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Curious Frame - Issue #24 - Photography & Surveillance

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #24 - Photography & Surveillance
By Leanne Staples • Issue #24 • View online
Everywhere we go we are photographing and being photographed. We have so readily embraced photography as an essential aspect of our everyday lives that we aren’t able to see or even be aware of how rampant photography is being used.
While we are involved in the activity of photographing, we are also being captured. Some of them accidentally and others randomly by hidden cameras. (It is interesting how we use the words capture and shooting about photography. That will likely be discussed in a future issue.)
Not all photography is good. I’m not talking about ‘likes’ or the quality of a photo. Rather there are CCTV cameras everywhere we go. They are mostly hidden and for the most part we are unaware of their presence. So this issue is about surveillance.
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Readers comments:
Don’t keep those thoughts to yourself. Curious Frame is about dialogue and I’d love to hear your comments or even questions or inspirations. And it’s easy. Just hit reply in your email.
Your opinions are valued. No advanced degrees or education required.
One reader wrote:
Great topic, as usual. Ironic, isn’t it, that for centuries painters strove to make realistic paintings — art imitating life — yet before photography was widely accepted as an art form, some condemned it because they perceived photographs as imitation paintings. Looking forward to your next issue.
Another reader wrote:
I am always curious and curiosity is part of our essence and I think there would be art without photography, but as luckily photography was invented, art cannot live without it.
Thanks for your comments. There isn’t just one answer or method of looking at any of the issues discussed in Curious Frame. 
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Photography & Surveillance
Mermaid Parade, Coney Island, 2012.
Mermaid Parade, Coney Island, 2012.
All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up,” Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder, 1950.
Most things in life also have a dark side. Photography has a history that is full of glamour and art and documents celebrations and wars. We experience so much in life through photography and we form our ideas about so many things through photography.
There are millions of photos taken everyday of everyone who steps foot in a public place without even seeing or being aware of a camera or a photographer.
CCTV - Closed Circuit Television is also known as video surveillance and by one estimate, there will be approximately 1 billion surveillance cameras in-use worldwide by 2021. Yep, that’s this year. 
1978: A card shark at work at Times Square
1978: A card shark at work at Times Square
In 1973 video cameras were installed in Times Square by the NYPD. They thought crime would decrease as a result. But it seems that they had little or no effect in reducing crime. 
You wouldn’t want to be in Times Square in the 1970s. Most New Yorkers avoided the area. It was dangerous and to be seen there could be considered complicit with the activities of drugs, prostitution and other illegal activities. 
Or then, wouldn’t it have been cool to know that photographs there during that time would be sought after and illustrate a time in history that can’t be recreated?
NYPD Security cameras in the heart of Times Square. New Yorkers are thinking about security after the failed car bombing attempt of Faisal Shahzad. (Warga/News). Mayor Bloomberg is visiting London to observe its security camera network. May 2010.
NYPD Security cameras in the heart of Times Square. New Yorkers are thinking about security after the failed car bombing attempt of Faisal Shahzad. (Warga/News). Mayor Bloomberg is visiting London to observe its security camera network. May 2010.
Perhaps the main reason that we are able to take street photos in the US in legal terminology is, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place
The use of CCTV pushes this concept a little further than what most people believe it was intended for. Many say that the rampant use of CCTV is in violation of our civil rights as citizens. 
While CCTV was already in use for decades before the September 11th attacks, the use of surveillance cameras increased with the idea that they could prevent terrorist attacks. 
I repeat, there is no concrete evidence that major crimes and terrorists are deterred by CCTV.
Candid Camera was a popular and long-running American hidden camera reality television series. Versions of the show appeared on television from 1948 until 2014. Originally created and produced by Allen Funt, it often featured practical jokes, and initially began on radio as The Candid Microphone on June 28, 1947.
Candid Camera was a popular and long-running American hidden camera reality television series. Versions of the show appeared on television from 1948 until 2014. Originally created and produced by Allen Funt, it often featured practical jokes, and initially began on radio as The Candid Microphone on June 28, 1947.
In 2011, there were an estimated 1.85 million CCTV cameras in the UK. That was one camera for every 32 people. A report claimed that the average person in the UK on a typical day will be seen by 70 CCTV cameras. That was 10 years ago.
And yet another study puts the numbers at 14 people for every CCTV camera in the UK. The fact that the numbers are difficult to pin down is a result of the fact that the usage of surveillance cameras is on the rise and they are used by government, businesses and citizens alike. There are no regulations, licenses or registry for CCTV.
James Bond with a spy camera.
James Bond with a spy camera.
