Week 5 – Gazing at photographs

Merry Alperns project ‘Dirty Windows‘ and her voyeuristic vigil perched just out of sight above a toilet window from a sex club raises a multitude of questions on the gaze and where are the limits, if there are any limits at all on intruding on others. The grainy black and white shots capture personal moments when the subjects probably thought they were private and far from prying eyes.

Merry Alpern, Dirty Windows, 1993-94

Sophie Calle for her first artists book ‘Suite Vénitienne‘ followed strangers around the city, surreptitiously snapping pictures at opportune moments. A cross between surveillance and stalking.

Sophie Calle, Suite Vénitienne, 1988

Alfred Hitchcock in his movie ‘Rear Window‘ spins a cinematic story of peeping into others’ lives from the opposite apartment block, all the while unknown to the subject.

Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window, 1954

These examples where photographers knowingly gaze with neither the knowledge nor consent of the person explore our desire to be an anonymous spectator, choosing our viewing as and when it suits us. A recurrent theme I find interesting is how we perceive a person taking a surreptitious picture in contrast with our comfort with almost continuous surveillance by CCTV systems or ease with which we share personal images on social media.

Why are we perhaps offended by a street photographer who grabs a quick candid shot while simultaneously a small herd of cctv cameras can stare impassively on, recording every movement and gesture for later analysis should someone bother to review the footage? Or are we so used to the panopticon of modern life that we no longer care if machines are watching? Where does the impersonal gaze stop and the personal, intrusive and uninvited begin?

Shizuka Yokomizo in her ‘Dear Stranger‘ series (1998-2000) explored this gray area by sending anonymous invitations to strangers, asking them to stand in front of their living room window on a specified evening to allow a photograph to be taken. When taking the image she would be visible from the window but remain a stranger, no contact took place. The voyeur and subject are briefly aware of one another, anonymity and distance is maintained. I cannot help wondering who is the voyeur in this construction. The anonymous invitation is an invitation to gaze. Come and look at me, look at you.

Shizuka Yokomizo, Dear Stranger, 1998-2000

During the 1970’s in Toyoko, Kohei Yoshiyuki shot a series of images in local parks using infrared film. His images captured the many lurkers and peepers that hung around the parks and the strange behaviour of creeping up on couples undetected to touch them. This is an interesting concept where Kohei is a voyeur who intentionally goes out to photograph voyeurs going about their voyeuristic business.

Kohei Yoshiyuki, Park, 1971-73


GAUVIN, Jean-Baptiste. 2019. ‘Merry Alpern – “Dirty Windows” Exhibition In Paris In 2019’. [online]. Available at: https://www.blind-magazine.com/en/news/457/Merry-Alperns-Dirty-Windows [accessed 1 Mar 2021].

CALLE, Sophie. 2015. ‘Suite Vénitienne’. Siglio Press [online]. Available at: http://sigliopress.com/book/suite-venitienne/ [accessed 1 Mar 2021].

‘Sell Your Alfred Hitchcock Rear Window Lobby Card At Nate D. Sanders’. 2021. Hollywood Memorabilia, Fine Autographs, & Consignments Blog [online]. Available at: https://natedsanders.com/blog/2019/10/alfred-hitchcock-rear-window-lobby-card/ [accessed 1 Mar 2021].

KAYOKOMIZO, Shizu. 2021. ‘Shizu Kayokomizo’. [online]. Available at: http://www.shizukayokomizo.com/6/4592958791 [accessed 1 Mar 2021].

‘Kohei Yoshiyuki “Park”’. 1971. Museum Of Contemporary Photography [online]. Available at: https://www.mocp.org/detail.php?type=related&kv=9399&t=objects [accessed 1 Mar 2021].

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