Visit to Tate Modern
Having a few hours to kill and not being too far away, I went to the Tate Modern on London’s Southbank the other week, I had seen that there was a photography exhibition on called Exposed that looked really interesting. I wasn’t disappointed; it was excellent; added to which this was my first ever visit to Tate and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I got there I was amazed what a great building and so much to see. Exposed: “Since its invention, the camera has been used to make images surreptitiously and satisfy the desire to see what is hidden. Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance & 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” Exhibition Guide Tate Modern The exhibition was divided up into themed sections.
- The unseen photographer
- Celebrity & the public gaze
- Voyeurism & Desire
- Witnessing Violence
The Unseen Photographer
The first area was about revealing an unaware world where the photographer took images without people knowing or consenting to. Not only were there photographs on display but there were also examples of how 19th century technologies were used to hide the camera equipment, so that they could be used without the subjects knowledge, this included camera hidden in walking sticks, jacket breast pockets and even a shoe!
Walker Evans 1903-1975
‘Subway passengers’ – taken in the 1930’s on the New York subway system. It was the interest in the people’s expressions that grabbed me, the un-posed faces and what were they thinking about? Where were they going? Evans used hidden cameras to capture his subjects unawares.
Philip-Lorca Dicorcia 1951
‘Heads’ – There were some large format/printed images; In 2006 Dicorcia placed hidden automatic flashes in some scaffolding and with a long lens that was also automatically triggered, took photographs of people as they were going about their business.
Paul Martin – 1864-1942
‘Tit bits was her greatest sale’ – 1892 Ludgate Circus.This was a photograph of a woman selling magazines in the street. What grabbed me about this one is that it reminded me of an old lady who used to sell newspapers close to a railway station when I was growing up. I think her name was Audrey!? Strange that I remembered this when I saw the photograph, but it’s the power of photography triggering memories of times past. Martin used a camera hidden inside a box that he carried under his arm to capture his unsuspecting subjects.
Morris Engle 1918-2005
Cop standing over a shoeshine stand – 1947 – It was the expressions on the faces that grabbed me; what were they talking about? The image was ‘busy’ with lots of things going on with people in the foreground, but the clever thing is that the part of the image that draws you in is actually a reflection. It took me a few minutes to realize! It’s very clever.
Ben Shahn 1898-1969
Shahn to photographs of groups of unsuspecting people, documenting the diversity of New York during the great depression and the 1930’s – He also used a right-angled viewfinder so that it would look like he was taking pictures in another direction. In the photograph of display, taken in 1937 outside of a US post office in Tennessee, you can actually see his reflection in the window, whereas he looks like he is taking a picture up the street and not the post office!
Helen Levitt 1913-2009
There were some photographs that Levitt took in the early 1940’s of children playing in the streets of New York, depicting life in those times. I wandered if taking pictures of children playing to record history and life would be as acceptable in todays modern society? Probably not – A whole ethical topic in its own right and out of the scope my blog!
Henri Cartier Bresson 1908-2004
Hyères, France 1932 – This really caught my eye in relation to the design elements that were apparent. With the elegant curves of an outside staircase that take you down towards a road creating an implied line towards a cyclist. The motion blur of the cyclist adds further animation and implied movement around the curve of a road that it is travelling. You can find out more about Henri Cartier Bresson on Artsy.
Celebrity & the Public Gaze
This section was about the relationship between photographer and celebrity and how the changes of attitude towards self publicity, from the celebrity point of view to the relentless intrusiveness of paparazzi and catching celebrities during private moments
WeeGee (Arthur H Fellig) 1899-1968
There was a very iconic photograph of Marilyn Monroe taken during the filming of the ‘Seven year itch’ where her dress is blown up from an air vent. I thought I would mention as the scene is so well known! (Although I later found out that this was not used in the film and was recreated in a studio). Marcello Geppetti 1933-1998 There was a 4 shot narrative of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on a boat, that builds up to them kissing (as i understand this was to prove an affair between the two) I’ve been a fan of Richard Burton’s films so that’s why it stuck in my mind. I later looked up Geppetti, to find he was famed for his “relentless pursuit of film stars and celebrities”, a true ‘paparazzi’ by all accounts. Tazio Secchiaroli 1925-1998 Anita Ekberg & Anthony Steel – This was a classic paparazzi set of a photographer chasing celebrities. It consisted of a 7 shot montage of Steel chasing photographers away! Leonard Mccombe 1923 There was this excellent photograph where the background consisted of a row of men inside a train diner car all looking towards the actress Kim Novak in the foreground. What was clever about this was that the focus was on the background and Kim was out of focus in the foreground, but still recognizable; then you have the eye lines of all the men looking toward her creating this dynamic movement in the frame. Attention is drawn to the focused men but their eye-lines draw you to Kim in the foreground. The expressions on the men are also priceless – I love this photograph.
