Surveillance Photography: Personal, Public and Profit


– We’re gonna be talking about
surveillance photography. It’s both creepy and creative. All right and so we have
a fabulous panel here. What I would like to do is
I wanna give you a little overview first on the history
of surveillance photography. I’m an educator, gotta
get some history into it. And then we will be
hearing from our panel. And then at the end we welcome questions. All right we’re gonna hold
the questions to the very end. The actual term surveillance
was derived from a French word, oh I need Marco’s help,
(speaking in a foreign language), which means to keep watch. And the surveillance camera, as you know, has been used to police
borders, assist war time, to gain advantage over political enemies, or simply to gather information. So, this is one lecture
where I would encourage you to have your cell phones on
and tweet, #svadigitalphoto. Now the techniques in
surveillance photography are very closely to the development of photographic technology and the earliest surveillance photos, which we’re going to show to
the most recent photography that you know of artists
and photographers using Google Maps, Google
Glass, and Google Lenses. Now here’s one of the very first… Uh huh, hang on. There’s my presentation, okay. So here’s one of the very first images, this is actually the first image
of a human being ever done. Now this is Paris and Paris was not empty, but the man on the bottom left hand corner was having his shoes cleaned and it’s about a 10 minute exposure. So I think this is the first
surveillance photo ever made, because he didn’t give his permission, he didn’t know, and now
we’re all looking at him, which I think is just pretty amazing. And that was from 1838. Now even in the earliest
days of photography, photographers were always
looking for new points of view. And here we have Nardar, who
worked also in Paris in 1850s, and he was very interested
in aerial photography. Now back then, aerial photography, you had to literally take
your wet darkroom with you, because everything
collodion prints, plates. And so here he is in his balloon,
to do aerial photography. It took him three years
to develop the process, but I also love compositing and this is actually
how they did that photo. This is his wife. Don’t you like her expression? You know, she’s like, what
am I doing in this basket hanging from a pole? But aerial photography in
1906 was incredibly important because it was used to
document the destruction of the earthquake in San Francisco. And the photographer that did that, his name was George
Lawrence, he used a camera that was incredibly heavy
and needed 17 to 18 kites to lift it up to take
these really stunning panoramic photos of that destruction. So you’ve got balloons, you’ve got kites, you have pigeons. (audience laughs) Where it was actually developed in 1909 to put this tiny little camera on a pigeon and then it was programmed
to take a picture every 30 seconds just like
the autographer camera I am wearing today, but I am not a pigeon. And these pictures were very
popular at the World’s Fair. I love the vignetting with
the wings on the top one. And you couldn’t really tell
what you were gonna get, ’cause they didn’t really
understand composition. And here’s a little military
pigeon ready to go off. And the camera weighed 1.4 ounces and it sort of reminds
me of a GoPro, right, that we tie to our dogs and
penguins and killer whales and things like that. So people have been doing
surveillance photography for quite a while. Here in New York City,
one of the most important photographers of the 20th
Century, Walker Evans, developed, oh he wanted to photograph
people in the New York subway without them noticing. And he did this project over
the course of four years where he painted his
shiny Leica dark black and the put the lens
through two button holes and photographed in the subway, because he thought that he
liked watching the everyday routines of anonymous people. And you know nowadays, everybody just be looking
at their cell phone and would never look at you anyway. So been going on for quite a while. While I was doing, researching
for this presentation, I couldn’t remember this man’s name. So I actually Googled,
creepy photos taken by man with cardboard camera and
Miroslav Tichy popped up. And the reason I call him creepy is, he’d build these cameras out of cardboard, and so nobody thought they actually worked and he’d walk around his hometown and hang out at swimming pools and photograph about 100 shots a day. I think he was the first
up skirt photographer, ’cause this is what he
pretty much photographed. So we’re getting into the creepy part. So now in the 21st Century, we of course have surveillance photography and I just found this out today, we know about the cameras on the, your storefronts, your
lampposts, airports, etc. The University of Washington’s
developing a system for cameras to speak to each other. So you know how sometimes
when something happens and the police say, you know
this person in this video, and they show like a five second clip from a security camera and
then that person’s gone. Well the University of
Washington’s working on a system that they can recognize
you and the cameras will be able to talk to each other, so they’ll be able to
follow you down the street, around the corner and keep track of you based on the color of your
clothing and how you walk, which is really, very, very creepy. So we’re being watched, but I think more
importantly we’re giving up an incredible amount of
information about ourselves. And Eric Snowden said a few weeks ago, that if you care about your privacy, you should stay away from
Dropbox, Google, and Facebook, but then I would never know what my students or husband is doing.
(audience laughs) Right, so I think in the past, surveillance photography
has always been very active looking out, but I think
it’s very important for us to understand
how much information we voluntarily put out there when we search for a vacation spot or the
right cream for a skin rash or when we say what we’re doing or the GPS information
in all of our photos. So there’s a lot of very important issues for us to address today and I’m thrilled that we
have fabulous panel here. I’m gonna read their brief bios, believe me the bios do not do them justice in the order they’re
going to be presenting, and then we’ll take questions afterwards. So first to present is going
to be Christopher Gregory. Chris, as he goes by, is
based in New York City and he works extensively in
home country of Puerto Rico. His current project which
Chris is showing us tonight, Las Carpetas, focuses on telling the story of one the largest surveillance projects conducted by the U.S.
