While preparing for SOMETHING MACHINE’s residency at Seoul Dance Center and researching on the themes of observation and surveillance, i came across the exhibition Watched! Surveillance, Art and Photography, a collaboration between the Hasselblad Foundation, Valand Academy, Kunsthal Aarhus, Galleri Image, ARoS and C/O Berlin.

Watched! is part of a research initiated by Louise Wolthers, Head of Research at the Hasselblad Foundation. It reflects on the complexities of contemporary surveillance, with a specific attention to photography. The works in the exhibition convey different approaches to surveillance: from technologies used by state and authorities to everyday monitoring practices that have become an integrated part of our lives, especially within social media.

Our entire existence is being photographed and visualized to an unprecedented degree. This raises new questions about voluntary and involuntary visibility, as well photohistorical issues of watching and being watched. The artists in Watched! appropriate imagery and apply CCTV, Facial Recognition Technology, Google Street View, life-logging and virtual animation. They also reactivate older practices of spying, exposure and voyeurism. Conceptually, they probe issues of security, which are used as arguments for enhanced surveillance, but which often ignore the discriminatory scrutiny, criminalization and vulnerability that follow. The viewer is invited to think about how we can live in a society of multiple surveillance networks without contributing to the inequalities that surveillance produces, and instead engage in inclusive and empowering viewing practices.

 

Here is a small selection of the many inspiring essays that were written and collected for the accompanying book, published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König:

Disguised Faces, Illuminated Suspects, and the Great Spectacle of Surveillance
The Changing Gaze: From Documentary Photography to Voyeurism to Surveillance

DISGUISED FACES, ILLUMINATED SUSPECTS, AND THE GREAT SPECTACLE OF SURVEILLANCE

Becoming Undisciplined

Present-day surveillance is full of contradiction. It is inconspicuous but simultaneously extremely noticeable. People are increasingly exposed to it but also actively participate in the production of it. New surveillance dynamics extend beyond issues of social control.
The Foucauldian internalization of discipline has been accompanied by creative ways of being undisciplined. People willingly subject themselves to a camera’s gaze, turning surveillance into spectacle. Moreover, people are playing with surveillance and using surveillance equipment in game-like settings.
This essay considers how surveillance moves from and between control, pleasure, exhibitionism, exposure, and spectacle, and how surveillance practices are influenced by playful motives and/or enabled by the participatory potential of surveillant devices. The interplay between games, play, and surveillance is very much present in everyday life – at long last it has also become an object of examination in academic studies.
As an introduction or a sort of mind game to the connections between games, play, and surveillance we begin by using the idea of game as a tool for dissecting surveillance. Besides analysing games for their own sake, the nature of a game as a well-structured problem has permitted its use as a metaphor in numerous research fields. Elsewhere, we have introduced games as a metaphor in surveillance research and explored the playful functions of surveillance using five different distinct metaphors.
Surveillance can be perceived as a cat-and-mouse game. Catching someone in the act – surveillance aiming at a real-time, quick chase – is one of the most conventional motives for the monitoring of people and places. Another established function for surveillance relates to our second metaphor, of hide-and-seek. Monitoring is used to find someone or something hidden. For anyone wishing to avoid surveillance, this means that there is no need to escape, but rather to hide. Surveillance can also be understood as a labyrinth. Walking around a city entails a dialogic movement of entering and exiting spaces under surveillance. These labyrinths are constantly changing: cameras are installed and removed, protected and destroyed. The fourth metaphor, that of sleight-of-hand, bears close resemblance to a classic surveillance image: a robber with a covered face. To avoid surveillance may require a variety of ‘magic tricks’, including disguise. Currently, changing one’s identity no longer indicates a criminal motive: masquerading has become acceptable. The fifth game metaphor identified is that of poker. In poker, as within surveillance itself, control is of the utmost importance. Furthermore, poker is a game of skill where there are always both winners and losers. The metaphor hence demonstrates how a game, as with surveillance, can also be vicious: the strong – or those who appear strong – profit while the weak lose.
With these metaphors, we aim to illustrate how surveillance practices themselves have playful and game-like functions which have not yet been addressed to their full extent. Our aim is by no means to draw a parallel between children playing and the act of policing, but merely to point out that the roles of various actors, processes, structures, and motives in different practices are intriguingly similar. As such, this thinking could provide one way of developing alternative interpretations of surveillance.

