Faceless images and CCTV

May 23, 2007 at 3:00 am 2 comments

Faceless film posterThinkingShift readers will know I have a slight tendency towards conspiracy theories and am extremely suspicious of CCTV cameras, which are filming us all the time. But I’m not quite sure what to make of this piece of news. An Austrian filmmaker, who is certainly being crafty when it comes to avoiding the costs of making a film, has patched together a film from real-life images captured from CCTV cameras. UK based Manu Luksch is both a star and director of the sci-fi film, Faceless. Luksch’s face appears in the film but those of others are blanked out. Apparently, under the UK Data Protection Act, a person has a right to request images of oneself from CCTV cameras. So she requested images from places like theatre foyers where existing CCTV cameras were in place and where she knew she had been.

Faceless was made according to the Manifesto for CCTV Filmmakers, which states that images can only be obtained from existing CCTV cameras and under the Data Protection Act. Now, I think there are many positives to Faceless. Firstly, what a wonderful metaphor for contemporary life: as we shuffle through cities each day, brushing up against fellow citizens, many of us feel simply faceless. Richard Sennett in his book, The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities, which I’m currently re-reading, talks about contemporary cities as monotonous spaces that passive individuals have built for themselves. He describes cities as neutral spaces of social control. And so the faceless individual is one more bland component of a bleak steel and glass landscape. But by using existing images, Luksch has also manipulated and created a dynamic collage of city life in a new framework with a new rhythm and context. She has reflected on the constant gaze of CCTV from an artistic and social perspective and created a strange, yet plausible world.

However, I wonder to what extent privacy is impinged on. Though the faces are blanked out, maybe someone is wearing distinctive clothes or jewellery and can therefore still be identified? It sort of smacks of a social experiment too: you can’t use rats or other animals in laboratory tests unless you’ve gone through Ethics hoops and scrutiny and can demonstrate that no harm will arise. Using this framework, could mental harm, humiliation or embarrassment arise if someone is identified? Not to mention the issue of retrieving images from CCTV – whilst the legislation gives a particular individual the right to retrieve his or her image, that person’s image is unavoidably amongst images of other people – one day it could be you or me. And how is our permission obtained to appear in film a’la Faceless?

I’m just not sure what I really think about this but it makes me a tad more paranoid about the steady, focused eye of the CCTV camera watching us as we rush through the canyons of our world cities. Perhaps my paranoia is justified since recent articles describe the UK as an Orwellian society. Unobtrusive looking CCTV cameras have found their way into the quite village of Hampshire and the village’s deputy chief constable is not a happy man. He says: “I’m really concerned about what happens to the product of these cameras and what comes next. If it’s in our villages – are we really moving towards an Orwellian situation with cameras on every street corner? I really don’t think that’s the kind of country that I want to live in.” There are an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras in the UK – that’s about one camera for every 14 people. And if the police are concerned about their prevalence and use, then perhaps we should be concerned too.

Just as I was finishing this post, in came this RSS feed about eye-scanning technology recently introduced into Gatwick airport. Now, one of the reasons I avoid visiting the US (despite a liking for the country) is the fingerprinting and iris-scanning business. I have nothing to hide; I am simply against this intrusion on one’s privacy and liberty. So I have to think twice about the UK since Heathrow and now Gatwick have biometric technology that takes an image of a passenger’s iris patterns and stores it in a database, together with passport details. I’m sure that George Orwell would hastily be writing the next installment of 1984 were he still alive!

And then there’s the pilotless drones that UK police (obviously those not worried about CCTV) have just launched in Merseyside. The ‘spy drone’ is fitted with CCTV cameras, mainly for tackling anti-social behaviour and public disorder. Great: not only do I need to look for CCTV cameras in public spaces, now I have to look up in the sky to see if things other than birds are whizzing past and looking down with an eagle eye.

In a similar vein, Dave Snowden over at Cognitive Edge, recently reported what I thought was a pretty horrifying experience. Having missed a flight to London through no fault of his own, Dave was whiling away some time until the next flight by uploading holiday photos to Flickr. From this innocent act, the fur flew. Here’s what happened in Dave’s words:

It started with an accusation of uploading porn to the internet. I was uploading holiday photographs to Flickr which included some of 17 year old daughter and friend scantily glad on a boat in Bali. This alerted some scanning system on the hotels broadband service. Things were difficult for a period to say the least. Much as I would like internet pornographers caught, this does seem a little Big Brotherish and one wonders what else is being monitored.

Seems to me that our society has become over-regulated and over-controlled. In the interests of protecting our neighbours from ourselves; our family and children from ourselves; our cats, dogs and goldfish from ourselves – we’ve acquiesced in the face of the ‘fear society’. With the constant rhetoric over terrorism, have we given up our liberties and, like the pig with the apple in its mouth ready to be roasted, served ourselves up to the shadowy world of surveillance? Are we a better society for this?

I have pinched the photo of the Faceless poster to accompany this post (Source: http://www.ambienttv.net/content/?q=faceless)

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Entry filed under: Art, CCTV, Reflections, Surveillance society.

Physician, heal thyself Now the walls have ears!

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