Government on it’s own citizens. Then we have Hye-Ryoung Min, who’s a graduate of NPS
Digital Photography, isa South Korean photographer
living and working in New York City and Hye-Ryoung will be
showing work from her project, Channel 247, which
aesthetically references surveillance photography. Andrew Hammerand came in from Boston. He’s interested in using photography to interrogate the
intersection of technology, privacy, and image culture within America. Andrew will be showing
work from The New Town, which is presently included
in the Open Society’s exhibit, Moving Walls 22, Watching
You, Watching Me. Then finally, David Fine
is a product manager and Placemeter. Placemeter was created to give
people the power of knowing what a place is like
before they get there, which I think is just fascinating. And David has worked in the tech startup, in media space in New
York, LA, and Dallas, and he’ll be showing us
what and how Placemeter gather, analyzes, and shares information. So please help and
welcome our first speaker, Christopher Gregory.
(audience applauds) And I will start your… I’m also the tech person. Like great, great. Okay, so (mumbles) – Thank you and thanks
everybody for coming out, I know it’s a little rainy. So, can we pause this though? There we go. All right, great. So I’ll give you sort of a, I’m kind of like the resident
historian of the lot. My project focuses, I’m from
Puerto Rico, grew up there, on one of the largest and
longest continuous surveillance programs conducted by the U.S. Government. So I’ll give you just a
brief history of Puerto Rico, just in case. We were acquired by the U.S. in 1898 in the Spanish-American War. In 1917, everybody that
lived in Puerto Rico, that was born in Puerto Rico
was given U.S. citizenship. And basically what was interesting about that particular legislation, 1917, was that there was a
sense that, like Cuba, and later like the Philippines, the territories that were won
in the Spanish-American War would eventually become independent. That wasn’t the case with Puerto Rico, because when they made
Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens, they drafted a lot of them
to the First World War and it became a very
important military outpost in the Caribbean later,
and more importantly, for the fight against
Communism and Totalitarianism down in South America. So this program started around the 1930s and it was conducted primarily by the FBI, and it was specifically targeted at the pro-independence movement. So anybody that roughly
associated with the Nationalist Party, the
Pro-Independence Party, or anybody that was sort of seeking for an alternative landscape,
political landscape, was heavily persecuted. And the first iteration
of it was a list of everybody who was a member of
the Nationalist Organization. So I’ll just start going through these and kind of give you
some more history on ’em. These were compiled by
essentially what was the secret police in Puerto
Rico, which was the intelligence division of the
Puerto Rican police department. This particular division and the Puerto Rican police department was founded by a few members of the insular police that were
heavily trained by the FBI. And so a lot of the money for this particular program came from the federal
government and the FBI and a lot of sort of initiatives,
like later on, Cointelpro. So this is what you’re looking at. So essentially my project focuses on sort of select people
that are a good indicator of what the extent of
this program was like. This is one of the largest ones. It’s about 4,000 pages, and it’s 30, basically 30 years of this
person’s life documented. What you see inside of them, are newspaper clippings if
they were politically active. If they weren’t, you know,
who they had coffee with. They have timelines, 9:30,
9:35, left you know, the bodega, and there was sort of the level of, like how they intervened was anywhere from you had no idea you were being surveilled, to this man who was a university professor and had a undercover agent
in each one of his classes for about 20 years. And so this is one of the
earliest artifacts I have which is from 1949, a
year before a particularly violent revolution in Puerto Rico and it’s surveillance
note of people coming out of this building, which is now actually a really nice bar and restaurant, if you’re ever in Puerto Rico, but it used to be the
Nationalist Headquarters. This is Josie’s Carpeta. She basically was targeted as a result of participating in rallies. So she showed up to a, you
know, pro-independence rally and she was also very involved with particular political prisoners
that had been imprisoned during demonstrations or
violent acts in the U.S., but she had no idea that
she was being surveilled. And what’s interesting
about this surveillance was that a lot of these primary documents and information were collected from government organizations. So that is actually her high
school yearbook picture. And so basically all of civil society had involvement in this
operation, essentially. When it was all said and done, there was about 185 data points, so about 185,000 people were surveilled, which amounted to thousands
and thousands and thousands of hundreds of thousands of
folios only in Puerto Rico. There are also federal
files that currently nobody really knows what the extent of is because they haven’t been declassified. Most of the people I photographed
have federal files as well that they’ve been able to FOIA. So the extent of that operation that are FBI and English
files is pretty extensive. What ended up happening
was that you created sort of a cottage industry,
and this is what I think is interesting culturally
about this project is that agents and informants and
anybody who was providing information to people were paid. So this is a list of all
600 people that attended the burial of the son of one
of the most prominent pro-independence leaders and
if you look at the numbers next to each one of those names, those are all the file numbers, most of them recited by memory. So this guy just kinda showed up and wrote everybody’s names down and compiled these lists. So people were paid anywhere
from $20 to $40 per report, and this is the ’70s, so
it was a massive operation, which involved a lot of money. And then also what
started happening was that these informants would
essentially take this money from the government, but
what ended up happening was that agents would specifically target spouses, brothers, sisters, neighbors. So what ended up happening was that everybody around you may
or may not be an informant and on top of that, when this eventually came out in the ’80s, I’ll talk about when that moment was, people found out that
brothers, sisters, spouses, their neighbors, people that
they thought were the closest to them had been informing
on them to the police. And what that meant was that
you couldn’t hold a job, you couldn’t work in any
public, you know, enterprise. I mean you couldn’t work for government. And a lot of these
people made their living either as lawyers with private practice, obviously because of their
experience with the law or working for companies
that were owned by people that were
sympathetic in the movement. So here, this is actually a
really interesting Carpeta. So here you can actually see
