Of all the practitioners I have looked at, I identify most with the work of Beat Streuli - not necessarily in our motives or self objectives, but certianly in our finished work. In fact on reflection, I am quite astounded by the similarities in our work up to this point. Streulis aesthetic is a lot more clearer, richer and polished in appearance to mine, and this is for several technical and logistical reasons including, the time of year and the weather, which limits my ambient light availability to somewhere between grey and greyer. I cannot wait for the spring/summer months when I can drop my iso, increase my shutter speed and throw caution to the wind with my aperture for maximum artisitic quality control!!
There is also Streulis equipment to take into account, he uses a telephoto lens, which although I cant find the details for, I can tell that it far outshines any lens I have available to use. I would hazard an educated guess that he probably shoots with a lens of at least 400mm with a very wide aperture of somewhere around f2.8 - this accounts for the clarity, rich tones and noise-free aesthetic. This gives his images an almost cinematic quality - no doubt useful for the billboard sized prints he displays of his work!
Garry Winogrand's image of a couple in New York in 1969. Photograph: Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco/Garry WinograndSean O'Hagan
Sunday 16 May 2010 00.05 BST
Photography," Diane Arbus once said, "was a licence to go wherever I wanted and to do what I wanted to do." Arbus, who famously photographed American outsiders and eccentrics, including so-called freaks from carnival shows, also described the lure of the camera thus: "I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do... when I first did it I felt very perverse."
Either quotation could serve as an epigraph to the catalogue for Tate Modern's ambitious exhibition, Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera. Here, photography is a licence to spy and pry, to transgress, shock, provoke and, above all, to invade the privacy of others.
Exposed is a show about the politics of looking – both through the lens and at the end result. The work is gathered under five themes related to the voyeurism of the lens: street photography, sexually explicit images, celebrity stalking, shots of death and violence, and surveillance.
Today, photography itself could be said to be under siege. We live in a digitally driven culture where everyone with a mobile phone is a photographer of sorts. Technology has freed us to bear witness, but it has also made voyeurs of us all. Last year, the death of 27-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan during an Iranian pro-democracy protest was captured on a mobile phone and, according to Time magazine, became "probably the most widely witnessed death in human history".
The age of citizen journalism may be well under way, but the internet is also overloaded with images of violence, drunkenness and sexual embarrassment. Here, the humiliation of others often seems to be a defining dynamic. "We cannot blame the camera for what it has done to us," writes Sandra S Phillips, curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in her foreword to the Exposed catalogue. "Nevertheless, it has made certain human predilections much easier to satisfy."
AdvertisementFor all that, photography can still shock and repel. Earlier this year, the World Press awards featured a series of images by Farah Abdi Warsameh entitled Stoned to Death, Somalia. The photographs were so graphic that one's immediate instinct was to turn away in horror. Are the images powerful because of the horror they capture? Or do they represent, as one Observer colleague put it, "a kind of pornography of suffering"? Do they jolt us into awareness or inure us even further to the suffering of others?
We could ask the same questions of many of the images that will feature in the Tate show's 'Witnessing Violence' section: graphic images of executions, exhumed bodies and victims of bombings. Chronologically, this begins with an image of an American civil war burial party taken in 1865 by John Reekie, and ends with Larry Clark's portrait of a heavily pregnant young woman injecting herself with heroin from his early 70s Tulsa series. That's quite a range of human suffering but, as Phillips notes, "the terrible fascination of looking at suffering and death, the moral ambiguity of the act, is as pertinent now as it was during the American civil war".
What has changed, as Susan Sontag predicted in her 1977 book On Photography, is the amount of such imagery and the ease with which we can access it. "Once one has seen such images," she wrote, "one has started down the road of seeing more – and more. Images transfix. Images anaesthetise."
