In this series I am using both downloaded photos from public Internet Webcams in different parts of the world, and images from airport x-ray screening machines as the sources for my photo-based work and light box installation.
Surveillance now occurs as a routine part of our daily lives. This is a very timely and important subject that lends itself well to the context of Fine Art, regardless of its socio-political implications. Surveillance cameras have become the historians of our contemporary era, and are “transforming” how we perceive real or imagined threats, as well as how we live our day to day lives.
Never before in history have we been so documented carrying out our daily activities; from walking down the street, to eating in a restaurant, or getting on a train or airplane. Our once very private lives have turned into very public lives for all to see, and usually we are totally unaware that we are being observed. In the past, only historic or important events have been so recorded.
In this current period of our history, the idea of constant surveillance has taken on new meaning and urgency. It raises many questions: Is big brother watching us? Is it for our own protection? Are we really voyeurs, and how far will it go? To some it may seem like an invasion of their privacy, and to others it may add a feeling of security, especially after 9/11. I think everybody has a different opinion about this issue.
At any time of the day or night, we can watch and capture images of people anywhere in the world on these Webcams. We can be “somewhere else” without leaving the comfort of our own living room. This creates an undeniable feeling of voyeurism, which in its own way helps to establish a kind of anonymous connection with the rest of humanity.
I have found it fascinating to utilize such images in my work. Viewing these photos on Internet Webcams has transformed my own thinking of being alone or isolated in the world; to seeing that we are all connected (at least in cyberspace), and people living in far away places like Siberia or South America, are just a mouse click away. These Webcams have truly transformed us into a global community in “real time” as the events are actually happening.
Occasionally a person sees the Webcam mounted on a building, and waves or holds up a sign in a vain effort to connect with somebody out in the world. This brings up underlying issues of loneliness and alienation that many of us feel – of being “collectively alone”.
The other part of my Surveillance series involves images that I photographed off of airport screening machines that show the contents of suitcases, much like seeing an x-ray of our bodies. I made these images into light boxes that are placed inside of suitcases with one side cut out, so that it appears like we are viewing the contents inside.
The usual paraphernalia like shoes, umbrellas, and eyeglasses can be seen, but I decided to “enhance” these actual x-ray photos with the addition of more ominous items, such as guns, bombs, firecrackers, scissors, and liquid filled bottles. I did this partly tongue-in-cheek, but also because these items directly relate to our present day fears of what we imagine might be lurking in someone’s bags.
Our views on travel and security have been transformed in recent years to ones of fear and trepidation about flying, and who our fellow passengers might be. In the past we never gave much thought to anyone’s carry-on luggage, but things have changed in the world whether we want to admit it or not, and surveillance is definitely here to stay.
All images and text © Sherry Karver
By Sherry Karver