the names of the FBI agents that signed out as sort
of a chain of custody of the Carpetas. What ended up happening in
the sort of the late ’60s, from 1956 to about the
early ’70s was Cointelpro, which is a program started
by the federal government targeting any leftist
and Communist movements in South America, you know like famously in like El Salvador and Nicaragua, and like
all these other places. But in Puerto Rico, it was
essentially a domestic fight and the FBI had a much larger kind of cache of resources to give to the Puerto Rican Police Department and to conduct their own
surveillance in Puerto Rico. And part of that at that moment was also, very intense kind of
gag laws and legislation that were aimed at making flying
a Puerto Rican flag illegal and participating of any
demonstration also illegal. Was actually a photographer. So basically like anything that you did that was relatively
politically subversive, and by the ’70s it was labor movements, feminist groups, or
anybody that was remotely sort of trying to propose
an alternative landscape. And what’s interesting, I
think, about this project and what I’m trying to kind
of convey is that, you know, I myself was a person that didn’t really think about surveillance
and wasn’t really, you know sort of engaged with that idea, that notion that, you know I wanna protect
my privacy, like we all do, but what I think is important and what this project shows is that, the potential for abuse is really where, what we should be talking about. The surveillance itself, out of all of these folios
and all of this surveillance, nobody was ever convicted of a crime from evidence that came
out of these files. But I think a whole, you know whole series of like three generations of Puerto Ricans weren’t able to exercise
their political speech in fear of the authority. And this is also a really early artifact. This is in 1947. This is a march to commemorate
a pro-independence rally, like back in 1800s. But you can sort of see with pen, like each one of the numbers
and everybody identified in the rally. And this 1946, ’47 and
this is directly FBI agents that were trailing these
particular groups of people. This is interesting. This is the first meeting he ever went to, to the Pro-Independence
Student Federation. So Pro-student, pro-independence,
it’s hard to translate, the Pro-Independence Student Federation was sort of the organization
that was most targeted. If you went to meeting,
they immediately wrote down your name on a list and
a file was opened on you. And this is the first entry
in this person’s file, which is the first
meeting he ever went to. So if you never went back,
your file would be one page. But if you continued in the
movement, you would be followed. He was followed home one night and the two cops basically
manipulated a shot gun when he stopped at a red light, and you know the fear
and the intimidation, of the surveillance
process was so strong that, you know he didn’t know if he was gonna go to sleep that night or if he was gonna get shot by the cops. This is one of the most tragic stories, which is of Anya Pupa. She was a big, sort of a
prominent leader in the movement and founded the Movement Pro-Independence, which is one of the
organizations in Puerto Rico. But she owned two pharmacies in her life. The first one was blown up by the police, killing two employees and she
was framed for bomb making. That’s actually a picture from 19… I wanna say 1960 something. And she had to leave
her hometown in Mayaguez and move to the city and
start another pharmacy. When she started that,
it was also firebombed, killing nobody, but she was framed again and because of her political prominence it was in the newspapers. And this is her now, she’s really cute. But basically, sort of the
gist of it is that I think that when we talk about surveillance, the idea that you know,
I have nothing to hide and that we’re sort of
surveilling ourselves, right by posting our statuses on Facebook and saying that we’re here, we don’t need an informant, but the potential for abuse is real. And I think that it really it lies in the power to control speech. Anybody, sort of in Puerto Rico who wanted to join this movement, was completely singled out and sort of thwarted from even
being able assist a rally and sort meet people. Her son was actually very
active in the movement, and to sort of give you an idea, and this’ll be my last story, of the extent it, was that she was he’s bridesmaid,
she was the godmother of his first child, and
gave him his first car. And this was a relationship over 25 years. And it turned out that over those 25 years he was the agent assigned to
surveil her that entire time. You know, he came over to eat every night. So the relationships and the potential for the institutions to abuse, not
necessarily the information, but the act of surveillance I think is an important,
kind of conversation to have especially going forward now that the NSA and all of these things are
sort of coming to light. So that’s it. (audience applauds) – Okay. Okay Hye-Ryoung I’m gonna
get your presentation. Here I’ve got it. Normally not my… Okay. Oops. So you can do that or the keyboard. Okay. – Thank you for coming. I’m very excited and honored to be here. (audience laughs) The project that I’m gonna
share tonight is Channel 247 that I made in 2010 in Brooklyn. For this series I photographed passerby and neighbors from my place
throughout the window frames treated as TV. 247 is not, it doesn’t mean
247 that you might think but it’s just a house number that I had. One day my husband, boyfriend at the time, and I needed to rearrange
the furniture in the house and we’ve decided to move
the dining table near the windows and the curve
constructed in the living room and we sat next to each
other, not facing each other, and from the day I just
happened to start watching out people from the windows, everyday and all day for several months. Well I’ve always loved
to take a window seat whenever possible and
get lost watching people for hours at a time. So it was not surveillance
photography project, even thought it looks like the photos were taken from Google Street View, before people blurred the subject. However it has the point of
view of surveillance camera aesthetically and I think
I played in the borderline between public space and private life. Most of the time my subjects
are in the public place and I don’t have any
intention to break the privacy for my photography project. The situation in my photograph were not anything like
newspaper would publish or shocking anybody. But because it was very subtle and anything that could happen to me, the process of photographing
itself calmed me down and gradually helped myself
to step out of the box that I didn’t wanna break in that period. I felt more comfortable
staying in my place than going out and facing
the real world at the moment. In my own imagination I
could walk as they walk, I could talk, laugh, or
go out to work as they do. And I found myself living
vicariously through them. Their lives becoming my own. Sometimes I feel sympathy
and I’m happy for them as they become my family and
friends in my own channel. This might be only
photograph that my subject is in his house. I don’t know if you guys can see, I just loved to find him doing, you know, he’s doing exactly what I was doing just without the camera. Sometimes the channel had
