. However, in both, there is an implicit invitation to ‘wish you were here’.
Regarding viewpoint, Kress and and van Leeuwen suggest that we should ask ourselves, ‘"Who could see this scene in this way?" "Where would one have to be to see this scene this way, and what sort of person would one have to be to occupy that space?"’ (ibid., 149).
Michael Watson (1970) found cultural variability in how directly people face each other in social interaction. Of the groups he studied, he showed that those adopting the nearest to a frontal axis of orientation were southern Europeans, followed by Latin Americans and then Arabs; those who adopted the most oblique stance were Indians and Pakistanis, followed by northern Europeans and Asians (cited in Argyle 1988, 59).