This post is an extended version of a piece that originally appeared on the Either / And website, at: http://eitherand.org/reconsidering-amateur-photography/creepshots-candids-and-amateur-photographer-respon/
‘Tips and Tricks’: Creepshots, Candids and the Amateur Photographer: A Response to Photographic ‘Artistry’ in 1950s Men’s Magazines by Graham Rawle
In Photographic ‘Artistry’ in 1950s Men’s Magazines[i], Graham Rawle discusses the means by which amateur photographers at the time used notions of artistic practice and intention to imbue their pornographic imagery with a sense of “integrity rather than salacious titillation”. As a response to, and extension of Rawle’s article, I will explore the potential connections to be made between these photographers of the 1950s and their modern equivalents, who take candid and overtly sexualised photographs of women in public.
By studying the sites which host candid images of women, in particular the discussion forums and advice pages where enthusiasts share images and experience, I will explore how these contemporary amateur photographers conceptualise and engage in their practice. Primarily, I will discuss not just the technical means behind candid photographs, but also their justification for their practice, both of which form a significant parallel between photographers now and their amateur pornographic antecedents.
In this context, candid photographs that purposely sexualise the subject are known as ‘creepshots’. The CreepShots page on Reddit defines such images as being:
CANDID. If a person is posing for and/or aware that a picture is being taken, then it ceases to be candid and thus is no longer a creepshot. A creepshot captures the natural, raw sexiness of the subject without their vain attempts at putting on a show for the camera.
(Post, metareddit.com/r/CreepShots – original capitals and emphasis)
This emphasis on the candid nature of creepshots reveals what lies at the heart of such photographic practice – namely, that ‘natural sexiness’ is conceived of as being non-agentive and non-consensual. The sexual value of such images relies on the subject being unaware, with control remaining entirely on the part of the photographer. The control aspect of this dynamic is apparent in the rejection of those who are ‘vain’ enough to ‘attempt’ to ‘put on a show for the camera’. It is not enough for the female body to be visibly ‘sexy’, instead it must be used and consumed without permission.
Rather than relying on notions of what constitutes Art – or what at least looks like Art – through the use of white borders and grand titles (as Rawle’s character does), candid photographers occasionally hide behind other identities in order to justify themselves, such as that of the ‘Fashion Police’, where a photograph taken up a woman’s skirt is accompanied by a wry comment about her earrings. But primarily, the candid photographer negotiates the technical and ethical obstacles with a mindset that that by virtue of having the right kit, and the right attitude, to achieve their aims, that will in a sense justify their actions. In this realm, it is presented as being the individual that makes a certain practice right or wrong, rather than society.
Their photographic practice reveals, like Rawle’s character, a ‘furtive yet prudish approach to sex’ and an ‘inappropriate objectification of women’. But rather than consult photographic manuals to find defence of their ‘questionable behaviour’, today’s amateur seeks the company of like-minded enthusiasts to achieve a sense of solidarity and help facilitate their practice.
The Photographic Discourse
In this response piece, I will look at a range of creepshot websites, but focus primarily on the Candid Forum (candidforum.com), and establish the main themes of their discourse relating to the mindset and the technical means that these photographers require to undertake their candid work.
Technology and Technique
Candid photographers share tips and technical advice on how to photograph their subjects, both in terms of achieving a level of quality:
The color black is really hard to creep successfully… you need the right amount of light and angle, otherwise you lose all definition and detail in the picture.
Blurry is never good.
and in being able to work undetected, here by using a phone app:
‘Stealth Cam’… lets me take pictures with the side buttons and the screen off. Before I use it, I mute the phone so there’s no shutter noise
The knowledge and skills required for this kind of work are highly prized, and many forum users speak of hoping to improve their work:
I’ve tried in the past to take a few shots… Hopefully I can learn from what appear to be the masters
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 14/12/12)
This sense of community, generated through acquiring and passing on information and techniques is an integral part of amateur photographic practice. The users of the Candid Forum express a sense of camaraderie through the sharing of advice on how to photograph women and ‘get away with it’.
The type of technology used makes a difference to how users feel they are perceived, with larger SLR cameras, although impossible to conceal, giving a sense of artistic validity in comparison with the smaller compact cameras.
Regarding the ‘difficult’ gym environment, (which is “apparently one of the tougher places to shoot” (Comment, thecandidforum.com, 25/2/13), making images from gyms prized by virtue of the trouble taken to acquire them) one user advises hiding a camera in a bundled jumper:
Wear a black sweater or something and practice a way to hang it or bundle it up on the ground so that your phone can film out of a spy hole. …This will give you a great steady shot and some interesting angles.
Several forum users share photographs showing how they hide their cameras or otherwise conceal what they are doing. The first image illustrates a way of holding a smart phone, which “to the casual observer, most people will not notice” adding that this is suitable for when doing “walk-behinds of girls or stand[ing] behind them in a line” (Post, Ultimate Guide to Filming Women, thecandidforum.com, 28/3/11)
The user continues by describing methods for hiding the camera inside a bag or object, such as a book, with a hole for the lens to poke through, suggesting that “it’s relatively easy to set up and extremely safe. I was never, ever caught doing this” (Post, Ultimate Guide to Filming Women, thecandidforum.com, 28/3/11).