Today, the morality of what might be called extreme reportage is an even more vexed issue. Likewise, the terrain of the sexually explicit. Again, the range of photographs on display at Tate Modern is broad and frequently provocative. Both Robert Mapplethorpe and Nobuyoshi Araki deal in what many people might consider hardcore sexual imagery and are drawn, in their different ways, to the ritualistic. Perhaps it's just me, but what once seemed shocking in their work now seems familiar to the point of banal.
More intriguing are the voyeuristic images on display. In a picture from his brothel series, Chez Suzy (1932), Brassaï frames in a mirror a couple kissing on a bed. What once was considered arousing now looks quite restrained, but the sense that both the photographer and the viewer are prying remains strong.
AdvertisementThis is even more the case in Merry Alpern's grainy shots of prostitutes and their clients in her series, Dirty Windows (1994), taken clandestinely through the bathroom window of a sex club on Wall Street. Interestingly, Brassaï's brothel photographs are now seen as ground-breaking social reportage, whereas Alpern's are viewed as art photography, which tells us as much about the changing nature of the politics of curating as that of the politics of looking.
The idea that viewing such morally problematic images might make us complicit in the production of ever-more transgressive images is one that haunts this show. The curators seem to have broached it somewhat conceptually by creating a semi-dark corridor in which the dim lights just about illuminate Kohei Yoshiyuki's series, The Park. Taken with newly available infrared film in 1970, they show kneeling men behind bushes spying on the nocturnal lovemaking of young couples. (Yoshiyuki later said of this body of work that he had started off photographing voyeurs and ended up becoming one.)
For me, the most intriguing section of the show examines our surveillance culture. Here, the images are, as Phillips points out, "voyeuristic in anticipation". Again, the watcher's gaze is driven by technology, in this instance the security cameras that silently monitor from a distance individuals, groups, entire cities. The population of London is now one of the most watched in the world and the fact that we are being photographed 24/7 without our permission seems, as the show's curator, Simon Baker, posits, "to be somehow linked to our lack of awareness of what is going on".
Again, we cannot blame the camera for what it has done to us, but, as this intriguing show will illustrate, we should perhaps be more aware than ever of its relentless gaze, its power to shape and to distort our lives.
Since its invention, the camera has been used to make images surreptitiously and satisfy the desire to see what is hidden. Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera examines photography’s role in voyeuristic looking from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present day. It includes pictures taken by professional photographers and artists, but also images made without our knowledge on a daily basis through the proliferation of CCTV.
The exhibition is divided into five thematic sections: The Unseen Photographer, Celebrity and the Public Gaze, Voyeurism and Desire, Witnessing Violence, and Surveillance. In each case, the nature and character of invasive looking is evident not only in the images themselves, but also in the ways in which the viewer is implicated in acts of voyeurism. Rather than blame the camera for showing illicit or forbidden material, Exposed explores the uneasy relationship between making and viewing images that deliberately cross lines of privacy and propriety.
This room presents two sets of photographs from opposite ends of the twentieth century, both of which rely on specific equipment and strategies. Walker Evans’s Subway Passengers were made on New York City underground trains in the 1930s with small hidden cameras, allowing Evans to record the natural, un-posed faces of the city’s inhabitants. Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Heads, by contrast, were taken on the streets of New York in 2000, also without their subjects’ knowledge or permission, but this time through an elaborate series of hidden cameras and automatic flashes that were triggered as people walked past. One of his unwitting targets took legal action against diCorcia, which resulted in a landmark ruling that the artist’s right to self-expression took precedence over the subject’s right to their own image.
Room 2The notion of the Unseen Photographer also extends to the practices of photographers that enable them to ‘capture’ images stealthily or by surprise. Working in the slums of New York at the end of the nineteenth century, Jacob Riis’s pictures of tenement dwellers include those sleeping or so tired and inebriated they are barely aware of him entering their rooms and setting off his bright flash bulb. Paul Strand used a false lens to photograph poor immigrants while seeming to point his camera the other way. Hired by the National Child Labor Committee, Lewis Hine’s revelatory photographs of children working in mines and factories appear to show the subjects’ awareness of the photographer, but were taken without the permission of the factory owners.