Surveillance cameras are what in another time we would call spy cameras. That is to say that we are being spied on. This sounds pretty radical. But I think that there’s no other way to put it. We are being spied on even though at least 99% of the population are law abiding citizens. 
Nothing can be so deceiving as a photograph. Franz Kafka.
Within the use of surveillance cameras is the fact that they are most commonly used against people of color and the disenfranchised. This often leads to arrests that are frequently for minor crimes or are wrongly accused due to mistaken identity.
The idea of innocent until proven guilty has been flipped around to guilty until proven innocent. It is opposite of what we have held as a sacred belief and an integral part of our society. This is the free world. Right?
Black Lives Matter at Gay Pride, New York City, 28 June 2020
Black Lives Matter at Gay Pride, New York City, 28 June 2020
Police are supposed to serve and protect citizens. Now they surveil us. Laws are typically created because a minority of people who break the laws. The majority pays for this by being dragged into a large suspect pool.
So here I am diving into a topic about photography that can show some of the inherent problems that we don’t often consider. I have a preference for writing about the good and positive aspects. We’ll return to that soon.
Last year I took a number of photos at Black Lives Matter protests and I posted a few of them to social media. My daughter told me that I shouldn’t post them. I assumed that these people are gathered in public and are involved in peaceful protest. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Democracy in Action, New York City, July 2019
Democracy in Action, New York City, July 2019
Well, life changes. It seems that in fact the police and other agencies use these photos along with facial recognition to arrest people. They target people even when no proof of a crime was committed. 
As new technologies enter our world, new unanticipated challenges become known. Photography combined with the internet and social media is not all bad, but it isn’t all benign. Photography should not be confused with Truth. And facial recognition and CCTV can easily be misread and skewed to make a case.
A number of years back I photographed many posters around the city with the phrase, Photography is not a crime. I didn’t really know what it meant. 
Photography is not a crime, New York City, October 2014
Photography is not a crime, New York City, October 2014
I immediately thought it was in reference to street photography is not a crime. We always try to make sense of things in ways that they relate to our individual experience of life.
After having a look into what it means, I discovered that a group was created to post photos made by citizens about the actions made by police and that it is their right as citizens to take and share these photos.
I think that before Photography is not a crime, there was Art is not a crime and that it was a campaign started by the street artist Mr. Brainwash. So it was perhaps nothing more than justifying illegal street art and a case of branding. 
Nevertheless, a number of different groups and individuals are challenging CCTV and other forms of surveillance as it infringes our rights and freedoms. To be clear, there are times when the use of CCTV is appropriate and helpful in solving crimes. However, there needs to be independent oversight on it’s usage.
Spooks (known as MI-5 in the US) is a British television spy drama series that originally aired on BBC One from 13 May 2002 to 23 October 2011
Spooks (known as MI-5 in the US) is a British television spy drama series that originally aired on BBC One from 13 May 2002 to 23 October 2011
I remember watching the BBC series MI5 as it was called in the US, way back in 2002. I believe that it was the opening show in the series in which they were able to use CCTV to track a suspect for a very long distance with very few areas that they were not able to see him.
I think that it was the very first time that I had ever considered or thought that such a thing would be possible. When we walk down the streets in open public spaces, it is difficult to know how many cameras are recording our every movement.
I’ve spent most of my life thinking that if you haven’t done anything wrong the idea of privacy wasn’t as big of a concern as it has become when using social media and doing many things on the internet.
George Orwell's book, 1984 - Big Brother is Watching You. Published in 1949.
George Orwell's book, 1984 - Big Brother is Watching You. Published in 1949.
So we are tracked online and offline. Unfortunately, that information is bought and sold without our knowledge or permission.
We have become commodities and whether it’s about companies selling that information or the use of technology to track our movements and use that against us
I do not consider myself a conspiracy theorist. But I do find it interesting how much of science fiction becomes true. George Orwell predicted the world that we live in and he died in 1950.
I don’t mean to leave you on a bad note. But the world that we live in is very different to the one that most of us were born into. At minimum, we need to be more considerate and careful of who and what we take photos of even though we have good intentions and are well meaning people.
My first real lesson in that was taking photos of protesters and posting them. I am happy to hear about your thoughts and experiences on this and next issue we will return to the light side.
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Further Viewing
The first link is a brief video on the book and the film 1984 and why it is still relevant.
The second is the Apple ad that was aired on January 22, 1984, during Super Bowl XVIII to introduce the Apple Macintosh personal computer. It radically changed commercial advertising.
George Orwell's 1984: Why it still matters - BBC News
Apple 1984 Ad Commercial - Original Recording from The Day It First Aired
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Curious Frame Newsletter | Exploring Photographic Possibilities
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Artist, Photographer & Writer - Leanne Staples
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Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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