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Tate Modern takes sneak peek through lens

A new exhibition at Tate Modern in London takes a sneak peek through the camera lens at everything from young couples embracing in a park to execution, to ordinary passers-by.
/ Source: Reuters

A new exhibition at Tate Modern in London takes a sneak peek through the camera lens at everything from young couples embracing in a park to execution, to ordinary passers-by walking down New York streets.

"Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera," which runs until October 3, is an at times unsettling examination of the power of the hidden lens to capture and intrude, as well as of our seemingly endless desire to pry into other people's lives.

The exhibition, which has won positive reviews in the British press, looks at the culture of celebrity as well as the prevalence of security cameras following our every move on the streets and inside buildings.

"In the age of Facebook, YouTube and reality TV, many people don't seem to care how much of themselves they expose," wrote Adrian Searle in the Guardian newspaper. "And in the end, maybe we all like looking."

The show opens with two photographers taking images of ordinary U.S. citizens using hidden cameras -- Walker Evans in the 1930s and Philip-Lorca diCorcia in 2000.

The latter was legally challenged by one of his unwitting subjects in 2006, resulting in a landmark ruling that the artist's right to self-expression took precedence over the subject's right to their own image.

The case underlined the tension running throughout the show between the subject's desire for privacy or to be photographed and the photographer's right to take the images on display.

Ron Galella's aggressive efforts to photograph Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, for example, ceased only when a court intervened on her behalf.

Celebrity photos have a historyThe notion of celebrity is shown to be inseparable from the invention of photography, and as early as the 1880s Italian photographer Giuseppe Primoli was taking impromptu snaps of the rich and famous in embarrassing situations.

One of the first people to use the camera to construct the aura of celebrity was 19th century beauty the Countess of Castiglione, who commissioned 400 portraits in poses ranging from actress and seductress.

Japan's Kohei Yoshiyuki's photographs called "The Park" also feature. They expose couples engaged in sexual activities at night while men creep up toward them in order to watch and touch.

Yoshiyuki participated in the voyeuristic "sport" for several months in order to gain the trust of those involved, and then started to document the practice using a camera and flash.

"I think, in a way, the act of taking photographs itself is voyeuristic somehow," he said. "So I may be a voyeur, because I am a photographer."

Among the most striking images in the show are those recording people who have died or who are in the moment of death, be it deliberate or in a desperate attempt to survive.

William Saunders captured a public execution in China during the Second Opium War, an image that could have been used to justify the 19th century British military offensive by depicting the enemy as "savage."

Photographs from the U.S. Civil War, the Holocaust and the assassinations of leading public figures disturb and fascinate at the same time.

The exhibition ends with a study of surveillance, ranging from pictures of a Soviet spy operating in the 1950s to military night vision images taken in Iraq.