Many of the “Voyeurism “ photographs in Exposed needed no faces. But “Celebrity” photographs depend on faces, on names, on recognition, on a well-known persona caught by chance, unready and often unwilling:
Celebrities need fans, but what about unmanageable voyeurs? Trading anonymity for fame means tending a public image that paparazzi seem eager to deflate with unflattering views and intimations of bad behavior:
What’s the point? Do we want to see that the famous are also human, just like us? Do we want to celebrate them? Adore, humanize, tease? Or do we want blood? Do we share a kind of Schadenfreude, a guilty pleasure when the high and mighty walk around off-duty in schlumpy clothes or better yet, when they fall from grace?
What does this apparently weeping woman mean to us? Earlier, the social reform photographs included in Exposed made me think about conflicting values: social justice trumping respect in gazing at those helpless to resist. With prying paparazzi, it often seems Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “democratization of dignity” has reversed and become the spread of contempt.
Anyone who’s flipped through a copy of People magazine in a waiting room knows the fascination of these unnecessary and often mean photographs. But Exposed presents these images in a museum setting and asks for a different kind of viewing.
What have we learned? How have we been transformed? Do we muse about the life of the celebrity, about the social needs of fans and their subcultures? About the relationship of the public and the famous, and the persona that stands between them? Or the human need for relief from public attention and the unending performance it requires?
Stolen images make reciprocity difficult. And voyeurism provides poor conditions for an act of respectful (or awestruck) witnessing. I keep looking for a visual relationship with the photographed subject and end instead, wondering about the psychological and social relationships that the photographer didn’t focus on, but that managed to make it into the picture anyway. Sometimes critical looking makes more sense than ethical looking, or maybe they’re mixed up together in an an-too-human stew.
Images of violence are coming next.