Cameras, Spies, & Voyeurs

by Sara Gran

I visited SF MOMA yesterday to see EXPOSED: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870, a neat and kind of exiting show–they framed “art” photography as surveillance and surveillance photography as “art,” among other fun tricks (a slideshow of Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Sophie Calles‘ fascinating work where she hired a detective to follow her around and take notes). Another highlight was a  case of spy cameras hidden in shoes and canes.

One new discovery was the work of Miroslav Tichy, who I’d never of heard of before (or so I thought). From tichyocean.com, which seems to be a semi-official site:

After studying at the Academy of Arts in Prague, Miroslav Tichý (born 1926) withdrew to a life in isolation in his hometown of Kyjov, Moravia, Czech Republic In the late 1950s he quit painting and became a distinctive Diogenes-like figure. From the end of the 1960s he began to take photographs mainly of local women, in part with cameras he made by hand. He later mounted them on hand-made frames, added finishing touches in pencil, and thus moved them from photography in the direction of drawing. The result is works of strikingly unusual formal qualities, which disregard the rules of conventional photography. They constitute a large oeuvre of poetic, dreamlike views of feminine beauty in a small town under the Czechoslovak Communist régime.

The sign at the exhibit also mentioned that people were always trying to give him “real” cameras, but he would throw them out and continue to make his own camera from boxes, tin cans, etc. Basically, most of the pictures of women’s asses. And most of the women didn’t know they were being photographed, so the photographs, while often framed like portraits, have a furtive, rushed, lo-fi quality. And they’re lovely. Tichy is now in his eighties, according to this Times article–and accompanying the Times article was a picture that I have on a postcard a few feet away from me on my bookshelf, becasue Megan gave it to me the last time I saw her. Life’s funny sometimes, huh?

According to Wikipedia, Tichy said of his work, “First of all, you have to have a bad camera”, and, “If you want to be famous, you must do something more badly than anybody in the entire world.” I like that. I enjoy nice things in life sometimes, but I don’t think they do much good in art. Not most of the time.

So Megan, did you go to the ICP exhibit? What did you think?

2 Comments to “Cameras, Spies, & Voyeurs”

  1. What a coincidence! (and yet not, somehow too!)
    I missed the exhibit (hadn’t even heard about it), but found the postcards in the gift shop and was transfixed—because they definitely have this haunting voyeurism but it’s one that never feels …. salacious, his gaze never feels controlling, dominating. though I’m guessing some may find it so (and there is a frightening quality, for sure). but they are so beautiful…

  2. How funny! I want to make my own camera now. Although I will say, I have a new blackberry and having that low-res camera in my pocket all the time is a lot of fun–I have a lot of pix I want to post here when time allows.

    We’ll have to find an exhibit to go to soon. I guess “outsider” photography is now starting to really blossom, like other “outside” arts did over the past ten years. I wonder if there’s a book…

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