Posted in Contextual Studies Year 2

Voyeurism, Surveillance, Ethics and Media

The Tate Modern held an exhibition called Exposed, based on voyeurism and surveillance, with photographs from the late nineteenth century to present day. The exhibition includes works by amateur and press photographers, and images produced using automatic technology such as CCTV. The exhibition confronts ideas of rights and desires of individuals, terrorism and the increasing availability and use of surveillance. For example, the UK has become the most surveyed country in world with reports of larger cities like London capturing individuals over 300 times a day.

Panoptic means seeing everything in one view, derived from the greek meaning seen by all. Foucault’s Panopticon is based on two factors: systems of social control and people in a disciplinary situations. He suggested that power and knowledge come from observing others and that suitable behaviour is achieved not through total surveillance, but by panoptic discipline.

All of our movement is observed. It is suggested that our behaviour is influenced highly by social factors such as government and religion. Often it is said we also behave differently based on the fact that we know we are being observed, raising the question of do we not do things because they are wrong or because we can be seen doing it? We are constantly recognisable by things like fingerprints, DNA, passports and licenses (visual photos).

Weegee was a freelance photographer who worked for United Press. Weegee stalked the streets at night with the help of a police radio, chasing down “Page One” stories often beating police to the scene. He built a studio in his car to help himself process quickly and beat competitors to the press. He has a strong flash that picked up every little detail. What he captured was often relentless and shocking. He used an infrared flash for scenes such as lovers at a film. His way of working is similar to that of the paparazzi.

Felice Quinto inspired the word paparazzi which became the name for people who chase the stars to capture their lives. As time has gone on and technology has developed, the paparazzi has gone as far as hacking phones, exploiting lives and even being accused of murder, meaning there is a lack of privacy. It is the duty of contemporary photographers to question what they are photographing and why they want everyone to see what they are photographing and some cases of the paparazzi question that. All photography is voyeuristic but are we conditioned to want to see other peoples lives?

Arne Sven created a series called The Neighbors, in which he pointed his camera at a luxury apartment building across the street and secretly photographed people living there through open windows. The images show private moments that include cleaning, taking naps, and kids playing. The photographer was taken to court by one of the people he photographed but Sven won the case on the basis that the photograph was used for artistic purposes and not commercial. It raises the question -is it okay if you cant identify the person in the photo and is it ethical?

Photography, di Corcia, Art, Lorca di corcia, heads, candid, lighting, dramatic, impactful, portrait, brilliant, good, moviePhillip-Lorca Dicorcia photographed a series called Heads in Times Square, New York. He attached a strobe light to scaffolding on a subway with a hidden camera. He used a radio signal to activate the strobe, releasing the shutter of his camera in time with its flash, ultimately capturing unwitting pedestrians from more than 20 feet away. He did this during day light so that pedestrians wouldn’t notice the flash.The artist pursued this project over the course of two years, taking more than 4,000 photographs, of which he selected only 17 to include in the series.

Photography, di Corcia, Art, lorca di corcia, heads, famous, candid, lighting, dramatic, impactful, portrait, brilliant, good, movieUnaware of the camera, the pedestrians are shown in thought or gaze, capturing them at their most normal state. They represent how we as normal people act most of the time, walking down the street, in a crowd, focused on something or nothing. It makes you think about how different yet similar we are as people and consider the way we look and feel about others when just walking down the street. The lighting adds a cinematic feel, as if they are stills from a film. The flash contrasts with the day light, isolating the subject and blacking out the background so they are a figure on their own, adding a sense of mystery.

In describing his process, diCorcia said: “I was investigating things: the nature of chance, the possibility that you can make work that is empathetic without actually even meeting the people”.

The series, similarly to Arne Sven’s work, was eventually taken through a court process, raising the question of ethics once again. One of diCorcia’s subjects, Erno Nussenzweig, a Jew from Union City, New Jersey, sued diCorcia and his gallery for exhibiting, publishing, and profiting from his picture, arguing that it was taken without his permission and violated his right to privacy. Nussenzweig also argued that use of the photograph interfered with his right to practice his religion. Nussenzweig sought an injunction to halt sales and publication of the photograph, as well as $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in inflicting damages. The case was dismissed in February 2006 on the basis that the photographer’s right to artistic expression was more significant compared to the subject’s privacy rights. DiCorcia countered that he didn’t seek consent because “there is no way the images could have been made with the knowledge and cooperation of the subjects”. Dicorcia won the case.


New York state right-to-privacy laws prohibit the unauthorised use of a person’s photograph for commercial purposes, but they do not apply if the photograph is considered art. There has been several cases like Dicorcia and Sven over the years. In 2002, a woman who had been photographed by Thomas Hoepker, a German photographer, sued Barbara Kruger for using the picture in a piece called “It’s a Small World Unless You Have to Clean It.” A New York federal court judge ruled in Kruger’s favour, stating the woman’s image was not used for purposes of trade, but rather in a work of art. In 1982 The New York Times was taken to court by Clarence Arrington, whose photograph, taken without his knowledge while he was walking in the Wall Street area, appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in 1978 to illustrate an article titled “The Black Middle Class: Making It.” Arrington said the picture was published without his consent to represent a story he didn’t agree with.The court ruled in favour of The New York Times.

Do photographers abuse the rights to labelling a photograph as art? Is it unethical to not ask permission for a photograph? I don’t know, but I feel that with the high level of surveillance in the world now, it wouldn’t make any difference to me having my photograph taken without permission because it happens everyday.



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