Having come across this film several times whilst reading about photography I felt inclined to experience the film first hand. Made in 1960 it was immediately criticised for it’s controversial content and storyline as Powell tackles issues ranging from delicate to the taboo.
The film is about the obsessional desires of the lead character cameraman Mark Lewis who stalks the women who die fearing for their lives. He kills them with a specially fitted camera so the net result is that Lewis films his victims being slain with his camera being the murder weapon. The reasons why seem to be down to his early childhood experiences at the hands of his father.
However there are there are clear implications of voyeurism and exploitation now whether that is limited to the film and photographic communities or are we as the audience also implicated I could n’t really establish. Susan Sontag said, “The movie assumes connections between impotence and aggression, professionalised looking and cruelty, which points to a central fantasy connected with the camera. (Sontag, S. 1977)
The film is an interesting watch and reminds us of some of the debates raised by Martha Rosler in her essay In, around, and afterthoughts (On documentary photography) (1981) in which she is critical of current documentary work. “documentary fuelled by the dedication to reform has shaded over into combinations of exoticism, tourism, voyeurism, psychologism and metaphysics, trophy hunting and careerism.”(Rosler, M. 1981).
I must admit at this point in time I have become a little disillusioned with the photography of vulnerable or exposed people and at this point I am tending to look for more subtle ways of communicating my ideas.
Whilst 1960s movies are not really to my liking I really did appreciate the sense of raising controversial ideas and debates in the pursuit to break new ground.
Gritten, D (2010) Michael Powell’s ‘Peeping Tom’: the film that killed a career. Daily Telegraph accessed from the website at
Rosler, M In, around, and afterthoughts (On documentary photography) (1981) copy of the original essay can be seen following the link: http://everydayarchive.org/awt/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/rosler-martha_in-around-afterthoughts.pdf (accessed 30/03/16)
Sontag, S (1977) On Photography reissued London: Penguin classics
For more information on Michael Powell’s film Peeping Tom (1960) see