Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera since 1870
During spring break, I went back to San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art to see the work of Eadweard Muybridge but also got the chance to see the show called Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera since 1870. It was my second time seeing this show since I visited SFMoMA in January to look at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work. This exhibition questions about who is looking at whom and why, and how the camera has transformed how we look, when the look shifts from seeing to spying. The show is on the forth floor of SFMoMA, and is separated into five different sections - unseen photographer, voyeurism and desire, celebrity and the paparazzi, witnessing violence, and surveillance. As you walk in, there is a parental discretion stating, “Portions of this exhibition contain violent and sexual content that may not be appropriate for some viewers.” This statement was quite true since some photographs I cringed, horrified, or infatuated with. Having prior knowledge of understanding photographs made it easier for me to take in all these work. For just random museum-goers with no knowledge of history of photography, it will feel like a roller coaster ride with a mix of amputated legs, pornographic images, peeping Toms, and surveillance cameras.
One of the amateur work that stood out to me was The Lynching of Leo Frank, by Oliver Lutz in the witnessing violence section. There is a black canvas on the wall with no other photographs next to it. I was confused at first because this exhibition is about photography, not painting. But in front of this black canvas was a television monitor. And as I looked into it, there is a negative photo of a man being hung from a tree with a crowd of people posing for the camera. I could see myself in the monitor because there was a surveillance camera projecting the image on the wall, making the image appear from the black. The image was quite disturbing, a man being lynched, and the crowd being proud of what they’ve done. This photograph certified someone’s death, and someone else’s idea of justice.
There were two video installation, one being Nan Goldin, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986). It was a great experience. Being a fan of her over the past few years, it was mind blowing to actually see the photographs in a 35 mm film slide show format rather than a book, flowing together with the soundtrack. While sitting in the slide show for around 45 minutes, I felt like I did not want to have friends like the people depicted with drugs, sex, violence, diseases, but feeling unable to judge them. Its a visual diary that mirrors realities of modern life. Goldin’s often graphic images are a pointed reminder that we are all beings dependent on others for emotional survival.
The work that I personally loved was The Stranger series by Shizuka Yokomizo. It makes me happy that a Japanese photographer is in the collection of MoMA since I am from Japan. With her work, she explores the relationship between the observer and the subject by sending out anonymous letters proposing they stand in the front window of their home at a specified date and time, at which point the artist arrives outside, sets up her tripod and camera, exposes her film, and then leaves. With the window frame, curtains, and security gates between the camera and the subject definitely gives a distance separating them, giving the impression of voyeurism. Since the subject can see the shadowy figure of Yokomizo while they’re being photographed, its not just a conventional portrait, its more of a record of an encounter. The viewer gets to see the vantage point of Yokomizo while taking the photograph, so the viewers are a part of this encounter as well.
The exhibition was quite large, so being separated in sections really helped out. It was very interesting to see world-renowned photographers’ work and amateur unknown photographer’s work next to each other in each section. This show explores the transformation of photography from documenting, and how it shifts to surveillance, and spying.