Performances and Pleasures

Many scholars have used pleasure to explain surveillance, and indeed, watching others and exposing oneself can be enjoyable, even fun. For instance, Peter Weibel has described how the panoptic principle is ‘turned into the pleasure principle’, where not only does the voyeur wish to see everything, but the exhibitionist desires to show everything. The performance – i.e. that which is shown – can have a sexual nature, as ‘people do flirt, and moreover tease, strip, and in countless other ways act sexually, while other people watch’, but it can also be an argument against ‘the ways in which society regulates individuals’ and the ways in which ‘shame keeps people meek and obedient’. Merely viewing a feed does not allow one to necessarily determine the context in which a performance is set.
Online visual performances break boundaries between the private and public and ‘rebel against the modesty and shame embedded in the conception of the private’. Indeed, elements of resistance can be identified within such online watching and presenting that can also be considered exhibitionistic (or voyeuristic), and ‘exhibitionism can truly work as a form of empowerment’. However, visibility does not need to entail being physically seen, but can simply be achieved by technologies that make individuals visible to external bodies, such as online social networking sites where individuals willingly give out information about themselves. Beyond being viewed as an empowering experience for the user, online social networking can also be fun and entertaining, a social practice where ‘surveillance technologies themselves [are used] as toys or playthings’. Anders Albrechtslund has identified both the playful elements and the collective nature of surveillance. Looking at networking on the internet, he claims that ‘surveillance – as a mutual, empowering and subjectivity-building practice – is fundamentally social’. Justine Gangneux goes even further, arguing that the ‘playful, satiric, and tactical approaches’ in surveillance can be considered as ‘everyday resistance’. It seems that while play can be mere play, it is not necessarily always so. There is still a lot to do in order to comprehend all the ways in which images can be played with, and, moreover, how they can be made to work as forms of resistance.

Camouflaged Faces

The reverse side of exhibitionism and exposure is the need or desire to hide, not to be seen, to mask oneself. Disguising oneself takes place in various contexts. Caps, hoods, and masks are used to cover faces in demonstrations, protests, etc. False names and aliases are given in online settings. True identities are hidden or replaced with desired projections of the self in virtual worlds. Artist activist groups push these issues forward as symbolic battles by producing examples of masked faces against facial recognition systems, and by publishing images people have downloaded to social media sites as places for socializing but at the same time as ‘a gold mine for identity theft’.
The idea of disguising can also relate to a desire to be seen in a certain way – an ambition not so easy to attain in online worlds, as not only creating but ‘maintaining an appropriate and meaningful data-mediated presence’ is a challenge. With so much of social life lived online, it seems that ‘like photography, surveillance has morphed from a technology to a way of seeing and a way of being. And creating a suitable image of oneself for surveillance can truly be a chore, a ‘work of being watched’. However, online surroundings can also provide meaningful places for disguising an colouring identities. Currently ‘identity play is omnipresent: people enjoy the anonymity given by pseudonyms, and can consciously project desired identities and play with them freely’. The internet provides people with a chance to be someone else. Thus, disguising oneself no longer requires a criminal motive.
The current Western condition of being under surveillance so often has created subjects who are able to elude detection without difficulty. As John E. McGrath argues, in surveillance culture, just as there have been ‘multiple, often contradictory systems observing us’, there have also been ‘multiple, contradictory selves produced by this surveillance’. Surveillance has become a practice in which ‘any faking, tricking, hoaxing, mimicking or masquerading is desirable and cool’. Sleight-of-hand tricks have become so common that urban culture can be characterized by a process of ‘magicianization’.