Room 3This room presents work by some of the twentieth century’s most important photographers. In each case, they exploit the camera’s ability to create images without the knowledge of some, or all, of their subjects. Ben Shahn used a lateral viewfinder to make candid street photographs. Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson photographed people from above to great visual effect, while Lee Friedlander and Harry Callahan seem to sneak up on their subjects from behind. Garry Winogrand and Robert Frank’s lightning-fast snapshots of street life suggest photography working faster than the eye to capture a split-second slice of real life. Winogrand liked to use an extra wide lens, so that people on the edges of his photographs wouldn’t have realised they were in the frame. Many of these photographers produced series of works on the same theme or in the same location, epitomised by Harry Callahan’s sequence of images Women Lost in Thought, made in 1950.
With the development of conceptual art in the late 1960s artists began to use photography to document performances or actions. Every day for one month in 1969 Vito Acconci followed a randomly selected stranger on the streets of New York, recording his experiences with photographs and a written account. Sophie Calle has made a number of works that explore the artist’s voyeuristic nature, whether following strangers or employing others to follow her. In 1981 she took a job as a chambermaid in a Venetian hotel with the intention of gathering information about its occupants.
Photographer Merry Alpern hid a video camera inside her handbag so she could take it into the harshly lit fitting rooms of a number of fashion boutiques, and found that it revealed a disconcertingly unfamiliar image of herself: ‘I had always seen myself quite differently when I looked in the mirror. Suddenly I no longer knew what I really looked like’. Artist Emily Jacir also appeared in front of the camera, inserting herself into the frame of a live webcam trained on the main square of Linz, Austria over the course of a month. Though she is barely visible in the resulting pictures, her diaristic text directs the viewer to her presence.
This photo series questions surveillance in our city
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"Everybody Street" illuminates the lives and work of New York's iconic street photographers and the incomparable city that has inspired them for decades. The documentary pays tribute to the spirit of street photography through a cinematic exploration of New York City, and captures the visceral rush, singular perseverance and at times immediate danger customary to these artists.
Featured PhotographersBruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Jill Freedman, Bruce Gilden, Joel Meyerowitz, Rebecca Lepkoff, Mary Ellen Mark, Jeff Mermelstein, Clayton Patterson, Ricky Powell, Jamel Shabazz, Martha Cooper, and Boogie, with historians Max Kozloff and Luc Sante.
Cheryl Dunn: I'm attracted to real emotion rather than manufactured emotion. I'm drawn to level playing fields. I hate when people think they are better than everyone else: that's not interesting to me. That's not my scene and that's not what draws my eye. I like to point my camera at something that isn't getting attention - I want to find stories in your average person's face or actions.
Cheryl Dunn: The public's reaction to photography changes exponentially every couple of months. What is the trend? What is people's behavior like in front of and behind the camera? It's constantly evolving. One month people are nervous about being slandered on the Internet with images, the next it seems like everyone's looking for a little bit of notoriety and are stoked to have a camera poked in their face. Who knows what new app, way of shooting/sharing images is going to exist in six months. I just try to stay the course and do what I do. I alter my behavior based on people's reaction to me and their relationship with photography so that I can shoot the images I'm trying to get, that's all.
Suz Tucker: What was the turning point in the late '90s that inspired you to focus on a different art form other than photography through filmmaking?
Cheryl Dunn: I love them both and I feel they both inform each other – I still split my time between the two mediums. In this project, they are very equally utilised and the stillness of how I showed the artist's photographs statically, embedded in the often frantic, handheld film camera footage, seems to balance the experience. Very early in my career I did more photography, but when I started to make films myself, I always incorporated the still image, and I think visa versa - my still photographs have always been infused with motion, and actually breaking the frame when I did start to make film was very liberating.