special seasonal broadcasts such as Mr. Softee Ice Cream
Truck during the summer. Midnight backyard parties
where illegal tattoo service was offered to ex-convicts who were full of confidence,
laughter, and loud cursing. And one next morning, everything was gone, just like nothing happened. I didn’t know what happened. They had the party every
single night during the summer for years and I was just
happy that it was gone and I could sleep at night. I also liked to find little sense of humor that people put on them. And quiet, simple gesture that they make or is very peaceful and I could get lost in
thoughts watching them. Also we had the West
Indian American Day Parade at four o’clock in the morning. And the next day, everybody it’s like, whole
neighborhood were festive and very casual to them costume like that. Also as I fell into my
Channel 247 day by day I started noticing the
repetition helped me understand their basic characters, my actor were the characters and the nuance and differences offered me clue of their hidden stories. There’re moment when people are oblivious of others or simply
don’t want to be mindful of anybody other than themselves. What I have found was that those moment could be more revealing of their personalities than when they tried to make a good impression on others. This little boy was, you
know, leaving the fliers. And he was my favorite character. I named everybody. He’s Stylish Papa. He was the stylish guy on the whole block and whenever he comes in and out he cleans the entrance and you
know check the garbage. So the boy just passed by and a second later he came out and of course, he couldn’t stand with any garbage in his house. Those moments happens between things such as when you’re rushing
out to work in the morning or taking out the garbage or maybe just sitting on
the stoop daydreaming. And of course there’s
day that I don’t wanna see the channel. Rainy day I just shut down and nobody came and I just
enjoyed myself with out TV. Next to me in Brooklyn
was a daycare center and there was a gay couple who little boy with one of fathers
taking him to the center in the morning and the
other one picking him up at the end of the day, where each parent had
very different energy. Here’s the one, I don’t know
you can see, in the morning. Here’s the one in the evening. And I could see each parent has very
different personality. How the parents treat
their kids can’t hide the emotion on the given day or in the individual character. Here again, Stylish Papa. However, they might never
imagine how all that information might be so
obvious and plain to see. In my thinks, I couldn’t help by think that somebody was watching me all the time so I had to act as a main
actress in some kind of movie which made me feel very
self-conscious wherever I went. It might be typical of
many other teenagers and it might even play a part in how one create a sense of self. I remember when the movie
Truman Show came out in 1998. It opens with the caption, “What if you were watched
every moment of your life.” It completely matched my imagination. The movie went on to show
how Truman would really feel after he realized the
truth of his condition, which lead me to ask, how different is our behavior when we are conscious of others around us? And what do involuntary actions
tell or reveal about us. This photo, for me it
tells me that it was time for me to let them go to their world, because I don’t photograph my subject when they’re in their house. For me, the kids were escaping from me, just like Truman did in the movie. And I thought that this
guy was making sure that making sure to lock the door so I couldn’t be able to photograph them. I didn’t even open the folders after making copies every night until I move out from the place. For my selfish reason, the
process was more important than what my subject were actually doing. In the end of the project, it proved that I was the one who was
trapped in the little box and when I eventually
left the neighborhood I had to unsubscribe
Channel 247 and this photo was the last one that I
took on the day of moving. Thank you. (audience applauds) – And now Andrew Hammerand
is going to talk about his project New Town. And I’m sitting here
going, perfect sequence, Everyone was like perfect. So this will play automatically. Andrew. – Thank you all for joining us. So a few years ago I was on the internet and I found a web forum
that was discussing how to use Google to
access various devices that were networked through the internet. One whole forum was
dedicated to finding webcams that had been indexed by the
search robots over at Google. So I started looking
through all these webcams. There are few thousand results. Some are boring cameras
on an empty dog cage. Some are security cameras inside a mall, some are just of an empty
parking lot at night, all fairly uneventful cameras to watch. But every camera that successfully loaded was exciting regardless. You never knew what you would you see when the next image loaded. Eventually I stumbled onto the camera that I made this work from. Immediately I was drawn to it when I noticed how it was different from the rest of the
cameras I’d been watching. This camera was fully controllable. I had options to pan, tilt, zoom, control the focus and exposure. Besides this, when I
panned the camera around, I noticed I had full 360 degree angle, degree of view from the town
and a highly elevated point. So I started watching. Some of the first people
I saw on the camera were a mother and daughter
simply walking down the street. Just seeing the motion on the camera was fascinating for some reason, so I zoomed in and started
making photographs. From here I started
making photographs daily. Watching the residents, following them as the
went about their day. Nothing was happening. It was totally boring and uneventful, but there was something
strange and exciting just about being able to
watch and control this device. Once I’d been making these
photograph for a few weeks, I decided I wanted to
try to do some research and find out more about the camera. The first thing I did was
delete the syntax of code in the URL and it just
went to the IP address that the camera was located on. So by doing this I was taken
to an email login page. I took the email address that was there and I started Googling around
to see what I could find. I found that the email
belonged to a housing developer who was the founder of
this new small community in the Midwest. I soon found out that the
camera I’d been watching was in fact this town’s webcam. It was located on a cell phone tower that was mounted on top of a church in the center of this town. As far as I could tell, it was owned by this housing developer and used as sort of a
tool to promote the town. The visitors to their website were invited to use this webcam to explore the town and see what it had to offer their families. Beautiful new homes in a plying community, green parks for the children to play in, white picket fences a perfect utopian, small American town. So for over a year I watched
and photographed this down, researching along the way. Interestingly I found
out why the plot of land had not been developed on until
