Wednesday, 17 April 2013


After reading more about voyeurism I decided to look into voyeurism in relation to photography:


Susan Sontag wrote, “Photography is a privileged moment” in her seminal work On Photography. Photographs are intimate – they momentarily erase distance and time, or appear to. In discussing the idea that a photograph is an erotic tool Sontag referred to a photograph of a lover in a married woman’s wallet, the poster of a rock star on a teenager’s wall. It is, in her words, “love at a distance.”

The term voyeurism comes from the Classical Latin vidēre “to see” via the French voyeur “one who sees.” A voyeur is someone who derives sexual pleasure from watching people engaging in intimate or typically private behaviours such as sex, undressing, showering etc. It does not involve direct contact with the person (or persons) being viewed, and the viewee is not typically aware of being watched.
The recording of acts of voyeurism is not new, but photography as a medium has a special connection with the activity. The camera puts a physical object between the person viewing and the person being viewed. The physical barrier creates a mental barrier, encouraging an emotional distance.
As a recording device the modern camera (either film or digital) is also able to capture pictures quickly and with a large amount of detail. What the mind cannot remember and the written word cannot describe can be laid bare in a photograph. The minor theft of telling a tale of a risqué encounter (or someone else’s) becomes a major crime in voyeuristic photography. 
Non-consensual voyeurism is actually a sexual offence in this country under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 and the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.
The issue of consent when it comes to photography is a difficult one. In the 1970s Kohei Yoshiyuki, used a 35mm camera, flash, and infrared film to capture people having sex in a number of public parks in Tokyo. In the photos you can see other people reaching out in the dark and touching the main participants. The viewer feels complicit – as if the couple, the groping strangers, the photographer, and the viewer themselves are all in it together.
Is having sex outside, in a public place, tantamount to giving your permission to be watched, or photographed by voyeurs? Exhibitionism, after all, is the flip-side to voyeurism. (Research brings up such wonderful words as ‘Anasyrma’: not wearing underwear under a skirt, which is then lifted or angled so as to expose the genitals). Those who derive sexual pleasure from exposing themselves to others can also be accused of not necessarily taking into account the consent of their potential audience. An act of public indecency can be funny, offensive, shocking, threatening, or dangerous depending on the specific context.
The photographic medium has surely been as important for the exhibitionist as it has for the voyeur. To be able to record oneself, one’s image and display it. A photograph can be left in a place, to be discovered suddenly, but again the medium puts distance between the viewed and the viewer. In this distance, then, is a safety. Self-published erotic photography would thus be a way of connecting, exposing, but without many of the risks of streaking or flashing in the real world.
So maybe we should leave them to it – the exhibitionists and the voyeurs together. Like sadists and masochists, if it’s between consenting adults then why not? 
 “I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do – that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse.”  – Diane Arbus

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