Another suggestion, shown in the second image, relates to the placement of a phone camera in a shopping basket, held in place with a pack of drinks cans, and positioned to look through the gaps in the plastic. The poster describes his technique:
Get in close, preferably behind your target. Squat down and…set the rig down on the floor, but keep your hand on the handles….tilt the camera end upward toward your subject. Stunning low angle shots every time. Also comes in handy when your target is wearing a dress, skirt, or very short shorts. The views can be breathtaking.
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 29/7/11)
Just these four techniques themselves demonstrate the level of thought and dedication that is put into the practice of taking creepshots.
The next aspect I shall consider relates to the mindset necessary for taking candid shots, regarding a kind of confidence and bravado.
Attitude and Justification
As Rawle describes, the 1950s photographers sought to validate their work with a sense of artistic integrity, where referring to ‘the studio’, and demonstrating the quality of one’s work ensured a sort of ‘moral rectitude’. In contrast, the contemporary, candid amateur defends his work by virtue of being ’legal’:
What’s hard to wrap your head around is you have a right to photograph whatever ya want
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 10/12/12)
When you are in public, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. We kindly ask women to respect our right to admire your bodies and stop complaining.
(http://metareddit.com/r/CreepShots – bold emphasis in original)
The anger with which any dissent against their practice – on the part of subjects resisting, friends or boyfriends complaining, or police intervening – reflects a furious sense of entitlement to photograph, sexualise and consume whoever they wish. Women’s passivity is at the heart of these users’ enjoyment, and any expression of agency or resistance is met with petulant annoyance, as observable in the second quote above, which tersely asks women to ‘stop complaining’ and simply allow men get on with it.
The site maintains that although it is not strictly illegal, it is nevertheless populated by:
immoral, creepy, sinister (some may even accuse us of being ‘disturbed’) individuals
The claiming of the term ‘creep’ implies a knowing acceptance, and a wish to brag about their attention being unwanted. Despite the loud protestations about their activities being ‘legal’ and therefore justified, there is also a strong sense that what they are doing is ‘wrong’, which for some appears to be the appeal, and for others a source of tension. Much discussion focuses on attaining the ‘correct’ mental state for taking candid shots, by calming their nerves and acting as if this is their ‘right’:
You need to get to a point / state in which you believe what you’re doing isn’t “perverted” cuz it all starts with you and the energy your exuding [sic]”
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 27/1/12)
Don’t be nervous – if you are, you’ll stand out…You’ll look less like a creep if you have photos of things other than just hot chicks’ asses
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 13/6/12)
Nobody can see in side your head and know that you are drooling over their ass, about to get some shots, until you act suspicious as hell
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 12/4/12)
Alongside the sense of entitlement exists the wish to not get caught or ‘busted’, with users speaking of their paranoia and insecurity:
The guilty perv in me was convinced that someone had spotted me and called the police
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 19/7/13)
The last two times I’ve gone out I’ve had a really uneasy feeling and am seriously considering giving up. I have a well paid job, a good life and a family and that is too much to lose
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 14/5/13)
One user recounts a story of being ‘busted’ and beaten up by security, and vows to stop, or at least lessen the danger:
I am done… unless I can find some kind of hidden camera.
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 31/7/12)
This response to a distressing situation is viewed with disdain by other users, who view taking candid shots as a competitive expression of strength:
This is a game for mentally tough people.
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 31/7/12)
and a means to express their masculinity:
Why are you so afraid of what people think of you? Are you ashamed of your dick?
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 5/12/12)
The parallel between the masculine realm of hunting and of the creepshot photographer is clear:
Use stealth, cunning and deviousness to capture the beauty of your unsuspecting, chosen target.
The bravado and confidence which users encourage each other to develop is expressed in a variety of forms, either by shooting in difficult locations (such as the gym) or by getting close to their subject:
That is where acting skills come in handy (lol), so you pretend you’re doing something else while you’re secretly shooting someone
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 19/12/12)
The inability or reluctance to ‘get close’ distinguishes those who are confident in their activity and their entitlement to practice it, from those who are not:
If you are too scared or lazy to walk over and get a closer shot, then maybe creeping is not for you.
Clearly, this type of practice does more than enable the photographers to obtain sexualised images of women – it also forms part of a process of male bonding and enacting distinction, in which users of the site establish themselves within a hierarchy through their dedication, creativity and by earning respect.
Devaluation of Women
The creepshot photographers maintain that their practice is just “harmless fun and entertainment”, in which the female figure is simply recorded and admired. One user expresses his confusion at the debate over whether to include ‘upskirt’ photographs:
It’s not like they’re causing the women being photographed any physical harm. Besides, many users, like myself, come here solely to share and view such content.
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 1/4/13)
This user conceptualises ‘harm’ as physical, ignoring that the desire to sexualise someone against their will or without their knowledge cannot in any sense be regarded as harmless, as it connects with broader discourses regarding women’s use value as objects of sexual entertainment for male spectators and consumers.