Illuminating the Suspect

Visual representations of crime, the criminal and ideas of the ‘suspicious’ have shaped our imagination of how surveillance works – and, indeed, what surveillance ‘looks like’: the classic surveillance image is that of a ‘flickering piece of black-and-white footage’. If we look closely at the words ‘visual’, it has been made clear – self-evidently visible. Crime is vague; unseen, unrevealed, hidden; something we wish not to see. From this it follows that the battle against crime is an effort to make crime visible. It is not difficult to find down-to-earth examples of this.
Television effectively contributes to the process of illumination. Crime programmes present material from surveillance cameras ‘endeavouring to create an impression of the viewer being able to both verify and participate in what is happening in the real world’. Pascal Pinck writes about ‘the airborne gaze’ and points out that helicopters accompanied with TV skycams distributing televisual imagery of the ‘real life’ are remarkably popular.
Online space has taken this process of illuminating the suspects to an even higher level. Besides police using various online applications, most commonly Facebook, to search for witnesses to crimes, private individuals also participate in this type of ‘monitoring work’.
A telling example s a story of a tourist whose phone was stolen from a beach in Ibiza while she was swimming with friends. When she got back home, she noticed the thief had forgotten to switch off the camera upload function, which meant that every picture taken with the phone immediately updated on to her computer. As a response to the situation she set up a site where she posts pictures taken by the new owner of the phone with witty remarks on his lifestyle, friends, and so on: ‘This is the inspiring story of Hafid from Dubai, the douchebag who stole my phone. He forgot to switch off the camera upload function, that’s why we will enjoy a deep insight into his life’.
The obvious problem with this type of vigilantism is that it does not necessarily target the right person. In the example above, ‘Hafid’ could easily have bought the phone in all innocence from the real thief. This is not to argue that someone stealing a phone ‘deserves’ to be publicly shamed, but someone who did no such thing certainly does not.
‘Illuminating the suspect’ can also have a rather concrete meaning. In the urban battle between the watchers and the watched, one dramatic example is the use of police helicopters with the searchlights and sensors – sometimes called the ‘nightsun’. This type of police work embodies the illumination of crime. Furthermore, this type of illumination is not as new as it seems – and is definitely not dependent on airborne technology. As recently as in the 1970s, Manchester police used boats with searchlights along the Rochdale canal in order to catch men engaging in homosexual acts along the riverbanks. Writing for The Guardian, journalist Beatrix Campbell claimed that ‘[Manchester’s former chief constable] Anderton encouraged his officers to stalk dark alleys and expose anyone caught in a clinch, while police motoboats with spotlights cruised for gay men around the canal’s locks and bridges’.

The Great Spectacle

Recent global terrorist attacks have made the relations between crime and visibility more complex than what was described in the analysis above. While there still are criminals – or suspects – who wish to hide, crime has also become an exciting instantaneous show which people eagerly watch. The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001 proved this if nothing else. As important as the criminal act itself was the global spectacle it created. It would be naive to assume that whoever was behind the attacks did not realize this. It was planned deliberately to be extremely visible. Illumination of the suspect was placed in a context unlike any that had come before.
In this age of global terrorist attacks, the classic image of surveillance has shifted. The flickering piece of footage is replaced with, or at least supplemented by, carefully filmed and edited statements released after the event. The perpetrators do not wish to conceal themselves, but to be visible, known, seen. They are never caught unwittingly on camera. On the contrary, whereas the fight against crime previously amounted to the efforts led by the police to make crime visible, this aim is now shared by the perpetrators.
This reveals a new type of hide-and-seek game. The perpetrators wish ti hide before and after, whereas during the attack itself, an explosion of visibility occurs. This process creates a new role for surveillance: it is not so much about prevention (it aims to be, but in some cases it tragically fails) but about aiming to locate criminals, or anyone associated with them, after an attack and, by doing so, at the same time feeding the media frenzy surrounding the attack.
Rachel Hall writes about'[t]he aesthetics of transparency’ which in the fight against terrorists ‘aims to expose potential hiding places’. She describes the capture of Saddam Hussein as a consumer spectacle and gives a game-like example from the CNN website. The user of this website could use an interactive graphic presenting the ‘hole’ in which Saddam was found. The website advised users to click on icons of arrows and soldiers in order to navigate the hideout and get information about the capture. The graphic made the hole look like a ‘secret door of a virtual adventure’. Collectively, this is yet another example of illumination: the global war on terror as a commodified spectacle, where a place that was supposed to proved utter seclusion has now become a place for an online virtual experience that anyone can enjoy.

