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Tate Modern in display of voyeurism for photography curator's debut

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It promises to be the most intrusive art exhibition Tate Modern has ever held: 13 rooms of photographs and video footage of things we really should not be seeing – ranging from sex and death to outrageous invasions of privacy.

Somewhat presciently, given the coalition government's promise of legislation to regulate the use of CCTV, the scariness and scale of surveillance features heavily in Voyeurism, which opens to the public on Friday.

The exhibition suggests that, as a society, we have always been voyeurs – it is just that technology now makes it so much easier.

"The exhibition is meant to be a critical look at the issues that surround voyeurism and surveillance," said Simon Baker, Tate's recently appointed photography curator.

"We are raising questions about boundaries, about technology. There are serious moral questions about who's looking, how they're looking and why they're looking."

In essence, it is a photography exhibition which raises the question of whether photography is actually a good thing, and includes work by well-known figures including Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lee Miller, Guy Bourdin, Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe.

The show ranges from images that are straightforwardly voyeuristic, such as Helmut Newton fashion shots, to much more challenging work such as the US photojournalist Susan Meiselas's Carnival Strippers series, in which she photographs leering men in an audience watching strippers. "It is posing a question about the politics of spectatorship," said Baker.

There are also celebrity stalking and paparazzi shots, including snaps of Richard Burton and Liz Taylor canoodling in their swimming costumes and a tearful Paris Hilton on her way to court, and images by Alison Jackson, the photographer who uses lookalikes to comic effect. Newspaper coverage of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales is also included.

One of the most difficult rooms contains journalistic images of death and violence and some people will undoubtedly whistle through the room, upset by awful images of suicide, execution and lynching. It includes images such as Tom Howard's electrocution of Ruth Snyder, from 1928, and Eddie Adams' haunting photograph of a Viet Cong officer being executed in 1968.

The show has been created and curated by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – to where it will transfer in the autumn – but the Tate has tweaked it here and there for London.

Curators would have liked to show Kohei Yoshiyuki's 1971 series, The Park, as it was originally shown in Japan: in a dark room with visitors having to use torches.

The images were taken at night with an infrared camera and show straight couples having sex in Tokyo parks and gay men cruising for sex – all the time surrounded by others looking on, gawping.

Since individual torches would be too much for a mass audience they are, instead, displayed in a dark, spotlit corridor.

The appointment last September of Baker as Tate's first curator of photography reflects the organisation's increasing commitment to the medium, he said.

"The idea also is that photography is taken more seriously within our acquisition policy, that we bring more photography into the collection and that we show more of it," Baker said. That also meant buying more of what could be termed "straight", rather than conceptual, photography and photojournalism.

"There is that whole argument from the 1980s about collecting photographs from artists not art from photographers – that's really a redundant distinction."


Refusing to use the spellchick!

I have put you on ignore. No really, I have, but you are still ruining my enjoyment of this site. .

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