“TOM” by Little Big Man (2013)

“TOM is book about obsession,” explains artist Doug Rickard. “Mine and someone else’s. We watch over the shoulder of he who once watched over other shoulders.”

Drawing its name from that of a peeping Tom, TOM unearths vintage found images that show the voyeuristic surveillance of a certain archetype of woman in the streets of 1960s Los Angeles. The subjects of each photograph are stockinged, short skirted, and stylish—and as seen longingly through someone else’s lens—clearly an object of desire and interest.

Viewed through the passing of time, the menace and original kink of these images have perhaps eroded. Taken in a city defined by theatrical artifice, the found nature of these rolls discovered by Rickard may never be truly revealed. Are they the product of a true deviant, or perhaps a staged commission for erotic interests? Through the rolls, we see the progress of several seasons (in Los Angeles’ case, winter is heralded through Christmas advertisements lining sunny streets), hinting at a larger body of images than has yet been revealed.

Aesthetically, the sharp black and white, since faded fashions, old automobiles, and the Californian sun contrive to reference a particular feeling of American nostalgia—a noir-esque aesthetic from a far simpler era. And yet, here lies the paradox of Rickard’s TOM series. While referring to another moment in time, these images—to borrow from the noir they reference—are an anonymous phone call in the night, reinforcing that while surveillance is nothing new, our own particular era (with a cast not limited to wikileaks, NSA, PRISM, and Edward Snowden) is far less easily romanticized as an obsessive voyeur prowling the streets.

“It is now about layers and invasion. With our fingers, our minds and our eyes,we can invade and we can commandeer, we can control and we can portray. We can accumulate, we can manipulate, we can sift, absorb and we can spit back out.”

Rickard insists that nowadays, no one, or even no nation, is immune from violation. “Big brother is here to stay. It is embedded into our own fingertips and who we choose to watch, and it is embedded in the fingertips of those above, those who watch us. It is embedded into all of us,” he relates. “The web, its glorious power, and its private destructions are here to stay.”

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