Tate Modern is currently running a photographic exhibition, Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera (see http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/exposure/default.shtm). I visited it the other weekend and found it fascinating and thought-provoking.
At first I was surprised that secret cameras, small enough to be hidden in shoe heels and the heads of walking stick, followed so swiftly after the invention of portable film cameras themselves. But as I drifted through the displays, savouring the street scenes and celebrity shots, flinching at the poverty and cruelty of some of the images, I recognised an enduring fascination with the stolen image in my own snapshots. This prompted me to review the pictures from my recent trip to South America. I’ve picked out a few photographs, displayed here, that portray people unaware that an instant of their lives was being captured on camera.
The Tate’s description of the ‘unseen photographer’ sounds innocuous, even romantic. Yet the exhibition literature also concedes that these photographs were taken without the explicit permission – or even knowledge – of the people concerned. This raises issues of the ‘rights and desires’ of the individual. Without wishing to digress too far into the labyrinthine world of copyright, there is also the issue of model release. This article (http://www.betterphoto.com/article.asp?id=37) helpfully points out that this isn’t needed for photographic exhbitions (so the Tate is OK!). It’s definitely a bit of a grey area though. And while I feel my enthusiasm for candid people shots is borne of the authenticity and naturalism that unposed shots have, is there also an added guilty frisson for taking something I maybe shouldn’t?