Voyeurism & Desire
This section was about the fine lines between art and eroticism. Raising questions as who should be looking at these images and why would they would be looking? Especially the images that were taken, where the subjects were unaware of the presence of the photographer Merry Alpern 1955 Dirty Windows – 1994 – this was a really powerful set. It consisted of 12 large prints covering a whole wall. The set was taken from an apartment across the street into an upstairs window of sex club in New York. The set depicted the men that used the club and the women that ‘serviced’ them, including the exchange of money and drug taking. Each photograph was naturally framed through the window frame of the shop, and not all details could be seen; only glimpses of what was going on leaving the viewer to imagine the story behind them. All were in a black and white, grainy style that really suited the sordid feel. A really thought provoking set of images. WeeGee (Arthur H Fellig) 1899-1968 There was another image by WeeGee that I liked; it was of a couple kissing in the cinema. Although the cinema had lots of people in the photograph, the space around the couple and the line of seats caused me to be drawn along the rows and to the attention of the couple. Kohei Yoshiyuki 1946 ‘The Park’ – This was another strong set of images. In the 1970’s Yoshiyuki, using an infrared flash bulbs, took photographs of the sexual activities of young men and women in a park in Tokyo along with the Voyeurs and peeping toms who observed them and in some cases touched and joined in (Not Yoshiyuki to be clear!). A sort of voyeur or voyeurs is some respect! The images were displayed in a long line in a darkened section of the exhibition, adding to the feeling of being part of this night-time act. In the display information it went on to say that the first time these photos were exhibited they were blown up to life size and displayed in a dark gallery with the visitors being given torches to go through the gallery! “To photograph the voyeurs, I needed to be considered one of them… I behaved like I had the same interest as the voyeurs, but I was equipped with a small camera. My intention was to capture what happened in the parks, so I was not a real ‘voyeur’ like them. But I think in a way, the act of taking photographs itself is voyeuristic somehow. So I may be a voyeur, because I am a photographer” Kohei Yoshiyuki
This section was on the opposing responses from seeing violent images. Does it provoke people to act violently? Does it show people the need for change? Or does it numb us to horror? WeeGee (Arthur H Fellig) 1899-1968 There appeared to be a lot of work in the exhibition from WeeGee. He had taken pictures of bystanders showing the morbid fascination with death. Some of the faces depicted the emotion of fun! Brassai Gyula Haiasz 1899 1984 Here was a photographic narrative of a man who dies in the street (1932). The narrative was very interesting, with the body seen lying in the street alone. Then the ‘story’ unfolds in each photograph as a crowd begins to grow around the body, with each photo the crowd gets larger and larger, until eventually a vehicle (assume ambulance) appears in one photo with the next being the empty street again, as if nothing had ever happened; just a normal street. Although the powerful subject was what held my attention I noticed the elements of lines of the road and points and shape of the crowd. Enrique Metinidos 1934 Here was a set making up a narrative of the rescue of a person attempting to commit suicide by jumping from a high point. The high point was Toreo stadium 1971. I found this really interesting due to the diagonal lines of the structure and points of the people attempting to rescue the person. Nick Ut 1951 The famous print of the Vietnam War image of a group of children running from a village after a napalm attack was part of the exhibition. A powerful image when taken in 1972 as it is today.
This section was about the power of surveillance. From military reconnaissance (including the cold war) to the idea of ‘Big Brother’ and that no matter where you go innocent people are recorded or viewed in some way during their daily life. Also the close link between the increase in surveillance and the development of photographic technologies. Simon Norfolk 1963 He had taken a photograph of this huge Radar system built on the ascension islands with the purpose of capturing mobile telephone conversations. Its thin wire structure of horizontal and vertical lines reminded me of a giant mechanical spider’s web! Scary that these things have existed, the radar not mechanical spiders…that would be silly! Sophie Calle 1953 There was a huge display from the work of Calle. Where she had spent time as a chambermaid in a hotel and she would be able to enter the rooms of people staying at the hotel and ‘spy’ on their lives, taking pictures of their personal belongings. She would also follow them and record their actions. I found this work unnerving in the lengths she would go to record private lives, fascinating though.
The photographers and images that I have mentioned are just a small part of the exhibition. To do it justice I could have gone of for much longer and more in depth, however the scope of it is just too big for this one blog update. I highly recommend this interesting and thought provoking work.