Photographers have so far explored the voyeurism concept in various ways. Over my next 3 posts I want to examine 3 different interpretations to draw upon the inspiration of some great image makers and help me narrow down my own project ideas.
The Hidden Photographer
I want to begin by looking at photographers who used to take pictures of people in public but without them realising until the picture had been taken.
Philip-Lorca diCorcia – Heads
Philip-Lorca diCorcia wanted to create a series of portraits of people as they went about their daily lives. He had already been experimenting in this area in places like Tokyo and Paris but it was his series from Times Square in New York that really caught people’s attention. Setting up a strobe light on some scaffolding diCorcia positioned himself nearby and using a long lens he captured people as they passed through it. (Kimmelman 2001)
The flash makes his subjects stand out from the background so they appear isolated, almost vulnerable. This random series of chance expressions was the basis for his project. He had no idea what to expect and no real preconceived notion of how the images would turn out. He treated the project like a day job, travelling the location on a daily basis and ‘working’ for around 4 hours each day.
In total he took around 3000 images in order to make an exhibition of around 17. (Tate Modern 2010)
Each of the people were unaware they had their picture taken and diCorcia did not speak to them afterwards. He wanted to capture them with their guard down because when you point a camera at a person and they are aware of it can have a dramatic effect of their personality. Some people like to play up for the camera, posing and showing off whilst others become very shy and attempt to hide. If the subject becomes aware of the photographer then the images becomes something else.
diCorcia did not ask for permission from any of his subjects and this created some problems for him when one person decided to take legal action for unauthorised use of his portrait. After 3 appeals diCorcia won his case and protected photographers rights to make images of people in public. The core of his argument is that people can not expect to find privacy in a public space and the court upheld this. (Tate Modern 2010)
It surprised me to hear that diCorcia took nearly 3000 photos and sent numerous days working on a project like this. I would have thought that he would have had specifics in mind or he would have waited for the type of person to come along that he wanted. This was never the plan though and this really was based on random chance but it would be great to see what some of the rejected 2983 images looked like.
Walker Evans – Subway
Heads reminds me of the work by the work of Walker Evans. In 1938 Walker Evans carefully painted the chrome areas of his camera black and secreted it inside his jacket with the lens peaking through a button-hole. His goal was to capture the unposed and genuine faces of people that they adopt when they feel they are not being looked at. This body of work considers the concept that people’s expressions change, perhaps only minutely the moment they become aware that they are being observed and he wanted capture the unfiltered raw expressions.
I find the sequence far more interesting that Philip-Lorca diCorcia but I believe this is due to the amount of time one by. These images give me a snap shot into a time and place that I never had access to. When I look into the faces of the people I think about historical events that are yet to occur and ow unaware they are of the things that are about to happen. The second world war is raging across Europe but the USA are yet to join with Japan still planing their attack on Pearl Harbour. Each person seems to share the same gaze, where their focus is on their thoughts. Are they thinking about the war, where they are going problems in their lives? As an observer we can only wonder about them, who they are, what they do and where they are going? Each image produces so many questions and we can only speculate towards the answers as these are questions where the truth has gone with the past.
Both artists through this work attempted to capture this pure unadulterated look at the facial expressions we revert to when we are not engaging with people. Our personalities change perhaps even only slightly depending on where we are, who we are talking to, what we are doing etc. Whether this is a true look is debatable, as we are always conscious that we could be observed, even if we are not aware. As a result we never fully relax or let our guard down and our expressions are controlled almost subconsciously. It is only when we are truly alone that we relax and show ourselves the faces we would not reveal to anyone else.