Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera. Tate Modern, London, 2nd October 2010.

I visited this exhibition the day it opened, and am here again as it closes, drawn by the covert, the everyday, and the melancholy.
The photographers are journalists of the unnoticed and mundane. One title reads: “Man adjusting his overcoat and grimacing while looking in a trick one-way mirror, lobby of Broadway movie theatre, Times Square, New York”.
Nothing happens, and yet the photographer is engrossed and obsessive. One stands feigning innocence, his lens at right angles with the supposed point of his camera. Another holds it under his arm in a grocery bag, like a cabbage. Walker Evans conceals his camera up his sleeve for a trip on the subway. 
Last month, around 42nd street, I photographed a New Yorker with a hook for a hand, and a Trader Joe’s bag swinging from it. Why? I liked the scene; it was ordinary with something puncturing and unexpected. And I liked that I’d never see it again, that the photograph was an obituary.

This quotidian sense of loss and tragedy[1] is in Paul Martins’ scenes of Yarmouth Beach too. Normal people bask in the sun of 1897, different and identical to now. Silhouettes of bathers also appear through John Gossage’s telephoto lens, miles away and over a border. He stands in the States and photographs Mexico. Photographs are evidence of distance.

Harry Callahan Atlanta 1984

And finally Nan Goldin. She hides nothing, appearing intermittently amongst the sordid scenes of her slide show.  Here is the everyday: waking-up, smoking, pissing, crying, with an accompaniment of Frank Sinatra and The Velvet Underground. It feels like a homemade compilation tape and album of snap-shots, and is all the more haunting with its postscript memorial for more than a dozen friends. Not only do these photographs testify to time’s relentless melt[2] and imposed distance, but more specifically to AIDS and drugs’ casualties.

I leave with a final image burnt in my mind. A red, red dress against a blue envelope of sky and a street, strangely darkened. It’s like in an old film when the tone is turned down for ‘nightfall’, yet the dress is resisting.

[1] Allen Ruppersberg, Fifty Helpful Hints on the Art of the Everyday, 1985.
[2] Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977.