Art Review:Tate’s Exposed Big Brother is Watching You


Image:Harry Callahan – Untitled (Atlanta) 1984

Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera presents 250 works by celebrated photographers including Brassaï, Weegee and Nick Ut. The exhibition focuses on the history of the medium, and the relationship between ever-evolving technology and the implications that this has on our day-to-day ‘private’ lives. Simon Baker, curator of the exhibition, believes that ‘the ‘issue of the superabundance and super availability of cameras’ is something society should acknowledge and think seriously about.

Through a series of ‘theme’ galleries, we are taken into a somewhat sinister world of observation and invasive behaviour. The first stage is ‘The Unseen Photographer’, which features street photography from the late nineteenth century to the present day. We are presented with over a century’s worth of visual history; a photographic lesson into the clever techniques utilised to secretly capture snapshots of people’s everyday lives. A battle of conscience regarding the ethics of obtaining these very private images engulfs the observer as one can’t help but stare, voyeur-like, at the framed memories of strangers. However, without this deceptive, surreptitious and invasive art it could be argued that we’d never be able to spontaneously capture such stunning photographs of human behaviour, of natural beauty, of real life.

‘The Celebrity and the Public Gaze’ section reinforces societies unwavering need for gossip and its fascination with Hollywood, the stars, sex and the ‘celebrity’. Photographs include Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Paris Hilton on her way to prison and the assassination of JFK… An image of Jack Nicholson about to whack someone with a golf club… and, in a second, judgement of the subject’s true intention materialises. This promotes the question: just how effectively can the media control our views and create or destroy a reputation?

Communities are presented with violence on a daily basis; images in newspapers, television, films… as a nation, we’ve almost become desensitised to it. Blood, carnage, decapitation, suicide bombers… all with our morning coffee and occasional croissant. Sadly, it has become the ‘norm’. I think it’s fair to say that the shock factor has been eroded away by constant exposure. The final stage of Exposed, ‘Witnessing Violence’ features harrowing and disturbing images of death, torture and war: someone’s hell which has been frozen in time now becomes our entertainment. The images may no longer be agonising, but the thought of the process is. A fly-on-the-wall photographer stands back, observes and contemplates what will make the best shot, a selling shot, as a range of misery unfolds. A little bit warped, huh? Or is it necessary in making us aware of the horrors hosted by our world?

According to MP David Davis there are over 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain – about one for every 14 people. ‘Exposed’ breathes life into this statistic, as well as into the images. Surveillance has become an accepted way of life. We have become stars in our own personal movies… here I am on the train, in a shop reaching for a Pot Noodle, in the next scene on a bus’ stairwell losing footing and becoming a living farce for the 45s entertainment, a welcome distraction from the traffic. I saw a poster up on a train the other day, stating ‘we’re watching out for you’… but what I read was, ‘we’re watching you’…
Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera, Tate Modern, 28 May – 3 October 2010

Jo Sutherland

About Mark Westall

Mark Westall is the Founder and Editor of FAD magazine, ' A curation of the world’s most interesting culture' [PLUS] Art of Conversation: A tri-annual 'no news paper'

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *