Shining on the Jewelry District

At 2:30 pm on Saturday, 2 July 2005, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) performed on 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan. Otherwise known as the Jewelry District, this area is one of the most heavily surveilled in New York City: according to our most recent map, this stretch of street contains 49 surveillance cameras. If you read the newspapers, you know that this area is also home to the Russian mafia, which surveills its premises not so much to guard against theft, but to keep an eye out for the FBI and the NYPD Organized Crime Task Force.

On this occasion, the SCP consisted of Bill, Susan and Lisa, all of whom were part of the very first SCP group, that is, the one that performed Ubu Roi on 10 December 1996. It was Lisa's first performance with the group since 28 July 1998; the group's first performance in almost two years (the last one was on 9 October 2003); and its first performance in New York City in almostthree years (30 November 2002). Wow! It was good to be back in action.

The play of the day was It's OK, Officer. First the group moved west and visited each and every camera on the south side of the street; then it doubled back and, moving east, visited each and every camera on the north side. There were a great many responses. One person snarled, "This is the Jewelry District: there are supposed to be surveillance cameras here." Another said, "I don't know what you are doing, but I agree with you." By far the most interesting response was the one from a jewelry store on the north side of the street. As soon as the SCP was spotted, a young man came out and -- seeing that the group was trailed by a TV crew (see below) -- said, "You can't photograph my building." He was told that the crew had permits from the City and that it could videotape anything it wanted as long as it stood on public property, which it was in fact doing. Without another word, a second name from the store clicked a switch and the roll-gate came down, hiding both the two men and their store behind it. The cameraman from the crew surmised that the guy must also have turned on some kind of signal jammer, because the pictures he was getting suddenly became blurry.

The crew was from Beyond, an Australian company that is putting together a piece on surveillance for The Discovery Channel. Before the performance, the crew came to Bill's apartment and interviewed him at great length; after the performance, the crew accompanied Bill around Times Square, as he pointed out and talked about some of the area's most interesting cameras. The whole shoot took 10 hours in total. The finished piece will air in October 2005.

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