the developer purchased it. The land that this town sits on, it sits within a 500 and
100 year flood plain, meaning statistically
within 100 or 500 years, the town could possibly destroyed
by a catastrophic flood. Also, the area’s near the
New Madrid Seismic Zone, which is a major fault line in the Midwest that many say is overdue
for a major earthquake and that FEMA says could
result in widespread damage and social and economic loss. Websites and documents
I found for the town discuss the values of the community and the expectations for their citizens. They promote the town as a
mostly walking community. They encourage neighborly interactions, they talk about children playing happily in the playgrounds, and even taking the family for movie night in their outdoor amphitheater. What I find bizarre is that by the founder installing a webcam to promote the town and its values he took away the privacy
of the families playing in the parks and the children
swimming in the waterways and the couples drinking
coffee at the outdoor cafes. And the idea of a small,
quiet American community exist when you never know if
or when you are being watched or more specifically if
you don’t know by who. I’d like to point out
that none of these images are altered or Photoshopped, extreme pixelation is caused by the low resolution of the camera itself. And because these are
literally screen captures, there are two types of
what I’m equating to a new photographic grain almost. One are the large blocks of colors, which again are due to the low resolution of the camera, the webcam. And the second are
actually the fine pixels which are from the resolution
of my screen display. So these images were made and accessed in an entirely virtual manner. I think this is an important
aspect of the work, as our world has been shifting towards an entirely virtual
and digital system of networks. Emails, family photos,
financial information, social media, all these
aspects of our lives are out there on the
networks and now the cloud, potentially to be accessed
by anyone who knows how. Many people asked me if
I’ve ever been to the town and the answer is no I have not. All of these images were
made from the privacy of my own bedroom in Boston. By watching this space for over
year from this single camera I was able to become familiar with a few repeating characters. I only named one of them though. One citizen I was able to
see on almost a daily basis is this one woman who lives
closest to the camera. We’ve seen her once or twice already. The first time I saw her
she was sitting on her porch and I watched her for about an hour. She was just sitting there drinking coffee and texting on her cell phone. ‘Cause I don’t know here name, I simply called her cell phone girl. I was soon able to
recognize her and her dog as they would walk around town. I also started to recognize
her boyfriend at one point and I even know where he parks his truck. There was also the Priest that
could come out of the church after church service,
and even the barbecue man who would be outside smoking meats at the local barbecue restaurant. I’m often asked if I
feel any responsibility towards the town or the
people I photographed in regards to their privacy and the moral and ethical
obligations associated with making photographs of
people that are unaware. I think this is an
interesting aspect of the work and I’m trying to
complicating question myself. I should mention I had made
an effort to not include many identifying aspects
such as street names or house numbers or
license plates on cars. And even if anyone wanted to
try to identify these people in the photographs, the
low quality pixelation or the pixelated images, they don’t really hold up to scrutiny. Their identities are
kind of obscured by the technological limitations. And on that note, I’ve
always been fascinated by the fact that much of our
technology has no sympathy and no discretion. There are many cameras and
devices that are networked and they are continually streaming images and information onto the internet, many of which are saving
and recording data. Of course this is changing
almost all of us have smart phones that are made to
make our lives more convenient and more efficient. There are even home automation systems that know when you’re home and
can adjust your thermostats and even computer systems and robots that have advanced levels
of artificial intelligence that are used within
production, medical fields, and even in government
and military applications. Actually, if anyone’s seen
the Terminator movies, this is exactly how the
Sky Net System took over, by creating a digital defense network that claimed to take away human error by allowing computers to
make decisions for us. And if you think this is
far fetched or futuristic, I would invite you to
Google Boston Dynamics. They’re an engineering robotic company, they’re about a half hour
drive from where I live out in Boston, they make humanoid robots
for Darpa, and guess what? Now they’re owned by Google. So I guess we haven’t
seen killer Google robots take over the word just yet, but given the idea of one of
the biggest internet companies owing a robotics manufacturer
that works for our government’s quite interesting. I think at the very least it shows evidence of a certain paranoia that someone thinks at some point we should have networked defense robots. Bring us back to the photographs, this camera may have been
installed as a fun feature on a website, but the reality is, this is a simulation of what is happening in much larger domestic
and international scale. The main difference being that
they large scale surveillance happens behind closed doors and collects much larger amounts of
electronic data on us. So I started making these photographs about two months before the
Boston Marathon Bombings. I was actually sitting in my apartment about a mile and half
away from the bombing site making these photographs as it happened. I wasn’t directly physically effected, but it was still a confusing
time for everyone in the area. Cell phones had been disabled in the city apparently ’cause they could
be used as detonation devices. So in the confusion we
had to go to the internet for the all the news and updates. I remember over the next few days, people were crowdsourcing
photographs from the event that had been posted online. And these people online were
using these large amounts of photographic data to try
to identify possible subjects that are suspects. A few people who were at the
event were falsely identified because of the this, but the results look not unlike these photographs. Tight images of people
who were just there, hyperpixelated, strange images. The images appear as
evidence of something, but really are just photographs. Thanks you. (audience applauds) – That was the creepy part. (laughs) Now, it’s a pleasure that David Fine from Placemeter is here. David works with some really smart people. I mean people that hold
PhDs, a number of patents and they really understand
like visual communication and how we can use a lot of this data. And there’s so much data
that David and Placemeter are one of these companies that are trying to make
a little sense about it. So David, you wanna come up? Let me get the right presentation. Okay, hang on. Okay, good.
