Public Consumption-Photographer Todd Shaffer on his Series "Voyeur"

How much autonomy do we possess over who views our bodies when we leave the curtain open? Voyeurism has intrigued mankind for centuries, being cited in works of literature from ancient Rome to McCarthy-era America. Most can agree that, despite its negative connotation, it comes down to intention—whether we observe for our own gratification. So what about when the observation is both accidental and gratifying? Capturing a modern depiction in sharp, to-the-point images on the streets of NYC, photographer Todd Shaffer explores these themes in his ever-evolving series, “Voyeur”.  We caught up with the man behind the lens to discuss his process, inspirations, and unique POV.

 Courtesy of  Todd Shaffer

Courtesy of Todd Shaffer

NSFW How long have you been involved with photography?

TS I got really lucky early on. When I moved to New York, I was 19 years old, and I had a little point and shoot Canon the size of a credit card. Being new to the city and not really having a network I spent my off hours wandering through the streets shooting. Back then, Flickr was the internet gathering spot for photographers and I put contrast-y black and white street scenes up regularly. Somehow a gallery organizer reached out with an offer to hang my prints in a multi-artist show in the W Hotel lobby in Times Square. Suffice to say, after that show, I was hooked.

NSFW What gave you the idea for your Voyeur series? How did you develop the concept?

TS If I said there were some master plan for this, I’d be full of it. I shoot a lot of people in my apartment lately and it was born at first from trying new novel angles, stepping outside and shooting inside being one of the ideas. At first, I was waiting for people to get out of my frame so I could shoot, but then I realized every person that walked by interacted in the scene differently, so I started surreptitiously including them in the frame as they walked through. It really fell into place when I shot a bicyclist riding at full speed, smoking a cigarette, staring into the window at this phenomenal model, Taylor, as she had this almost holy look about her. 

NSFW How did you go about finding your subjects and shooting the images?

TS Finding the subjects is the modern-day story of Instagram. Finding interesting characters and telling them about what I’m trying to accomplish. Shooting the images is pretty straightforward. I drop a remote triggered flash with a soft box on a stand in my street-level bedroom. Since we can’t communicate with words we’re making up sign language and body maneuvering to mimic one another. I can only imagine my neighbors think I’m a little crazy. But the setup is almost unfair to those that walk by. I have a beautiful woman standing in a window with a strobe light flashing. It’s pretty hard not to interact with the scene.

NSFW Did the project evolve at all in subject or purpose over the course of shooting? 

TS Yeah, it’s definitely evolving. There’s a time of day that lights up the buildings opposite of the frame, and gives a nice depth and reflection of the street and I’ve started primarily aiming for the golden hour time-of-day-wise. Now I’ve also started playing with the idea of a person looking at themselves. Since winter set in there aren’t nearly as many people walking on the street in front of my window, so I pivoted and started shooting double exposures where the model observes herself. I have this really amazing androgynous model I’m going to work with soon where we’ll play a little with gender dynamics.

NSFW How long did it take to shoot all the current images?

TS Just a couple of months. It’s just getting off the ground.

 Courtesy of  Todd Shaffer

Courtesy of Todd Shaffer

NSFW I know you have plans to add more to the series, will those images be in the same style?

TS Yes and no. I think this project will be capped at the current location, but I have a plan that I’m developing to move it a little higher in the city.

NSFW What do you think draws people to voyeurism?

TS I mean, I think everyone is curious how other people live. The scope of voyeurism is enormous. It’s why there’s such an addiction to Real Housewives, the Kardashians, and other reality programs where you’re passively observing the lives of the rich and infamous. It’s why we stalk Instagram and Facebook feeds of people. This is merely moving the frame out a little bit to have the exhibitionist and the voyeur both captured simultaneously.

NSFW How did your models feel during the shoot?

TS A variety of ways, generally a lot of laughter because what I’m asking of them is objectively ridiculous. It’s the opposite of what you would do if you were actually in your bedroom. Usually after I get a frame I really like there’s no hiding it from my face. I’m visibly excited which usually causes laughing inside the window. Then there’s the hand crossing the neck signal from me, which is when a group of kids or something is going to walk by, and I want the model to hide. It’s a really unique experience to shoot with no verbal cues.

 Courtesy of  Todd Shaffer

Courtesy of Todd Shaffer

NSFW What is your favorite aspect of the series?

TS The favorite part is hard to say, but I think mostly it’s being able to mix what I started shooting, street photography, with what I’ve been shooting far more frequently lately. 

NSFW Do you have plans for similar projects in the future?

TS Definitely. I’m hoping to get this exhibited in a gallery soon, raise a tiny amount of funds to chase down a far more ambitious project in the same vein. They’re still forming, but there is a continuance of this theme on a far larger scale.

 Courtesy of  Todd Shaffer

Courtesy of Todd Shaffer