Voyeuristic art explores the thrill and controversial behavior behind watching others engage in private, intimate acts. Being a part of something that is taboo is what makes the concept of voyeurism captivating to both artists and photographers, who constantly seek to push creative boundaries.
Whether it’s seductive bedroom ads or candid photo series, voyeuristic art plays upon the idea of being watched by an unseen audience. Scenic backdrops like open windows, doorways left ajar and binocular-like compositions add to the mystery behind these artistic depictions. Voyeurism has existed long before technological innovations, with classical artists like Vermeer using similar compositions to create candid moments. Voyeurism adds an unexpected and uncontrolled element to artistic concepts, which is part of why voyeuristic art is appealing to both the creator and gazer.
Voyeurism is the sexual interest in or practice of spying on people engaged in intimate behaviors, such as undressing, sexual activity, or other actions usually considered to be of a private nature.
The principal characteristic of voyeurism is that the voyeur does not normally relate directly with the subject of his/her interest, who is often unaware of being observed. Voyeurism may involve the making of a secret photograph or video of the subject during an intimate activity. When the interest in a particular subject is obsessive, the behavior may be described as stalking.
The term comes from the French voyeur, “one who looks”. A male voyeur is commonly labeled “Peeping Tom”, a term which originates from the Lady Godiva legend. However, that term is usually applied to a male who observes somebody through her window, and not in a public place.
In today’s society the concept of voyeurism has evolved, especially in popular culture. Non-pornographic reality televisionprograms such as Survivor and The Real World are prime examples of voyeurism, where viewers (the voyeur) are granted an intimate interaction with a subject group or individual. Although not necessarily “voyeurism” in its original definition, as individuals in these given situations are aware of their audience, the concept behind “reality TV” is to allow unscripted social interaction with limited outside interference or influence. As such, the term still maintains its sexual connotations.
A voyeur may observe others without them being aware of it by a number of strategies. The voyeur may observe the subject from a distance, or use stealth to observe the subject with the use of peep-holes, two-way mirrors, hidden cameras, secret photography and other devices and strategies. Secret photography may involve the use of normal cameras, but with the photographer being concealed. Sometimes the camera itself is disguised or concealed. The use oftelephoto lens enables the distance from the subject to provide concealment. Although spy cameras small enough to fit inside a pocket-watch had existed since the 1880s, advances in miniaturization and electronics since the 1950s have greatly aided the ability to conceal miniature cameras, and the quality and affordability of tiny cameras (often called “spy cameras” or subminiature cameras) has now greatly increased. Some consumer digital cameras are now so small that in previous decades they would have qualified as “spy cameras”, and digital cameras of eight megapixels or more are now being embedded in some mobile camera phones. The majority of mobile phones in use are camera phones. Certain image capturing devices are capable of producing images through materials that are opaque to visible light, including clothing. These devices form images by using electromagnetic radiation outside the visible range. Infrared and terahertz-wave cameras are capable of creating images through clothing, though these images differ from what would be created with visible light.
Monica Bonvicini’s Don’t Miss a Sec is an art isntallation located opposite to the Tate in London.
‘Don’t Miss a Sec’ tests the boundaries of privacy. The installation is a controversial public toilet.
The installation consists of a fully functioning toilet contained within a cubicle made of a two-way mirrors. The occupant can see out of the toilets but the passing public cannot see in. From the outside, all that is perceivable is the reflection of the toilet’s surroundings. From the inside, however, the person using the washroom gets a front row seat to everything happening beyond, allowing him or her to ‘not miss anything’.
Don’t Miss a Sec may make some feel uncomfortable, especially when some passersby use the reflecting surfaces as a mirror, yet it also has deeper meaning aside from simply revolving around the voyeuristic.
The idea is said to have come from an observation Bonvicini made of people at a an art gallery – none of them wished to leave the room incase they missed an important entrance or comment.
‘The idea for ‘Don’t Miss a Sec.’ came in 1999. I made the drawings for it on an airplane. It relates to the urge, during big art events where so much is about “see and be seen,” to not miss anything. At any big art event, everyone needs a bathroom at some point. If you use the work for it, you are still able to see the next art work, who is passing by, who is talking with whom, and who is wearing what.’