– Great. – Hi, I’m David. That was incredibly disturbing and I know Andrew considers
that a compliment. So I’m here to, it’s really apropos and I think Catrine did this intentionally that I’m going right after Andrew because I’m here to talk about Placemeter, which is a company that’s trying to take what we just found so
disturbing about Andrew’s work and make it not disturbing
and understandable to people. And what we’re really
trying to do is build real-time layer that indexes
the real world in real time. What that actually means, we’ll get to. But first I wanna talk about cities and how they’ve been growing
over the past few decades. So this is a chart, graphing city population
growth in the United States from 1950 to today. So you see that rural population is flat, but city population growth
has just more than doubled since 1950. And it’s a story that’s pretty
old in America, actually of growing cities. It started at the turn of the century and it’s not stopped since. But what a recent development is that increasingly these cities are digitized. So in 1994 we have Netscape, which is the first consumer web browser, the first way for people to
really access the internet in an easy and understandable way. In 1998 we have Google,
which indexed the internet. And then in 2007, we have the iPhone, which brings all of that mobile and ushers in this new age of mobile, digital movement throughout a city. So the first implication that
we derive from that is Uber. Without these distributed networks of mobile phones everywhere,
Uber couldn’t exist. But there are kind of
these larger implications and movements that are emerging
out of these large, mobile, distributed digital
networks that layer atop these large, urban,
physical, dense layers. And this movement is trying to analyze and crunch that data
and really understand it in a way to improve cities or at least that’s what they say. And the name that has emerged, the buzzword so to speak, that has emerged out of this movement is the Smart City Movement, and I’m sure many of you have heard it. It means a lot of things to
a lot of different people. But in its essence its really about quantifying a city. Understanding a city and
then using that understanding to change a city. There’s a lot of debate
around whether or not this is actually a good thing to be doing. So there are people who
see the Smart City Movement and on the horizon they predict dystopia. They think that we’re
gonna wake up one day and be in the plots of
1984 or A Brave New World. And then there are other people who see the Smart City Movement
and quantifying movements throughout city, people and
cars and vehicles, bicycles, basically anything that you
can quantify in public spaces as the future of cities. As the way to move forward
and improve cities. So Placemeter sees ourselves
as sitting at the intersection of those two views to a certain extent. We think there’s a lot of merit
in the Smart City Movement and that eventually humanity
will benefit greatly from quantifying the way
we move about cities. But at the same time, we
think there’s also merit in the fear that people
have of quantifying every single thing we do. And so what we’re trying to
do is create a very large, very distributed data layer that explains how people
move about cities, without surveilling them, without infringing on their privacy. And the way that we do
that is most ironic, because we do it through video feeds. So this is a video feed. It’s of Times Square,
you might recognize it. And in here you see people moving about. So what we’ve done at Placemeter is developed algorithms that
also see people moving about and then record those
people’s movements as data in a data set that’s then consumed by people who are about the data. So while see this video, our algorithms see that video. And really what you’re seeing here is a computer understanding that that object over there is a person and tracking that person’s
trajectory throughout the frame saying that person walked
through the entire length of the sidewalk. Or that person has walked
in and out of a store. That person walked across the sidewalk, or I’m sorry an intersection. We’re also tracking vehicles. So we say what type of vehicle it is, how many are moving on a street,
and how fast they’re going. And I’ll get into this a little later, but it’s important to note up front that we’re building this
to be aggregate data, to be anonymous data. So we’re taking this intensely personal and identifiable medium, the video, and making it completely
impersonal and anonymous and aggregating the data. But before we get into that, I’m gonna explain a little bit
about how our system works. So what we do, is this
isn’t the only video we ingest and process in our backend. We have hundreds. A big slice of that is taken
from public video feeds, kinda very similar to the
ones that Andrew captured in his project. Or video feeds that are put out by the Department of Transportation. In New York for example, you can go online and you can view them. So we ingest those videos. We ingest videos of our clients, people who pay for the data. For example storefronts
that have video cameras that look outside who wanna
understand foot traffic in front of their stores. And then the third way that
we do it is by crowdsourcing video feeds. So we’ll pay people up to
$50 a month in New York, to put an old Android or
Iphone on their window, leave it there and have that
video sent to our backend. So we take all these videos,
we process them in real time in our backend and we
spit out data for them. Right now today, we’re in New York. We cover over 250 locations
and about eight million events every single day. Tomorrow we wanna be global,
we wanna be everywhere. We wanna build an ubiquitous data layer. But as I said at the beginning, what’s important for us is to build this without building a surveillance system, without building something that could lead to a Sky Net for instance. In order to do this,
we’ve kind of come up with some very basic principles
that seem very common sense, but that today very few
tech companies are pursuing. So we identified kind of
the three major ways that a video could surveil someone. So you have the obvious,
which is identification, knowing that that person is David Fine. Tracking that identified person and then being able to
record those movements and record who that person is. So we’ve architected our
system to not do that. We don’t build algorithms
