a blog about my developing understanding of photography in relation to people and place
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
2. Exposed @ Tate Modern review in the Guardian by Adrian Searle
Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera, which opens at Tate Modern tomorrow, is full of sneaky images and surreptitious views, hidden cameras and nefarious goings-on. The show takes us from the American civil war to the burning oil fields of the first Gulf war, from an 1860s execution in China to the view from the witness room of the death chamber in a modern Mississippi penitentiary. There's plenty that is ghastly and ghoulish, much that is seamy, and much that is innocuous but invasive – like Harry Callahan's sneaky views of women lost in thought, and Yale Joel's 1946 shots through a two-way mirror in a Broadway movie theatre lobby. Artist Bruce Nauman maps his studio in a video shot with a night lens. Nan Goldin makes a slideshow of her life and loves. The Japanese photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki photographed people having sex, and watching others have sex (and sometimes joining in), in a public park at night. The only ones not looking are the couples themselves.
We spy a KGB agent rummaging through files, and approaching a secret meeting place in the Westchester woods. The paparazzi snap Liz Taylor and Richard Burton snogging as they sunbathe. I stopped dead at Merry Alpern's great series of views through dirty windows, of the goings-on in a brothel, seen, Rear Window-style, from the photographer's own building; figures lurch at the window, clothes undone, these bits of bodies and partial faces are all the more tantalising for being such fragmentary views. There's sex and strangeness here, exhibitionists and narcissists - like the French transvestite artist Pierre Molinier, who referred to himself as a male lesbian, and whose onanistic antics in his home-made get-up were often photographed by his daughter. There are also electrocutions and suicides, lynchings and murders and the results of death-squad assassinations.
This, you might say, is not for the squeamish, but many of these photographs have already appeared in weekend supplements and high-circulation magazines.Our appetite for such images appears to be boundless. And the show is full of witnesses and rubberneckers. As Kim Novak takes her seat in the railroad dining car, all the guys in the carriage turn to watch, and we watch them watching her. Greta Garbo avoids the camera, but a dead man on an Italian garage ramp, hit in the back, no longer cares. People are seen through two-way mirrors, captured by buttonhole cameras and cameras that see in the dark. There's a whole vitrine of walking stick cameras, watch-fob cameras, cameras with hidden, second lenses that point in a different direction to the one you think they do. People look at themselves, and we look at them. We are always looking over the photographer's shoulder. Gotcha.
Exposed is a rough ride – by turns entertaining, horrifying, morbid and compulsive. There are key missing images, the most obvious being the infamous shots taken at Abu Ghraib. I kept thinking there's an even better show to be made here – and one with a less obvious American bias. French artist Christian Boltanski is about to record his every move, day and night, on camera, a live feed going to a collector's bunker, until the artist's death – a work that does not appear in the show, and which should.
Instead of this, though, the show ends with a film of a CCTV camera turning on a wall, by Thomas Demand. We look up at it; it looks blindly down at us. It is worth remembering that in Tate Modern there are cameras everywhere; weep in front of a Rothko, and someone in a back room will be watching. In the age of Facebook, YouTube and reality TV, many people don't seem to care how much of themselves they expose. And in the end, maybe we all like looking.