Definitive blog post:

Final Presentation Script:

Photography Through the Window: Capturing the Moment or an Invasion of Privacy?

“I just go and watch the people and photograph them and try not to do it so people see me… It’s a way of photographing. It’s very quick… That’s one of the reasons I think the pictures succeed. None of (the subjects) is really conscious of the camera” (Frank n.d. cited in Brookman 2010:215).

Photography that deals with voyeurism has limits. How far can a photographer push the boundaries of privacy for the sake of art? The rules on ethical boundaries of watching and photographing people in the privacy of their own home are unclear. Is it wrong to look at someone when they do not know you are on the street or to look through someone’s window? If people want privacy then should they close the curtain, hereby making them less susceptible to prying eyes and lenses?

In his 2009 publication ‘After Photography’ Fred Ritchin examines the US law and the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004. This legislative act determines the rights of privacy, especially in federal property. The Act states,

“Whoever, in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, has the intent to capture an image of a private area of an individual without their consent, and knowingly does so under circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, shall be fined… imprisoned …or both” (Ritchin 2009:169).

Although this is only within the US and has a very specific cultural territory, the ethical implications are understood and generally accepted by western society and clearly indicates the challenges facing a photographer experimenting with voyeurism. As supported by Ritchin’s distress when a camera was directly pointed at him in a café “and the resultant loss of privacy” (Ritchin 2009:168).

Whether in the US or the UK the proliferation of digital imaging and mobile phone technology, has brought about an increased pressure on the ethics and circulation of imagery, which may be seen as voyeuristic. As stated in a 2004 report featured on

“As cell phone cameras exploded in popularity and practices such as image alteration where the face of one person is digitally edited to appear on the naked body of another became more widespread, the 108th Congress began steadily moving the legislation to the presidents desk” (Mark 2004).

Privacy laws need to be updated; there is an ethical dimension that is important to address. The impact of the daily availability of being able to make photographs has not yet been represented in the legislature. If laws are not updated technology could cause a huge privacy issue, if it has not already. New technologies are constantly being created, such as ‘Quadcopters’, which have caused many issues. As discussed on the BBC News video entitled ‘Cameras on Drone Aircraft Trigger Calls for Legislation’ (BBC News 2012), there are concerns about growing technologies and privacy issues surrounding them. Small mobile Quadcopters can now be bought by anyone. These small flying devices have cameras attached which enable different types of voyeurism. The camera no longer simply has the ability of seeing what the naked eye can see, but it now has telescopic potential. In September 2012 the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were upset by the lack of privacy they had on a private holiday, with the couple stating their regret at the “grotesque and unjustifiable invasion of privacy” (BBC News 2012) by a magazine which printed topless photographs of Kate.

In ‘Scopophilia The Love of Looking’ Don Snyder’s essay touches on how the definition of voyeurism has changed; to paraphrase Don Snyder, not being aware of the camera is the new definition of voyeurism. Photographers have become uptight about the word voyeurism because it is often used to relate to something sexual. However, many voyeuristic photographs have nothing to do with sex, yet are still called voyeuristic (Snyder 1985 cited in Malanga 1985:102).

Sturken and Cartwright define voyeurism in psychoanalytic terms.

“The drive to look and the general pleasure in looking. Freud saw voyeurism (The pleasure in looking without being seen) and exhibitionism (the pleasure in being looked at) as the active and passive forms of scopophilia. The concept of scopophilia has been important to psychoanalytic film theory in its emphasis on the relationship of pleasure and desire to the practice of looking” (Sturken and Cartwright 2009:459).

Voyeurism now means to watch, without being seen. Voyeuristic photography could therefore be the unseen photographer, or the photographer who uses their work to explore voyeurism. Therefore, staged photographs and those taken having asked permission are also voyeuristic as they are inspired by voyeurism. They are just a different style and therefore have different aesthetics.

The American press photographer Arthur Fellig, commonly known as Weegee, took the photograph ‘Lovers at the Movies’ in 1940. This showed people at the cinema. However, in the dark they assumed to be in a private place and didn’t expect to be photographed. Assuming if they can’t see other people then they can’t be seen either. Cinema audiences are voyeuristic as they are watching people on screen, without these people being able to look back. John Berger discusses the gaze in his 1972 book and television series ‘Ways of Seeing’. “We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.” (Berger 1972:1) As humans we are constantly observing and comparing ourselves. This innate human compulsion instigates great interest in voyeuristic photographs.