Poker Face

     I wanna hold ’em like they do in Texas, please
     Fold ’em, let ’em, hit me, raise it, baby stay with me (I love it)
     Luck and intuition play the cards with spades to start
     And after he’s been hooked I’ll play the ones that’s on his heart.

     (Lady Gaga, ‘Poker Face’)

Besides being spectacle, performance, a source of pleasure, and a playful practice, present-day surveillance is still in many cases about control, a purpose that is often masked behind ‘the promise of […] participation’. Mark Andrejevic argues that the promise of interactivity and participation – which is visible not only in social media sites but also more generally in media and commerce – actually conceals the fact that information is gathered ‘in the service of top-down forms of political and economic control’. Andrejevic claims that in this type of participation, the ‘once-passive spectators [have] become active participants’ and the participatory monitoring is merely an extension of state power and its ability to maintain ‘control at a distance’.
The most glaring examples of this are the few gamified surveillance applications harnessing the labour of private citizens to benefit the state or commercial entities. For example, Internet Eyes is a website which operated from the UK from 2010 until 2013 and has recently launched operations in Brazil. It is an online notification system that allows registered viewers to wach live feeds from video surveillance cameras installed in shops and other businesses. Within the site, viewers can alert the owner of the camera if they spot a theft or other illegal activity occurring on the video screen. Indeed, by registering with the system, anyone wishing to participate in catching ‘shoplifters’ can have access to a network of 24/7 live streaming webcams. The watchers also receive monetary compensation for alerts that turn out to be correct.
At the beginning of this essay we set out to consider how surveillance connects to various, somewhat opposing, issues. It seems that this one internet site encompasses most of these themes. Its purpose is to control, but the viewers can find pleasure and entertainment in watching. It exposes people to additional surveillance while at the same time turning that surveillance into a form of spectacle and amusement. And it is all about participation – it could not exist without participants. It is reminiscent of a game of poker: fun if you are winning, but deadly serious if you are losing. But, most importantly, it is not a game, but rather entirely real. Flesh-and-bone human beings disappear in these gamified contexts. The more interactive websites are perceived as games, the less ‘players’ think about the true setting in which a ‘game’ takes place. Real people with real lives disappear in a blur of watching and reporting.

Coming Back to the Beginning

Along with being indifferent to surveillance, or at least failing to notice it, the desire to be seen, the desire to hide, and the desire to participate have emerged. Surveillance is increasingly at the intersection of serious and playful practices. This raises some interesting questions on the nature of the surveillant, particularly in gamified surveillance settings. The participant is not necessarily an active agent of surveillance in a traditional sense, but a ‘surveillance marionette’. This means someone who, instead of being a fully authorized actor, has been turned into a tool of surveillance, to whom someone else dictates what is to watch, and with what consequences.
Furthermore, surveillance imagery has changed alongside these developments. Global terrorism in particular has changed the relationship between surveillance, visibility, and crime. In the past, when surveillance imagery comprised of ‘flickering images’, those images could at least be accessed. Currently, the most important surveillance images come from crime as spectacle, or after someone claims the crime, and the role of surveillance is not to prevent, but to feed the media in the aftermath. Perhaps this is the reason why the prevailing image of surveillance has changed.
And finally, as such acts of terror occur, it may very well be that instead of becoming undisciplined, we may in fact once again become more disciplined, as people attempt to act ‘normally’ when intense scrutiny is focused upon public spaces. One thing, however, is certain: indifference towards surveillance is now harder than ever.

by Hille Koskela and Liisa A. Mäkinen

THE CHANGING GAZE: FROM DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY TO VOYEURISM TO SURVEILLANCE

‘I think of Walker Evans’ subway portraits and it occurs to me that the world is a very different place now to when he made those pictures. Our notion of public and private has drastically shifted. I wonder if anyone accused him of voyeurism in 1938…’

