Voyeurism in Edward Hopper’s, Alfred Hitchcock’s and Gregory Crewdson’s images.
In the first article (devoted to the similarities between the images of these three artists), I talked about the dark side of society. The second obvious theme for me is voyeurism. Whether it concerns the represented character and/or the viewer, one can always see a form of intrusion in their works. Something stolen, spied on. And one can rarely detach oneself from them.
When we look at Edward Hopper’s paintings, hwe get the impression of a kind of “perverse” discretion. As if he enjoyed observing and showing us this (sad) society. It’s probably true since Hopper travelled to many places (Paris, New York, Cap Cod, New England, Mexico…) and depicted them in his drawings and paintings.
Let’s imagine we don’t know the context of this painting (but you can easily find it on the internet), I think we can certainly see this idea of observation and wandering in it. One could almost imagine Edward Hopper walking from one street to another and stopping in front of a pensive man in his office and the painter, once back in his studio, recomposing and staging what he has just seen.
The funny thing about this painting is that the character himself seems to be caught up in something outside, like a complete circle.
In his work, Edward Hopper constantly played with the border between private and public spheres, between the inner and outer world. And we follow him, and therefore we become watchers.
In Gregory Crewdson’s art, we can say that voyeurism is something that is transmitted. Remember what I said in the first article: when he was a kid, Gregory Crewdson used to listen to his father’s patients. A kind of voyeurism through the ears. And this is something he has been giving us from the very beginning of his career.
Let’s take a look at this image entitled “Family dinner”, which was taken by Gregory Crewdson. Three people are sitting around a table and a fourth is joining them. This person is naked and, above all, we can see branches and leaves at her feet, as if she had just come from a forest or something.
But the others don’t look at her, as if they didn’t care, as if it was normal for them. We are faced with a normal scene (on the left side of the photograph) which becomes completely abnormal (on the right side).
When you see this kinds of scene and you know Gregory Crewdson’s story, it’s easy to imagine a story he heard as a child that inspired him, isn’t it?
And as viewers, we arrive in this enclosed space without knowing the why or the how of this story. Hidden in the back of the room, we observe and think about what might happen next.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s films, voyeurism is omnipresent. People are constantly watching each other and there are many tools for that: windows, binoculars, doorways...
(SPOILER ALERT) Among the best known examples is the hole in the wall in the film “Psycho”, through which Norman Bates observes Marion Crane undressing.
(SPOILER ALERT) The film that best deals with voyeurism is “Rear Window”. It tells the story of Jeff (Jeffries), a photographer-reporter who’s stuck at home because he broke his leg. To distract himself, he begins to observe his neighbours. For him it is a kind of television in which each window tells a different story. This observation will reveal the main subject of the film.
Alfred Hitchcock, by alternating between shots of the neighbours and close-ups of Jeff’s reactions, succeeded in placing us in the character’s shoes. Like him, we become voyeurs and we imagine a possible scenario. It is as if Hitchcock was offering us a metaphor of ourselves, sitting in front of our screen. But the difference is that Jeff can’t do anything because he’s stuck in his wheelchair and we can’t do anything because we’re sitting in our living room, watching TV.
It’s the same idea in “Psycho” when Norman Bates looks through the hole, since the camera puts us in his shoes. It underlines the voyeurism of the viewer, as if it was Alfred Hitchcock’s will to make us voyeurs too. Because I’m pretty sure we could have understood what he was looking at, without even having this shot.
In real life, watching people is an unhealthy and mad act. As I was finishing this article, I wondered what this appreciation of these images might reveal about us. Is it possible that they allow us to satisfy some need? I don’t know. But if we manage to ask this question, it’s probably because the images are more than convincing.