What happens if some people decided to take control, in different ways, of their own images taken in public space by the millions of CCTV, by becoming conscientious actors and protagonists of the never ending film of the city (in London, there are more that half million of CCTV, 1 every 14 citizens)? What if some people started reclaiming, under the Data Protection Act, their own ‘performances’? To the extent, for instance, of making a music video, or an art installation? Or even a youth community project in alternative media practices thanks to ‘video sniffing’, that is, the hacking of loose digital videos from unencrypted cameras and their remixing. With a bit of poetry, we might even think to drifting through the policed city following the unpredictable waves of ethereal signals (Inspired by the praxis of the Situationist International, some of these art projects invite to disrupt the hegemonic power of capital-driven urbanism and to re-fresh our understanding of the city by exploring civic relationships through play, in order to bridge personal and public space, individual and collective experience, and physical and historical condition, into a rhizomatic generative urban drift).
Media commentators are quick at condemning the increasing practice as illegal, but this is at very least a gray area: who does my picture, captured in public space, belong to? Whatever the techniques, it seems clear to me that what is at stake here is the narrative of CCTV as uncomplicated and self-evident. On the other hand, media and criminologists (alongside the expanding industry of the digital surveillance systems) make no mistake on the goals of this unprecedented mapping coverage of the urban population: the ideological and politicized program of urban restructuring must go on in the name of a “safer” public space. Moreover, there is an increasing attention to the effects of video surveillance on people’s behaviour. As Hille Koskela (2000) maintains:
“video-surveillance changes the ways in which power is exercised, modifies emotional experiences in urban space and affects the ways in which ‘reality’ is conceptualized and understood. Surveillance contributes to the production of urban space”[i] .
The counter-surveillance of the alternative video-practice attempts to do the same. You might want to check this post out, as well.
- Hille Koskela, The Gaze without Eyes, Sage, 2000 [↩]