In the work The Journey, self-published in 2015 by South African photographer Pieter Hugo, the artist photographed sleeping passengers on a long-distance flight using the infrared function of his camera. The works are abstracted portraits of oblivious, slumbering passengers. The artist has added the story of their creation and has noted his nocturnal thoughts and pondering above the portraits, for example how the sleepers might react if they found out about the furtively taken photos. Hugo also makes reference to Walker Evans’ Subway Portraits, created with a hidden camera on the New York Subway in 1938. here too, none of the passengers knew they were being photographed and the artist took his pictures secretly. However, the reception of these photographs was completely different.
Yet how exactly is the perception of Pieter Hugo’s photos different from that of Walker Evans’ Subway Portraits? How has the reception of photography changed, above all in light of today’s surveillance problem?
One of the most fundamental impulses of photography has always been to document and visualize what we normally cannot see. By the 1920s at the latest, following the commercial launch of small-format camera, artists were able to remain unnoticed when photographing. In addition, for the first time they were able to create scenarios that appeared much more natural and dynamic than the frequently staged and unnatural-looking photos taken in an earlier era of long exposure times and bulky equipment. Completely new perspectives were possible, which redefined ways of seeing and thus the perception of the world. Out of the studio and into the streets: The city and its people in the age of mobility and modernization increasingly became a topic in photography. Evans, whose work strongly influenced and also transcended the genre of documentary photography, even called the streets his ‘museum’; it was where he could learn and where he found inspiration and subjects. He was particularly interested in the people he encountered in public spaces, who remained anonymous. Evan primarily used 35mm cameras for his street shots so he could capture scenes quickly and en passant. In addition to his formal shots of buildings and interiors, as well as quiet portraits of people looking directly into the camera, he took photos of rather private moments in public spaces – moments that were not necessarily intended to be observed, such as a sleeping person on a bench, workers on their lunch break, or simply pedestrians crossing a street, photographed unnoticed from above – shots in which a certain gaze is discernible, one which encroaches on the provacy of the other, yet as a result documents life on the streets of New York in a particularly lively, genuine way. Constantly in search of a new form of aestheticism, of a portraiture more vivacious and authentic than what studio shots at the time made possible. Evan expanded on the idea of taking photos secretly and took advantage of the small size of his camera to hide it in his coat, which allowed him to photograph his fellow passengers on the subway – completely unnoticed. By doing so, he could profit from the obliviousness of those portrayed, who were unposed and immersed in their own inner worlds. He intentionally kept his distance as a photographer as much as possible; when he took a photo, he never sought to intervene. In particular, he used the spontaneous, almost raw aesthetics which resulted as an artistic and stylistic tool; he created a completely new kind of portrait, which was a decisive addition to the ‘documentary style’ that he espoused and strived for.
The secret, unnoticed act of photography, and the examination – carried out, in Evans’ case, with the utmost respect – of private moments in public spaces came to characterize the genre of street photography, which had emerged in the early twentieth century. In particular, the shedding of the photographer’s traditional pose, which was made easier by small cameras, and the inclusion of ‘unobserved’ moments made a more authentic, livelier and more comprehensive from of documentation of life in a big city possible.
The German photographer Dr. Erich Salomon also strove to achieve a greater level of authenticity. In the 1930s (almost concomitantly with Evans), Salomon secretly began taking photographs of court proceedings, political meetings, gala performances and dinners held by well-known figures and politicians. To do so, he hid a 35mm camera in his hast and used an angle viewfinder, which allowed him to photograph from a ninety-degree angle. His feeling for uncontrived scenes and unaffected postures became his clear trademark, making him a pioneer in press photography. His middle-class background and academic training aided him by enabling him to photograph from the midst of a scene instead of taking shots from the outside looking in. His goal was to capture well-known people in a manner that was surprisingly natural – whether tired or daydreaming on the job. From the very beginning, Salomon preferred to seek his subjects in an environment with heavy security, where photography was completely prohibited, a rule he then undermined with every means imaginable. About his process, he said: ‘The chief activity of the photographic reporter who aims to capture situations and interesting facial expressions on a photographic plate consists of tirelessly lying in wait like a predator. Like a hunter in his hiding place, he patiently waits to take aim’.
