Exposed: voyeurism, surveillance and the camera

I’ve always harboured the idea that humans are voyeuristic creatures and that, in fact, voyeurism isn’t an abnormal, psychological disorder but basic human nature that we all experience to some degree. We like watching other human behaviour, this is proved by the popularity of programmes such as Big Brother, I’m A Celebrity and Laguna Beach during the last decade. However, beyond the contrived entertainment of “reality” television we’re really interested in the perverse, the freakish and the unacceptable.

For hundreds of years populations of socially “advanced” countries would gather to watch public executions, the romans built magnificent coliseums to watch men be attacked by wild animals and gladiator’s fight until death, human freak shows were popular until the early twentieth century. These aren’t the irrelevant people of the past; this would be us, now, if legalities and equality laws weren’t introduced and if it wasn’t considered “socially unacceptable”. Even the internet, arguably one of the greatest inventions of all time, is crammed full of porn to suit every fetish and perversion.

The other week I went to the Exposed exhibition at the Tate museum, which is subtitled “Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera”. It examines the various ways in which the camera has been used to act as the undetected eye spying on us, focusing on that part of photography which has concerned itself with the unacceptable: ogling, peeping and lying.