that identify people and we made a commitment to not do that. We try to minimize any human
interaction with the videos. So outside of minimal quality assurance, making sure that the
cameras are set up right, we don’t look at the
videos that we ingest, we only have our algorithms,
which collect anonymous data look at the videos. And then last but not least,
we don’t record videos. We’re not creating a video archive. And what that means is this. So this is kind of a diagram of how we’ve architected our system. We ingest the video, can’t really point, but we ingest the video
which is the left side, we put it through our
servers and our algorithms which anonymously extract data
that’s important to people about how people move about cities. And then we delete 99.99% of the video. The important caveat and it’s important that
I explain this to you, because I wanna be up front
with how we’re developing our system is that we record less
than 0.01% of of the videos, because we need a way
to gauge the accuracy of our algorithms and the only way to really
do that is to look at random recordings, very small
recordings of our videos and compare them to what
our algorithm outputted in terms of how many people
are walking on the street. But what is important
here to note is that, the way our system is built, it’s very hard, if not impossible
for us to identify anyone and it’s very hard, if not impossible for us to be subpoenaed for any videos. And it was done very intentionally. We built it with design in mind. So okay, we’ve built this system, we went through great lengths
to not identify anyone, not use it for any security purpose. So what exactly do we use it? Why is this Smart City
Application actually important to our city? So the first and most obvious
applications are commercial. You’re a small business in a city. You’re growing and you
wanna open up more stores. How do you do this? You collect a bunch of data and figure out which store
would be the most ideal for your new location and we can provide an
important data point. How many people are walking it
front of a specific location versus another one? But aside from the
commercial applications, there are just the general
larger civic applications that we get very excited about. So one that is very relevant today is reducing pedestrian
fatalities on our streets. So right now there’s very little data about how people move about
specific intersections, where there is pedestrian
congestion on streets, where there are a bunch
of near misses of people. Really the only actionable data that the city has now, is
where people get hit the most. But it’s not those hits. We wanna prevent the hits,
but it’s the near misses that really kind of auger a larger problem with a specific space or an area. So we can provide that
sort of data to the cities. Another that’s a favorite of mine, is let’s say you live in Green Point. There’s a group of people
who do live in Green Point who approached us. Green Point in Brooklyn has
seen a pretty massive explosion of growth in popularity
in the past few years. And because of that, there
are more and more people throwing trash or having
to dispose of trash throughout the neighborhoods. They don’t have enough trash
cans to contain this increase in pedestrian traffic and this group of people
have been trying to tell policy makers this for a while. With our data they could actually say, you know we experienced a 10%
in overall pedestrian traffic in the past year. You need to give us more
resources to deal with that. So being able to communicate
your kind of very classic neighborhood needs in a data
oriented manner to the city is one of the things that we do. And this is the last one,
I’m gonna end with this. The application that
gets me the most excited and that our vision was founded on, was the ability for, in
the palm of your hand, to understand how busy a place is. And that’s the future that
we’re trying to build. Know how busy Central
Park is before you go, your local bar or restaurant. How busy and how big the line is at Trader Joe’s before you go. Those simple, kind of common sense things that will really make people’s
lives in cities better. That’s the future that
we’re trying to build and we’re trying to build it
without surveilling people, without building the next Sky Net. And that’s Placemeter. Thank you. (audience applauds) – Fascinating, but I
have developed a skill of shopping from that line and whole recipes of things you can reach from the Trader Joe’s line. Seriously. So I’d like to open it up to questions. If anybody has any questions. Okay, I’m ready. I know I have a question. And if we do have a question,
unless I’m saying it, we have to repeat it. So Chris, for me, the obvious question is is how did you get access to all of those stacks of
paper and archives and people? – So what ended up happening, was that in 1978 there
was a really famous, essentially entrapment of two students by an undercover agent. They were taken to the
top of this mountain under the pretense that
they were gonna blow it up in an act of patriotism
and when they got there they were ambushed by
about eight police officers and assassinated. In the investigation of
that particular incident, the existence of the
secret police came out, ’cause a few of the agents that were there were, especially one of them, was recruited out of high school. And in the investigation
it sort of came out and then in ’88, in the summer
of ’88 on a radio program a government official kind of slipped and said that of course everybody that was pro-independence was being
surveilled and had files. And so that prompted a big investigation and there was a big court case and the Supreme Court of
Puerto Rico basically said that the information that was
contained in those documents belonged to the people that that it belonged to and
gave it back to them. So what’s interesting
and particularly I think, sort of why this project
sort of has a big resonance, especially in the states, apart from the fact that
this exact same type of surveillance was done
on the Young Lords here in New York in the Bronx
and on the Black Panthers and all of these, you know
sort of social movements, it that it’s an unredacted look into the technique of surveillance. And it’s physical surveillance, it was completely unwarranted
and unconstitutional wire taps and literally people following you. So I think that it’s,
you know those documents thankfully were returned
and are sort of a touchstone of like how surveillance actually happens. But of course now, there aren’t two dudes