In 1938, Vilém Flusser wrote that a photographer was most typically seen on the prowl for images; the photographer himself merged indissolubly with his equipment: ‘He hunts for new information, for moments never seen before, for the improbable, for information’. In contrast to Evans, who produced his Subway Portraits as an artistic project with the help of two Guggenheim fellowships, Salomon worked as a photojournalist for the press, which had had an insatiable appetite for images since illustrated magazines first emerged. While Evans’ photos were more accessible for a relatively select public, namely one interested in art, Salomon’s photographs catered to a larger public’s desire for a kind of substitute life through the vicarious visual participation in events that they could otherwise not access. His gaze became the gaze of millions of people craving sensation. And it is here that a shift takes place: Whereas Walker Evans strove to find unguarded moments, Salomon was on the prowl for the naked, which no longer indicated vulnerability or authenticity, but rather traitorous exposure.
Salomon himself wanted, like Evans, to strip poses of their affected quality. However, in light of their use and dissemination in the emerging tabloid press, his photos took on a new connotation: the decisive question becomes what context a photo was created in and how it was then disseminated or used. This is the point where a sense of ‘authenticity’ can be shattered – and as a result the vulnerability of the persons portrayed means they are also always potentially in danger. The fact that Salomon infiltrates the privacy of a specific group or an individual by consciously flouting the ban on photography – in other words, the fact that he takes his photos by means of committing a deliberate offence – is a heightening of the invasive gaze. Later, from the 1950s, this was taken to extremes by paparazzi photographers such as Tazio Secchiaroli and Ron Galella, who stopped at nothing to bag their photos for the tabloid press. Although Salomon’s methods anticipated those of today’s paparazzi, his photos themselves do not speak the same sensation-craving language of exposure. They show the habitus of the political and social elite of his time – who were yet to meet a media advisor – as well as the everyday operations of politics, not its staging. However, the context, dissemination and use of his photos have an influence on how they are perceived and received – just as the context, dissemination and use of Walker Evans’ photographs, produced in the context of an artistic project, cause them to be perceived and received differently.
Documenting and making visible what we cannot see necessarily includes a furtive glance at the forbidden, satisfying a desire that is as old as humankind itself and which has not changed to this day – though the technology available to slate that desire has changed. The emergence of photography has had a great influence on enabling the viewing of the forbidden and on making that viewing acceptable. In fact, the term ‘voyeurism’ comes from the French voir (to see) and voyeur the seer. At the same time, the desire to see is inherent in photography, whereby voyeurism and photography can be seen to be on the same level. A subtle, yet very important distinction can, however, be made in this context between striving to make visible something that we normally cannot see and striving to make visible something that we normally should not see. At the moment in which something that we are not supposed to see – because it belongs in a private realm – has been made visible with the help of photography, the photographic gaze is lost and crosses a line, showing that gaze’s lack of respect for the depicted person’s right to privacy. The Japanese photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki examined precisely this moment in which the photographic gaze transgressed a boundary, as well as the close connection between the medium of photography and voyeurism, in his series The Park, created in the early 1970s. The artist photographed couples clandestinely having sex in the parks of Tokyo. However, his shots, which he took unnoticed using a Kodak infrared flash, not only reveal the couples but also – even more importantly – the numerous voyeurs who were watching the couples making love. When we look at these photos, we too are looking at private activities not intended for the public. What gave and still gives these photos their strength is the fact that the artist places himself behind the voyeur; it is no longer clear whether he is involved in what is happening as an active participant. Precisely because of this, he too becomes a voyeur, and we ourselves, as observers of his photos, become voyeurs with him. Yoishiyuki’s photographs make visual references to the Japanese tradition of erotic woodcuts in the eighteenth centuries, wich often depict someone observing erotic activities. However, their topicality at the time the photographs were produced, and even today, stems from their exploration of the constantly-shrinking boundaries of the private within the public space and the question as to when the gaze shifts to become voyeuristic.
