Reconsidering Amateur Photography

Creepshots, Candids and the Amateur Photographer

Anne Burns

Response To

Photographic ‘artistry’ in 1950s men’s magazines.

In ‘Photographic ‘Artistry’ in 1950s Men’s Magazines’, Graham Rawle discusses the means by which amateur photographers used notions of artistic intention to imbue their pornographic imagery with a sense of “integrity rather than salacious titillation”[1]. In this response, I will explore the potential connections to be made between the ambitions of such photographers and their modern equivalents, who take candid and overtly sexualised photographs of women in public.

By studying 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. Besides sharing technical advice for taking candid photographs, forum users also seek justification for their activities,forming a significant parallel betweesuchphotographers and their amateur pornographic antecedents.

What are Creepshots?

Creepshots are defined as being:

CANDID. If a person is posing for and/or aware that a picture is being taken, then it ceases to be…a creepshot. A creepshot captures the natural, raw sexiness of the subject without their vain attempts at putting on a show for the camera. [2]

This emphasis on the candid and deliberately sexualising nature of creepshots reveals what lies at the heart of such photographic practice – namely, that the “natural, raw sexiness” that is aimed for must be non-agentive and non-consensual. The sexual value draw of such images relies on the control remaining entirely on the part of the photographer, in contrast to the unwitting subject, who loses their value if they become 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.

Creepshots first gained large-scale visibility in 2010 through the website Girls In Yoga Pants [3], and on the dedicated Reddit creepshot forum (now closed, although numerous emulations exist). The considerable popularity of the creepshot as both artefact and pursuit relates to Feona Attwood’s discussion of amateur pornography [4], in which she identifies the popularity of both producing porn as a leisure activity, and the desirability of amateur-type material. Creepshot photographers are therefore combining their interest and skills in amateur photography with a desire to produce sexualised imagery that suits their tastes.

Their photographic practice reveals, like Rawle’s character, a “furtive yet prudish approach to sex” and an “inappropriate objectification of women”[5]. But rather than consult photographic manuals to find defence of defend their “‘questionable behaviour” [6]’, today’s voyeuristic photographic amateur seeks the company of like-minded enthusiasts to achieve a sense of solidarity and help facilitate their practice. Instead of relying on notions of what constitutes Art (or what at least looks like Art) through the use of white borders and grand titles, ambitious creepshot photographers negotiate the technical and ethical obstacles and justify their actions through having the right kit, and the right attitude, to achieve their aims.

1. Technology and Technique

The sharing of knowledge and skills generates a sense of community, shared purpose and legitimacy among amateur photographers. This desire to improve and share one’s photography through group critique and knowledge exchange is also evident in the creepshot context, where photographers use sites such as The Candid Forum to share tips and technical advice on how to photograph women without being noticed. Topics range from the merits of different cameras (spy cameras vs SLRs being a popular topic), to discussions of shooting in different environments.

One tutorial describes a way of holding a smart phone down at one’s side, with the camera facing outwards, which “to the casual observer, most people will not notice”, making it suitable for when doing “walk-behinds of girls or stand[ing] behind them in a line” [7]. 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. [8]

Regarding the‘difficult’ gym environment, (which is “apparently one of the tougher places to shoot”,[9] making images from gyms prized by virtue of the trouble taken to acquire them),one user advises:

Wear a black sweater…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. [10]

Another suggestion relates to the placement of a camera phone in a shopping basket, held in place witha pack of drinks canssomething heavy, and positioned to look through the gaps in the plastic (and up someone’s skirt):

Get in close, preferably behind your target.

Squat down and...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. [11]

The description of these techniques demonstrates the level of thoughtand dedicationthat is put into the practice of taking creepshots. Alongside the drive to avoid being‘caught’exists the wish to display ingenuity and bravery to their peers, in terms of tackling the problem of difficult environments, or finding a way to capture“‘stunning”’shots.This again taps into wider drives behind amateur photography, to display and improve skills within a context of community participation and support.

2. Attitude and Justification

As Rawle describes, the 1950s photographers sought to validate their work with a sense of artistic integrity, where referring to“t‘the studio”’, and demonstrating the quality of one’s work ensured a sort of“‘moral rectitude”[12]’. In contrast, the contemporary, candid amateur defends his work by virtue of being (at least technically)’legal’:

What’s hard to wrap your head around is you have a right to photograph whatever ya want.[sic].[13] 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.[14]

The creepshot photographers’ anger at disruption of 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 whomsoever 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 insisting that women to“‘stop complaining”’and simply allow men to do as they wish.

The claiming of the term‘creep’ implies a knowing acceptance of, and a wish to brag about, their attention being unwanted. Despite the protestations about their activities being ‘legal’ and therefore justified, there is also a strong underlying 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 … believe what you’re doing isn’t “perverted” cuz it all starts with you and the energy your exuding.[sic] [15]

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.[16]

Such expressions of doubt are 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.[17]

The bravado andconfidence which users encourage each other to develop is expressed in a variety of forms, either by shooting in difficult locations or by using“actingvariousskills”to get close to their subject:

Use stealth, cunning and deviousness to capture the beauty of your unsuspecting, chosen target.[18]

In contrast, 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. [19]

These last few examples demonstrate the degree to which peer esteem is central to creepshot practice, whereby combining the right equipment and mental attitude, the creep shot photographer 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 adrive towards self-improvement and a desire to produce work that is received well within their community. 

Reconsidering Amateur Photography