As I look at the photograph, the identity of the voyeur is both concealed and revealed. The space before the net curtain (that inside the room) becomes the world around me now, here in the present. I look at the image in silence (or to put it another way, I watch the image) and become aware of my breathing as well as every little noise around me; the hum of my computer, the ticking of a clock, a bird singing in the garden. It’s as if the plane of the photograph has moved a few inches forward, as if the photograph begins just beyond the curtain, with the pot of old flowers on the window sill. We are the secret police, watching through the window 30 years in the future.
This paradox is one of the consequences of photography, whatever the particular photograph we’re studying. In fact, however we research the past, we become like secret police, following people, keeping notes, putting notes in files. We document their lives as if we’re trailing them, following them down the street, around buildings or even in their own homes. And yet of course we’re always far in the distance. We follow on behind, yet we’re always way ahead.