Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance & the Camera, Tate Modern, London


Voyeurism, Surveillance & the Camera,

Tate Modern, London

Reviewed by Sasha Dee


“A show at Tate Modern suggests that the supposed objectivity of the lens obscures a much nastier truth”

says  Charles Darwent at the beginning of his review in the Independent News Paper

This comprehensive show in 14 rooms of Tate Modern is now coming to the end.  From May to September it had visits from hundreds and thousands of visitors and rightly so as now everybody has an access to camera and everybody is aware about what is a photograph.

The exhibition intelligently organized is a thought provoking experience.  Many questions beside the question asked by Charles Darwent in tumultuous way crowd in the mind of the visitors.

In the beginning we get startled by the exhibitions of some of the odd cameras in the glass case that could be fit in the early old James Bond films or the “Black Museum” of Scotland Yard.  These are the cameras made at the beginning of the invasion of Cameras from its early curio objects to the obsessive photographer who went on taking sneak photographs of the ordinary people to the famous and celebrities. There is a description of a photographer who hid in the scaffolding of a building and took snapshots of the people walking down on a New York Street


The cameras in the glass cases are also amazing.  A camera in the handle of a walking stick and a pair of shoes must have given early pulp writers a feeling of inferiority complex that the photographer was there before their imagination could reach it.


As early as immediately after the birth of Camera there seemed to be the birth of  paparazzi  and a social wicked craze for seeing great and mighty in their awkward, natural, or embarrassing situation opposed to their most cultivated image. Later in the exhibition we saw the pictures of Princess Diana and her story how the paparazzo chased her to death.

The exhibition gave good space for the voyeurism. The dictionary meaning of the word voyeurism is in clinical psychology ,  the sexual interest in or practice of spying   on people engaged in intimate behavior, such as undressing, sexual activity, or other activity usually considered to be of a private nature In popular imagination the term is used in a more general sense to refer to someone who habitually observes others without their knowledge, with no necessary implication of sexual interest

Candaulism is a sexual practice or fantasy in which a man exposes his female partner, or images of her, to other people for their voyeuristic pleasure. According to Gugitz, the term is derived from ancient King Candaul who made a plot to show his naked wife unaware of her to his servant Gyes of Lydis. After discovering Gyes while he was watching her naked, Candaules’ wife ordered him to choose between killing himself and killing her husband in order to repair the vicious mischief.

Naked wife of Candaules

Sometimes this behavior is taken to the point of allowing complete sexual relations, a practice defined by many English speaking people as swinging. A related term is cuckoldry, which is distinct, in that it involves a control difference between the partner that is having sex outside the couple and the partner who is not. In certain cases the relation evolves into a stable union of three persons that is known as menage a trois

Reason for writing this here is that voyeurism was not invented by Camera.  It was there right when man was drawing on the walls of the caves.  You find it in the Greek Roman culture, you find it on the walls of the Hindu temples and you find them in the energy of destruction of them by the ideologies of some religions’ fanaticism.

But it is there in human nature and so it comes out in many forms in art etc.  The rich patrons who bought religious art often selected huge paintings to put on their walls which graphically depicted eroticism. Some times the eroticism was mixed in the violence of man against another,

Tate Exhibition has given plenty of room for the war photographers and other who photographed riots, skirmishes with the police etc.

There is a photograph of  Vietnam bombing.  Children running and one photograph became famous of a naked little girl running away partly burned by the Napalm bomb.

There is a note along with it saying that the photographer who took the photograph saved the girl and became life long friend of her. Does Tate want to say that it is an apology for taking the photograph of her misfortune and let her be the subject of voyeurism?

There are also  rooms about the surveillance camera. Spy camera and CCT camera etc.

So are the camera and the person behind the camera have psychological problem?  Are they social engineer,  objective observer, active statement makers or just peeping toms?

The exhibition at the Tate Modern is an experience that will not keep you in a fixed position but will  certainly disturb you and next time you take a photograph you will suddenly become aware the psychological position withing yourself.

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