For the first in our new series ‘Photographers on Film’, we’ve chosen one of cinema’s most famous photojournalists: L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ (1954).
Jeff, played with typical affability by James Stewart, is confined to his flat with a broken leg. It is a sweltering New York summer. Bored and frustrated, he spends much of his time casually spying on his neighbours. The struggling composer, the newlywed couple, sinister Lars Thorwald: we see them all through Jeff’s eyes and, more specifically, his camera lens.
Jeff is the casual voyeur in us all. He is not a predatory peeping tom; rather, he indulges in a natural, if morally dubious, curiosity. Nor is he alone in this; as Jeff is drawn in by his neighbours’ lives, so are his girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly), and nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter).
Yet Jeff’s profession cannot be incidental to his character. In ‘It Had To Be Murder’ (1942), the Cornell Woolrich story on which the film is based, Jeff’s occupation is unknown. It is telling that the filmmakers gave him a profession with a reputation (however unfair) for voyeurism. Photography is a medium built upon the act of looking; it seems a natural choice for Hitchcock’s curtain twitcher.