Voyeurism in Edward Hopper’s, Alfred Hitchcock’s and Gregory Crewdson’s images.
In the first article of this series (devoted to the common points between the images of these three artists), I talked about the hidden side of the society. The second blatant theme is, for me, voyeurism. Whether it concerns the represented character and/or the spectator, we can always see a form of intrusion in their works. Something stolen, spied on. And yet we rarely manage to detach from it.
When we look at Edward Hopper’s paintings, he gives us the impression of feeling a kind of “perverse” discretion. As if he had liked to observe and show us this (sad) society.
And it’s probably true since Hopper traveled 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 creation of this painting (but you can easily find it on the internet), I think that we can certainly see this idea of observation and wandering in it. One could almost imagine Edward Hopper strolling from one street to another and stopping in front of a pensive man in his office and the painter who, once back in his studio, would recompose and stage what he has just seen.
What’s funny about this painting is that the character himself seems to be caught by something from outside, like a full circle.
In his work, Edward Hopper constantly played on the boundary between private sphere and public one, between interior and exterior world. And we follow him, and as a result, we become watchers.
Concerning Gregory Crewdson’s art, we can say that voyeurism is something transmitted. Remember what I said in the first article : when he was a kid, Gregory Crewdson used to listen to his psychoanalyst father’s patients. A kind of voyeurism by ears. And this is something he gives us from the start of his career.
An example with this image entitled “Family dinner” from his series “Twilight” (1998–2002). As the title suggests, we’re looking at a family meal. 3 persons are sitting around the table and a fourth one is joining them. This person is naked and above all, we can see to her feet branches, leaves as if she was returning from a forest or something like that.
But the others persons don’t look at her, as if they didn’t care — as if it was normal for them. And once again 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 these kinds of scenes and you know Gregory Crewdson’s story, it’s easy to imagine a story he heard when he was little and which inspired him, isn’t it ?
And as spectators, we arrive in this closed space without knowing the why or the how of this story. Hidden at the back of the room, we observe and we think about what can happen next.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, voyeurism is omnipresent. People are constantly watching each other and there are many accessories for that : windows, binoculars, doorways...
(SPOILER ALERT) In the best known examples, there’s the hole in the wall -in the “Psycho” movie- with which Norman Bates observes, scrutinizes Marion Crane who’s taking her clothes off.
(SPOILER ALERT) The movie that deals best 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 neighbors. It’s a kind of television for him in which each window tells a different story. This observation will reveal the main subject of the movie.
Alfred Hitchcock, by alternating shots of neighbors and close-ups of Jeff’s reactionsby, succeeded in placing us in the character’s shoes. Like him, we become voyeurs and we watch, we imagine the scenario based on all the information we have. It’s as if Hitchcock was offering us a metaphor for ourselves, sitting in front of our screen. Like Jeff, we’re spectactors but the difference is that Jeff can’t do anything because he’s stuck in his wheelchair and we can’t do either because we’re 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 emphasizes the spectator voyeurism like if it was Alfred hitcock’s will to make us voyeurs too. Because I’m pretty sure that we could have understood what he was looking at, without even having this shot.
In real life, watching people is an unhealthy, even mad act. While finishing this article, I asked myself what this appreciation for these images could reveal about us. Is it possible that they allow us to satisfy a certain need ? I don’t know. But if we manage to ask this question, it’s probably because the images are more than compelling.