EXPOSED at Tate Modern.
Definitely worth the £10!
So yesterday two friends and I spent about seven hours looking at photography, illustration, painting, costume, architecture, fashion and jewellery…phew!
We wandered up the south bank to the Tate Modern past hoards of people queuing for the Eye and tried to avoid some bizarre looking performers.
We’d planned to make it to the Tate Mod, Saatchi, V&A and Photographer’s Gallery all in one day – in the end we managed seven hours (still pretty impressive I think!) between the Tate and V&A and then may have ended up in a pub for four more hours…
We arrived at the Tate to be greeted by the first pleasant surprise of the day – the Michael Clark Company’s dance collaborative taking place in the Turbine Hall! We stood watching twelve dancers performing a smooth warm up and practising a few steps before going to grab our tickets for Exposed:Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera. We intended to get back to the dancers as soon as we were done with Exposure but sadly we were so absorbed in the exhibition that when we finally emerged an hour and a half later the dancers had gone for lunch! Serious tragedy – so unfortunately I’m just going to have to go back!
I don’t want to give away too much about Exposure but it’s definitely an incredible collection of photographs. The pieces range from images taken during the 1860s when secret-camera fever took over to some quite shocking sexually explicit and violent images to recent images from no-camera zones. We all agreed that the first half of the exhibition was the best – before we reached what we insensitively nicknamed The Death Room – and that you only really realised how amazing the first few photographs were after you’d had a chance to take them in.
Particularly amazing were the series Heads by Philip-Lorca diCorcia (see man with beard at the top there) – shot with a series of hidden cameras and automatic flashes which were triggered as the subject walked by – and the collection of secret photography devices on show that’d been devised in the early 20th Century to catch people unaware. DiCorcia’s images are incredible: they look as if they were shot in a studio, the lighting and expression impeccable. Later on in the day we visited the V&A and the photography section included some of Gregory Crewdson’s staged photographs, his works appear to be snapshots from everyday life but in fact are meticulously crafted using false lighting, actors and sets. They have to be admired as they are amazing creations, but I think that diCorcia’s works and images like this are so incredibly interesting because they are completely real. No sets, no ‘photo faces’, no poses. Crewdson’s work appears so ordinary but its creation is extraordinary, which seems to defeat the point to me.
This is why secret photography is so amazing, even when it isn’t shocking or candid it captures people in a way they would never be photographed otherwise. While staged photographs or organised photographs capture a frozen person, secret photographs hold personality in them too.
Exposure was pretty heavy-going in some sections and pretty vulgar too so just be aware! I was pretty glad my mother didn’t agree to a family day out at the Tate when I walked into Room 5 to be greeted by a wall of women in gimp masks! A lot of the work was sickening but also horribly fascinating – a series which we all found pretty disturbing was The Park by Kohei Yoshiyuki, documenting a group of voyeurs who crawl through Japanese parks late at night trying to get as close as possible and eventually touch unsuspecting couples. A shocking, grotesque and perverted ‘hobby’ exposed by secret photography!
We noticed trends in the photographs throughout the ages: sex, violence, humiliation, condemnation. The earliest paparazzi photographs are like a black and white version of Heat magazine, obsession with other people’s lives is an eternal human interest – seeing other people’s dirty laundry makes our own seem cleaner!
The three of us travelled through from secret cameras, early paparazzi photos and images that exposed grim fetishes and prostitution and then ended up in Room 9. We all agreed if we were to see the show again we’d stop at Room 8 and make a quick turn back to those lovely images of Marilyn and Jackie Kennedy! The images of violence, war, lynchings and capital punishment were of course interesting but the exhibition should have really come with a warning as to be honest, us three girls are all complete wimps.
I faint at the sight of blood, our resident photographer felt too sick for lunch and my fashion student friend propped herself up on my shoulder when she followed me quickly out of Death Room. But despite how horrifying the images are, I’m glad I saw what I did and I admire those photographers for the bravery they show in exposing such atrocities. The photographs are actually fascinating, so fellow wimpy girls: be brave and have a look.
Room 11-14 were all a bit lost on us as after the celebs, sex and death of the first 10 or so rooms, images from surveillance cameras don’t quite cut it. Exposure hits a climax of such powerful images which could easily reduce a person to tears – in fact I think the reason we didn’t cry is that you can hardly believe some of it is real – and so the ending is a little disappointing. Thinking back though, we were so dumbstruck by the the pornographic and violent images that if we’d been released into the middle of the Tate we wouldn’t have known quite how to recover. As it was we were still flailing about aimlessly and repeating things like “did you see.. with the window?” “oh my god yeah I did’t realise what it was until…” “wow.” even after a few rooms of much calmer – but in some ways more technically impressive – images.
I was intending to do an entry about the whole day but I’ve now spent about an hour on just Exposure. Goes to show how much of an impact it had on me!
To sum up: An astonishing collection of incredible works but it could have been four shows rather than one. I guess a tenner for four shows isn’t bad then!
Next up…I’ll actually start on the four hours we spent in the V&A.