Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Surveillance tactics

To shadow someone has the whiff of surveillance about it.  The irony is that as I was surreptiously playing out my surveillance role, I was also the subject of surveillance.  In every city nowadays our passage through the streets is marked and recorded by CCTV cameras.  They have become such a part of modern life these days that we hardly notice them, but pause and look up, and chances are you will find your glance returned by the blank gaze of the camera's all-seeing eye.

Artist Jill Magid addresses issues of the surveillance society in her work Evidence Locker (2004).  This work was made for the Liverpool Biennial and involved the cooperation of the city's CCTV surveillance system.  All footage in these systems is stored for 31 days - one cycle of CCTV memory - and then deleted unless it reveals a crime being committed.  However, as a member of the public and on payment of a £10 fee, you can request any footage involving yourself be put aside and securely stored for 7 years in an official 'evidence locker' situated in the CCTV control station's main computer.   In collaboration with the police who operate the system, Magid directed the observers to her whereabouts on the tapes by filling out 31 Subject Access Request Forms - the legal document necessary to outline to the police details of how and when an 'incident' occurred. The forms were completed in the guise of a love letter and diary and as the project progressed it feels as though a relationship develops between Magid and her unseen observers. To facilitate her identification on the tapes, she wears a bright red coat.  You can see the whole series of letters and some of the video footage by visiting her website and electing to have them sent to you via email - one arrives each hour. http://www.evidencelocker.net/story.php

Evidence Locker - Jill Magid

Although done with the cooperation of the police, it is still a chilling indictment of how far our privacy is invaded on a daily basis, and puts into perspective my strategy for following in the footsteps of others - we are all already being photographed hundreds of times daily without our permission.  What difference do a few more photographs make in the sea of images in circulation? 

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