The comment below describes how sexual enjoyment of candid shots is contingent on the subject’s non-consent:
Its like you are taking something that they were not intending to give up.
… Its like going to a strip club. You have girls walking around you completely naked, yet I wont even get a semi. But put a girl in front of me that is showing some cleavage or God help me, wearing a skirt and wood is instantly achieved. And again I think it has to do with one, the tease of it and two, I am seeing something they probably didnt intend for me to see.
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 25/7/13)
Continuing this discussion of why users enjoy the ‘tease’ of candid shots (again implying the subject’s complicity), the following user puzzles over why he particularly likes shots that “don’t typically show as much skin as other types of footage”. He concludes that the appeal lies in the subject’s vulnerability, especially exemplified by younger girls:
Being able to look at an unknowing teen’s beautiful ass as I get off is the reward that makes the risk worth it, for me…the age, the carelessness and, the obliviousness of the girls is what makes a candid so HOT.
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 24/7/13 – bold emphasis in original)
Despite the comparative ‘lack’ of skin on show in comparison to more conventional forms of pornography, this user expresses the predominant theme – that these candid shots are an expression of power, of taking something they were not given, and of controlling an unsuspecting and unwitting victim. The predatory nature of this activity is made clear in one comment, in which a user describes making use of circumstance to facilitate taking photographs, in the form of using:
the wind, distractions (cell phone, crowds, etcs…) and alcohol.
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 14/7/13)
By suggesting that alcohol is an aid to his ‘quest’, this user is emphasising the distinction between the vulnerability of the subject in comparison to the photographer, focusing on situations in which this dynamic could be exaggerated. Another user picks up on this theme of hierarchy, describing the apparent ubiquity of the objectification of women:
Behind every good man, there is a good woman. And behind every good woman, there’s another man filming her butt.
(User signature, thecandidforum.org)
The blatant disrespect for their subjects is not just evident at a macro level, in terms of their active rejection of women’s agency or involvement in a sexualised encounter, as it also permeates the majority of discussions at a micro level. By referring to his subjects as ‘office sluts’, ‘pieces of skirt’ and ‘cock teasers’, the user below displays his disdain for the women he sexualises. Devaluing the subject serves to lessen the moral dilemma which seems to affect other users, and their status as ‘sluts’ or ‘teasers’ justifies their use by virtue of somehow ‘asking for it’:
anything from office sluts at my work, to pieces of skirt I find walking the street… Can’t wait to start sharing and enjoying some cock teasers on here. Some nice skirt walking about now the weather is getting better. Anyway, nice to be a member of this international team guys
Another user expands on this sense of the subject as somehow deserving their treatment, asking:
How can you take indecent photos of anybody unless they are out and dressed indecently?
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 14/5/13)
This contrasts with the deliberate quest to photograph up women’s skirts described above, and displays an interesting contradiction in the discourse relating to candid shots. Women, in order to be valid subjects for such photography, need to be both unawares and yet somehow complicit, by virtue of dressing in a certain manner that ‘invites’ attention. But women that are perceived to contradict such perceived ‘invitation’ by resisting being photographed are devalued as lacking confidence:
The sexy dressing beauty… is generally the safest model on the beach … she is confident about her body has dressed to show off her beauty… [but] may not really have the self confidence required to…wear it in public and be photographed in it.
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 3/1/13)
Women’s attitude towards the candid photographers is a source of frustration, preventing them from doing as they want. But beneath the surface of the comments we can perceive the women they describe as legitimately trying to avoid a threatening situation, which the men are oblivious about causing:
One time I was trailing this chick that was walking really fast…without warning she darted back over to other side of the street that she just came from 2 minutes before, which seemed like a very clear attempt to get away from me.
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 11/7/13)
I’ve found that if there are very few people around, whenever I get vaguely near a girl she’ll clock me straight away…I’m sure they are worried about being sexually assaulted rather than being filmed, but this doesn’t exactly make it any better for us!
(Comment, thecandidforum.com, 15/7/13)
The parallel between the stalker who films his subjects and the attacker who rapes his victims is entirely lost on this user.
The primary criteria for not photographing women appears to be that she simply does not warrant it, and must be rejected, as one site vigorously asserts:
The subject matter MUST to be something that people are going to want to see…. Not every Plain-Jane ass is creep worthy.
(Post, creepshots.com/creepshot-tips/ – bold emphasis in original)
Fulfilling a specific sexual desire, and obtaining peer esteem, is central to creepshot practice, where by combining the right equipment and mental attitude, the creepshot photographer gets the shots he wants, earns the respect of his fellows and lends a certain sense of distinction and justification to his work.
But besides the bravado expressed above, creepshot photographers also share the amateur photographer’s wish to display an aesthetic sensitivity and technical capability, in an environment that foregrounds solidarity and group endeavour. This sharing of advice, aspirations and concerns demonstrates that even within a context where issues of morality and decency are in doubt, there still exists a drive towards self-improvement and a desire to produce work that is received well within their community.