The work of Arne Svenson ‘The Neighbours’, produced in 2012, uses windows as a tool for photography. The neighbours’ permission was not gained for this artwork. This series was on display in the ‘Julie Saul Gallery’. Svenson was taken to court over this series of work. However, he won the case because of the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Svenson “stresses that his motivation was only to observe the nuances of human existence.” (Weeks 2013) He has been labeled as a “real-life LB Jeffries from the film Rear Window” by Jonny Weeks from ‘The Guardian’ ‘Photography blog’. (Weeks 2013) The images that Arne Svenson has produced are beautiful and natural, depicting the everyday life that many of us have in common; they are not violating or disrespectful and have been deemed ethically acceptable by the court. His photographs have shown no reason to be mistrusted. Svenson commented on his work, “ I don’t photograph anything salacious or demeaning.” (Weeks 2013) He also stated that he finds “ the unrehearsed, unconscious aspects of life the most beautiful” (Weeks 2013), Svenson is not the only artist that shares these thoughts, Robert Frank, Duane Michals and many others have similar views to taking photographs.

In comparison to Arne Svenson, Shizuka Yokomizo undertook another approach to voyeuristic photography for her project ‘Strangers’ in 1998. She overcame this privacy issue, by asking permission through letters to her participants, asking them to turn up at their window at a certain time. If they turned up at the window at the requested time they would have consented to the photograph being taken. This is still deemed voyeuristic, however, it is more staged. The work is a collaboration between the participant and Yokomizo; the subject is invited to take an active part in the project. By overcoming the issue of voyeuristic photography and privacy it has become a kind of performance, you lose some of the natural human presence. This approach may be seen as being more ethically acceptable than Arne Svenson’s; as all those photographed were willing participants. It maintains some elements of spontaneity, as the photographer doesn’t know how the person will behave.

In his series ‘The Americans’ from 1958, Robert Frank photographed America as an outsider looking in. His photographs depict the inequity of social classes. In ‘Parade’ he photographed people, through a window, who are obscured by the American flag, signifying the ugly truth of America hiding behind its flag and the American ideal. This shows a private moment in a private place, but gives the subjects some anonymity as their faces are hidden. In ‘Robert Frank’s The Americans: The Art of Documentary’, Jonathan Day comments, “what strikes me first, every time I open Frank’s ‘The Americans’, is the strength and quality of its opinions.” (Day 2011:1) Although his images may not be representing the beautiful American ideal, the voyeuristic methods of his work certainly aid its truthfulness, as Jonathan Day said, “it’s the truth as Frank saw it” (Day 2011:1).

Duane Michals also admits to looking through windows, “one day I just saw a very ordinary gesture that turned out to be a great reward for all that patience. I think this is a very human response. I think that people are always intrigued with dramas of other rooms.” The intrigue lies in the “idea of intruding…something you’re not supposed to see.” (Michals 1985 cited in Malanga 1985 :76) Although Duane Michals also admits to looking through windows, his work does not come from capturing these windows. Instead, this is used for inspiration.

“It’s the process of my thinking about it and then illustrating a particular idea rather than hoping, to sit in a window, actually to see something happen across the way. The whole prejudice people have that a photographer would set something up – is foolish. It’s just as real as anything else, but it has more power because it’s actually a specific product of my imagination” (Michals 1985 cited in Malanga 1985 :77).

Michals’ way of working, avoids any problems of voyeurism and privacy. His inspiration comes from what he sees as he passes, however, what he photographs he has permission and consent as these are set up with models. This is a re-enactment of the voyeuristic moment. This method still creates a voyeuristic image, but avoids ethical issues as it is totally controlled by the photographer.

Voyeuristic photography has always raised ethical dilemmas but never more so than in this technological age when images not visible to the human eye can be easily photographed and widely distributed. Some of the different methodological approaches to these dilemmas are demonstrated in the works of Svenson, Yokomizo, Frank and Michals. Each approach creates a different style of voyeuristic photography. If photographers wish to push boundaries of what is deemed socially acceptable at that time, they have to take the consequences of possibly being challenged in court. Photographic art is about being innovative and pushing boundaries. Privacy laws give a strong guideline of social acceptability, however, they can still be broken. Ultimately people taking voyeuristic photographs have to be controlled by their own ethical beliefs and moral standards, as this is not an area that can be policed and controlled 100% of the time.