Stephen Gill Unseen
Alejandra Cata Gena
Philip Lorca Dicorsa
Robert Adams K Mart carpark
The photos were taken experimentally with a few objectives to try and establish a. the best combination of equipment and settings and b. to see how I would feel about different styles of shooting and c. to see which combo feels stronger in review.
I particularly like the shots where the person is almost obscured by the car, it gives the impression of the shots being taken in a hurry or that I am trying to conceal myself in taking them - which of course I am.
The image to the left is of the 120-400mm lens, its basically a beast! it's very heavy and cumbersome to use, definitely not concealable and feels very voyeuristic to use. It takes a great clear shot and has obvious benefits with the focal length for my work.
The image on the right is a sigma 24-70mm lens. It is by no means a small lens but it doesn't feel intrusive. The benefit of this lens is the small aperture capability of f2.8 which gives a lovely aesthetic to some of my images and also means I can shoot in lower light circumstances which can be beneficial.
These are some of my favourite photos, I love the metaphors and humour that these present to me. In order to take these shots, I tried a different approach. I stood outside a prominent corner in the centre of Cheltenham with my camera hanging around my neck whilst i subtly shot from the waist without looking at what I was doing. Because it is important to me that people do not know I am taking their photo - I want to capture them as natural as I can and for them to not be influenced into posing or changing their expressions or appearance in anyway. I tried not to be obvious and make it look like I was merely stood there - but evidently to no avail as I shortly encountered the police demanding to know what I was doing and why!
I definitely know I want to make more images like these. They have a very different feel to them than the more obvious surveillance work, but I like the implied narratives and assumptions that may be made by the viewer because of my choice of framing, cropping and angles.
1. Street photography: Catching people unawares
2. Secret stalker/surveillance
This is my opinion: In todays society, we have cultivated a deep sense of paranoia which has come about not only because of the ongoing threat of the terror crisis but also and perhaps less obviously, because people now have more access to Technology. CCTV and the internet have become prolific in their existence. This has enabled people to witness and be more aware of life threatening situations. The public speak more, read more and become more concerned with political correctness and moral issues than ever before. Our own British society has become more litigious in recent years, everyone seems more aware of their rights in all areas of life.
I have always been fascinated by people, what they do, how they appear, how they interact etc. Being an avid people watcher, I naturally love street photography and I have become interested in the notion of owning something that some would say doesn't belong to me – for example, a photo of a private person in a public space. It is the moral and ethical considerations that interest me and I want to take candid photos that are provocative and that challenge my sense of 'appropriate' within the realms of the law.
My other idea – is surveillance. My point at this stage being, that even the most private person has a public identity whether they like it or not. Although the images I capture would be no different from those captured by CCTV, the process of compiling all this footage into one document/piece, would inevitably change the way in which these images were viewed and considered.
In the past, I have made projects on self harm, body image and domestic violence. I have explored the impact that the media has on this. I now want to explore the more private side of the human condition, that even when someone is doing the most mundane task, they are still being scrutinised, documented and their image is being owned by a person or persons completely unknown to themselves.
Most of the time people do not even think about this. Surveillance has become so ingrained into our society that we take it for granted, mostly, without question. Examples range from the extreme of daily news reports where images of the general public are included in backgrounds and subsequently broadcast to millions of viewers on televisions, to just walking through our local towns and being recorded on CCTV. There is a growing trend for members of the public to also record images where uninvolved bystanders could be recorded using mobile phones, home security and even car dashboard cameras. Such devices and recording practices are rarely challenged or even considered, but think about who actually might be looking at your image! The obvious potential dangers of our 'big brother' society extend to us all. We imagine ourselves as relatively safe and private but in reality, our images are open to exploitation nearly all day everyday and there is no escape.
I hope to capture images that explore this notion. Images that challenge my own ethics and those of the law. I want to try and create moments in time where complete and utter strangers and I become involved together to create an abstract narrative – all without their knowledge or consent. Because I can.
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