These are also questions that the Swedish artist Ann-Sofi Sidén has been exploring since the 1980s in her films, videos and installations. In her work Station 10 and back again from 2001, she gives an insight into the everyday routines, life and pace of work at the fire station in Norrköping, Sweden. One can follow the comings and goings of the firemen, who the artist accompanied for several weeks, on eighteen surveillance monitors. Arranged in a metal storage rack, the monitors are displayed either alone or in pairs, amidst the everyday objects typical of such firefighters. Canisters, sirens, rolled-up hosepipes, helmets, boots and lamps give the work an additional documentary character and testify to the authenticity of the recordings on the monitors. Each of the recordings shows the group and recreation rooms of the fire service. Sidén equipped almost every rooms with a surveillance camera. We watch the daily working routine of the firefighters, how they prepare themselves for a mission, take a shower, cook together, make their beds and eat their meal together. The photos focus solely on the moments between the emergency call-outs, those passive, private moments of waiting that we know little about. The artist intentionally forgoes narrative structures or commentary by those portrayed. her sole artistic intervention is her subjective selection of these scenes from the larger volume of visual material produced. Coverage in the form of reportage is replaced here by live images, which seem to confront us with life itself. Of course these are cameras recordings; however, the visual effect of the surveillance cameras create the impression of being there live. Although there are no activities of note, the special aesthetic of the camera seduces us into continuing to watch the activity being shown, as a voyeur, constantly with the expectation of a possibly unusual occurrence. The voyeuristic gaze shifts here into the monitoring of a presented situation, waiting hour after hour for the decisive moment. However, most of the time absolutely nothing happens and that is precisely what Sidén shows us. The profession of a fire officer is ideally suited to serving up clichés such as bold rescue operations, nerve-wracking tension and heroic behaviour in dramatic emergencies. But these expectations are thwarted by the completely trivial everyday proceedings of the firefighters presented. The observation of life becomes a substitute for life itself.
Sidén also uses this form of working and presenting in her recent work Sticky Floors (2015), as she did in her earlier works such as Days’ Inn (1987) and Who told the Chambermaid? (1988), in which she installed surveillance cameras for the first time in order to show and question issues that are part of a constantly expanding network such as voyeurism, surveillance, privacy and networked technologies.
Whereas the secret gaze was at first an artistic means of capturing more life and authenticity, it became laden with a new connotation as a result of the rapidly growing world of the press (in which the image played an ever-more-central role) and the introduction of new media such as the television. Since the emergence of the paparazzi, from the 1960s to 1970s onwards, voyeurism itself has become a theme in contemporary art, with Yoshiyuki’s The Park series being just one example among many. Technical advancements such as magnetic tape recording and more powerful RAM drives as well as a drop in the cost of producing and recording of images finally enabled the introduction of surveillance cameras from the 1960s. Initially, they were used more in business contexts, but were soon employed in public sector institutions and rooms. With such surveillance cameras, the voyeuristic gaze became constant surveillance. This is exactly Sidén starting point: She is no longer aiming to selectively capture a specific private moment in order to achieve the greatest possible level of authenticity, but rather to constantly observe over a longer period of time with the expectation that something exciting is going to happen. Precisely this permanence of a voyeuristically motivated gaze as well as the expectation of an exceptional incident which will break what has already happened mark the sift from voyeurism to surveillance. By defying our expectations and only showing insignificant moments in her recorded visual material, she also makes clear that visual material itself is, in and of itself, objective, impersonal, and is constantly recorded by a permanently installed (and hence passive) camera: an ‘author’ as one would have in an act of voyeurism is absent. However, it is when the visual material is viewed, edited and distributed that it becomes interesting – in other words, what is subsequently done with the material and how it is interpreted makes surveillance significant.
‘I think everything and everyone should be seen. And to be seen, we need to be watched. The two go hand in hand’. In his novel The Circle, the US author Dave Eggers describes the consequences and dangers of surveillance. It is thought that the highest possible level of transparency will support community spirit and democracy, build a worldwide network, and prevent and combat crime and illness. To this end, small cameras mounted everywhere and also worn on the body, unnoticed, and a very active participation in social media platforms is required. Absolute transparency is the goal, with the permanent illumination of every corner of an individual’s life. The private sphere is thus placed entirely within the public domain. This fictive series of events is astonishingly close to today’s reality. Eggers make his novel a dystopia and take what’s already happened in reality a step further: He vividly depicts how the constant tracking of his protagonist’s data and image leads to their complete loss of control over their own lives and how quickly data is used against them. Here too, there are striking parallels with today’s reality. Everything is a question of interpretation and the use of our data.