Final Video/Audio of my Presentation with Collective Vision:

(Click Here)



The symposium event was a great achievement; to say that I was involved in the planning of the event and having taken part in it by presenting is a huge reward. I formed a clear and individually articulated understanding of a variety of historical and contemporary areas and their representation in photography. I effectively put forward a narrated visual research presentation, exhibiting on a professional level my academic abilities. I showed a high-level of knowledge within major photographic practices and fields, demonstrating my understanding of certain approaches in professional practice. My presentation explored and analysed the works of Weegee, Arne Svenson, Shizuka Yokomizo, Duane Michals and Robert Frank. The questions that I received were relevant and allowed me to elaborate on my subject knowledge. I felt nervous during the build up to the symposium event; however, I felt I was able to overcome this because I had prepared fully. I had read around my subject, and gathered research, this allowed me to further my script and add more details where requested during question and answer time. I felt I stumbled over my words a little, however, I did not let this unsettle me and I was able to continue with a professional manner. I believe that what makes a great presentation is how clearly you present your thoughts, and the professional manner that you keep even if something happens that wasn’t meant to.

I used suitable investigative skills, generating a worthwhile and appropriate analytical foundation for my presentation. The development of my research skills gave me a solid grounding to cultivate my project from. I read academic books and essays, for example: Fred Ritchin’s ‘Of Synthetics and Cyborgs’, Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure And Narrative Cinema’ and John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ and many more. The research that I collated covered from Freudian theory in the 1920’s to the present day. From this I have developed an understanding of both historical and contemporary issues and debates. It is important to address the progression of terms such as the term ‘scopophilia’ and ‘voyeurism’ and how these developments have lead to changes to photography within society. It was essential to study other areas surrounding my subject, such as film and art, as well as photography. The wide variety of research and sources gave me a well-balanced and strong platform to plan my presentation from. Along with academic books, I also felt that newspaper articles were helpful, however, I was careful about which sources I trusted. When using other peoples words or opinions I made sure I referenced the author. I then furthered this by evolving my own reflection on how this had influenced my thinking or how my opinion differed.

In future I will use the research techniques that I have advanced during this module. Using sources other than the Internet is imperative; libraries are abundant fountains of knowledge. I was able to collect a reading list covering a broad range of my chosen subject. By scanning and printing these readings I was then able to arrange my research in a folder together with my notes, to then read and refresh my thoughts and conclusions. I was able to examine and reflect analytically upon a array of on going, issues and debates within photography; reflecting upon my own opinions and assertions, as well as other peoples opinions.

The connection and development onto my ‘Final Major Project’ will address the privacy issues surrounding photography. Having completed the symposium and my presentation research surrounding moral and ethical dilemmas that photographers deal with, I feel that I have developed my own strong ethical beliefs. My moral standing is that for future projects I shall ask permission from my participants before photographing them. This is similar to one of the photographers I researched, Shizuka Yokomizo. My ‘Final Major Project’ addresses a very different area of photography, however, I feel that privacy issues are still relevant within my own work. The active participation of my subjects is important in my photography. It is the collaboration between the subject and I that is particularly significant to my work.

During the module my opinions have shifted; I have developed a new understanding of privacy issues in photography. I now recognize the different approaches that a photographer can take to voyeuristic work. When I began this project I thought that all voyeuristic photographers produced work without asking permission of their participant. I can now appreciate the works of all types of voyeuristic photographers. If I were to produce my own voyeuristic project I would adopt a similar approach to Yokomizo, as I my ethical beliefs and moral standards keep me within a privacy boundary that I am not comfortable crossing. I believe that I would generate work that was innovative without having to push privacy boundaries to far, avoiding dilemmas, such as being challenged in court. However, I still appreciate photographers who are comfortable pushing these boundaries further, as their work shows areas of private lives that we would not normally see; I guess this is a still a very human response, to have the desire to look at something that we would not normally be able to see.

This symposium module has been beneficial for improving my research techniques and building upon my knowledge of issues and debates within photography. Having completed this module I will continue to broaden my knowledge and research skills, as these are great proficiencies to possess, certainly in postgraduate life. Overall, I feel I have presented a strong script, which provides information about privacy issues within voyeuristic photography, I supplied differing photographer examples, which provided counter opinions to each other, Arne Svenson, Shizuka Yokomizo, Duane Michals and Robert Frank. Each photographer was tackling voyeuristic photography of windows; their methodological approaches changed depending on their ethical approach to looking into private spaces. My presentation successfully analyzed and explored the ethics of voyeuristic photography.

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