We tend to think of the camera as a way to document happy occasions -- weddings, holidays and vacations. But philosophers of photography have long understood a relationship of power between the camera and its subject, especially when it comes to documentary photography, media images of war and calamity, news reels that spin their pictures any way they please. What happens when the camera is invisible, and you (i.e., just your average American) are its blind and trusting subject?
NOTBORED!, a New York-based artist also known as Bill Brown, comes to Cincinnati this weekend to map downtown's hidden eyes -- surveillance cameras. At 2 p.m. on Sunday he invites us to meet him at 550 Main St. as he leads a performance walking tour of the hidden cameras of our city. Be prepared to hear controversial statements against watchdogs, our government and the control-freak known as Big Brother. Brown has a valid point to his performances: Surveillance cameras don't keep us safe -- they violate our right to privacy, add to our paranoia and help criminals stalk victims.
Brown runs the performance troupe The Surveillance Camera Players in New York, which follows a long tradition of social criticism known as Situationism. In 1967, Guy Debord wrote The Society of the Spectacle, in which he illustrated the made-for-the-camera unreality of contemporary culture. Many artists, thinkers and writers soon followed suit and saw the world as images of itself. Brown is the latest to take hold of Debord's ideas.
According to Kim Paice, a professor of modern and contemporary art at the University of Cincinnati and the person responsible for bringing the artist here, "NotBored! and The Surveillance Camera Players are some of the most important artist-activists working in a pro-Situ vein today. NotBored!'s work as public intellectual, translating Situationist International-related texts and letters, is well-known globally."
The question you'll walk around wondering is why are we being watched? Really, what's the point of this, if not just the unlimited power of the people in charge? Isn't it time to spray paint the lenses?
(Written by Laura Leffler and published in the 16 November 2005 issue of Cincinnati CityBeat.)
By e-mail SCP@notbored.org