Since the start of digitalization, photography as a technology with which the world may be perceived has been undergoing a significant transformation process which has affected the medium itself, our understanding of photography, and our understanding of the world. Meanwhile, new media have massively expanded our previous definition of the ‘photographic’ to such an extent that the term ‘photography’ now encompasses all images, whether by amateurs or professionals, static or moving, lens- or computer-based. The mergence of smartphones, video-based DSLRs, GoPros, drones, Google Glass, Oculus Rift and other such devices have had a huge impact on our approach to photography. A current legal case in Germany vividly illustrates how this changed approach affects our reception of photography, in particular photography in public space: In 2014, the ℅ Berlin Foundation held a series of open-air exhibitions while the building it would move into was being renovated. For the exhibition Ostkreuz: To the West – A new perspective on Charlottenburg, photographers from the Berlin agency Ostkreuz exhibited photographs that aimed to show how they saw this traditional district in West Berlin that would be the new home of C/O Berlin. One of these photos shows a woman in a typical street scene. The woman portrayed felt her personal rights had been violated; through her lawyer, she demanded that the photograph be removed from the exhibition immediately. This demand was met, but the claimant went a step further and demanded compensation for pain and suffering and asked her legal costs be reimbursed. Until then, distributing a photograph taken for artistic purposes without the consent of the person portrayed had been legal in Germany. However, the claimant disputed the claim that the photograph was in fact art. The claimant’s argument was that it was simply a snapshot, the artistic quality of which should not be overstated in an era of digitalization. The photographer could not invoke the tradition of street photography, for she claimed he had produced hundreds of photos in a short space of time and had made a selection later., probably on his computer, deleting most of the other photographs. This way of working, enabled by digital photography, differed completely from the original practice of street photography. Street photography pioneers only had analogue cameras at their disposal and were therefor forced to be very selective and to take considerably fewer photographs. Due to the much more focused and slower working process, it was possible to make contact with the person depicted at the very latest after a photo had been taken, and this was also common working practice. But if this argumentation were to prevail, photographers in the future would be liable to prosecution from the moment of taking a photograph without prior permission (a practice upon which street photography is predicated), and the digitalization of technology would mean the end of street photography as an art form. The case was taken to the Federal Constitutional Court and is still under review. The case shows how sensitive we have become with regard to our privacy. In the constantly expanding forms of surveillance common today, photos taken without our knowledge and without our conscious consent cause unease and negative criticism. As the public and the private grow ever more tightly interlaced, we publicly show more and more of our private lives than ever before, yet we remain anxious to protect our privacy and maintain the rights to images to ourselves.
The insecurity about whether or not street photography in public spaces will be permitted or forbidden in the future will hang over every photographer who works in the field of street photography. What effects this will have on street photography cannot yet be gauged. What is significant here is the fear of possible legal consequences, which could lead to a kind of self-censorship. This will ensure that some photos are not even taken, or at least not displayed. One shudders to think how many iconic street photographs would never have been taken under today’s working conditions.
In light of these developments it goes without saying that today, Pieter Hugo is working in a completely different context when compared to Walker Evans – but even more significantly, his work is experienced in a completely different context. The private sphere has become a precious commodity in an era of smartphones, networked technologies and social media networks where photos can be shared in seconds online, with the subsequent increased interconnectedness of the private and the public. Hence Hugo also writes:

‘I wonder how the people I photograph will feel about these pictures. In this age we demand that celebrity be placed within the public gaze but have a conflicting ethos for our own representations. I once read that a Londoner was caught on CCTV an average of 300 times a day. We are constantly being photographed without being aware of it.’

The same act – the clandestine photographing of other people unbeknownst to them – is received completely differently today because the means of dissemination, our understanding of public/private and, as a result, the border in our minds have all shifted. A project portraying sleeping co-passengers on a long-distance flight, initiated by a photographer who was unable to sleep, hence becomes a significant example of how complex our perception of photography is today, seen against a backdrop of voyeurism and surveillance.
Hence the central question that remains is, what is the new border in our minds? How do we censor ourselves when we know that we are constantly being observed and that our privacy is becoming more and more endangered? What exact consequences does that have for our personal and social freedom? And how can we respond appropriately? Are legal proceedings a way of regulating the situation? But what does it mean to be constantly confronted with legal considerations – how does that affect us?
These are questions about questions we do not yet know the answers to. We are still only just beginning a process of becoming aware of these issues.

by Ann-Christin Bertrand

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