parked outside your house, you would never know. – He’s wondering about my process about making the actual
photographs through the device and how I kind of approached that. You know if I went out
with the intention of kind of looking at making these images or I made a lot of images
and then edited afterwards. I think it’s interesting,
’cause I always carry this point and shoot with me. It’s a little RX100 Sony
and I make photographs from my daily life and a lotta
these photographs no one sees or they don’t make it
into an edit of any sort. Sorry. So for this work, basically,
every day for over a year, I would sit down at the camera, or sit down at the computer
and open up the webpage and just start watching. And often I didn’t know
if I’d make one photograph or a million or a thousand,
whatever it might have been. And so they’re literally screen captures. So when I would see motion, you know, I might zoom in and investigate it, and kinda see what was happening. Might have been a dog walking around or some kids playing in the park. And I think it was kind of
that photographic intuition similarly to how I make
photographs from my daily life. If it was something that
aesthetically looked interesting, I might start making images from it. And if it was someone walking around, I might start following them
and making more photographs. And you know, so of course
there’s a large amount of data that was the result of this and so from those images I
would go through an edit. So you guys saw 30 today and I think there’s about
20 or 30 in the exhibit at the Open Society Foundation, but there’s literally tens
of thousands of images I made over the year that
a lotta people don’t see. So I think that answers the question. Thank you. – I have a question too. I found it interesting that almost, how we photographed, I mean you through the web camera and how you also you know got
the video from the street. It’s all the same, you know they don’t know
we’re you know taking photos, because of the different purpose, the people, the subject in your photo, for me looks all suspect, and for your video, yeah their anonymous and my photo, you know, they’re different that how your subject looked like, or did you intentionally edit that? – Well I think one of the main differences you’re recognizing is
that I think yours look a little more neutral and it looks more like a
neighborhood photograph and kind of calm light and activity that you would see in a neighborhood. I think this, you know,
the videos you shared it’s a lot of city scapes, but you also have this
weird digital overlays and you know, you understand there’s an intent other than just looking. I think one of my interests
was really kind of looking and investigating
this space and watching people and following them over a course of time. And I think the high quality
of the camera, the device allowed me to zoom into a point where, I was able to really get
in tight on people’s faces and there’s something kind
of strange about that, especially when it’s highly pixelated and the video feed gets choppy and people’s faces get cut in half. It takes in a whole different feel and it looks a little violent. So I think even though the images are within the same
ballpark of these ideas we’re discussing, they
look drastically different because of kind of how
I was approaching it. And it is strange because
were taken in public, in a neighborhood with sunlight and trees, much like yours.
– Yeah. – But they are wildly different. And I can’t really pinpoint
it much beyond that I guess. – I guess the question was really, how does an app like Placemeters, which gives you a lot of information that you wouldn’t otherwise
know at the tip of your hands, how does it make life better, because to a certain extent
can reduce social interactions? Did I sum it up right? Okay great. And I do agree that it could. It definitely could reduce the serendipity that makes life really magical, especially in a city as big as this. But I guess I have a bit more
faith in humanity than that. I think we’re generating data that people can use if they want. We’re not really trying
to automate people’s lives to a certain extent. So if you want to know how busy Trader Joe’s is before you go, if you want either a crazy packed bar and that experience or
if you want a silent chill place to hang with your friends, we could tell you which place to go. And that does reduce
the serendipity a bit. But if you don’t want
any of that information, you don’t have to consume it. And I think that people, no matter how quantified or
data conscious our life is will constantly seek out those serendipitous moments in cities, because that’s why we live here. So I do agree that there’s a threat, but I think our own
humanity might overcome it. – You know I have to say, I think there’s an interesting parallel to like surveillance culture
in government these days, because they claim they’re doing a dragnet of all this information and just taking what they really need. But in reality, they have a lot of data that they could use if they want. And like Chris, I’m wondering if this data that you were looking at. How much of it was kind
of incidentally collected and not even looked at or
considered for what they needed but they still had access to it, and it hurt people’s lives? – And I think that that’s a
super important point is that, at least to my knowledge, right, this is sort of very hard to quantify, because it’s years and years and years of sort of legal issues, but nobody was convicted
from the data set, right. So the dataset sort of became this sort massive thing that really had no purpose other than to exploit sort
of the social phenomenon that if you were being watched, you were somebody to be afraid of. And if you became
watched, like that was it. You know, like that was, you’re making criminal behavior, when most of these people
were all abiding to the law. But I think you know
part of it is also that, you’re question is like… Sorry, I kind of lost my
train of thought there. But basically I think what’s interesting is that the point is is
that watching somebody in sort of a social and cultural context, can be abused and it’s more of the action. So like yeah, you know. And the other thing was, since
it became a cottage industry a lot of the stuff
that’s in these carpetas are completely false. So if I was an agent and I
was watching all three of you and you went to a meeting, you know, halfway across the island
and I went with you, ’cause you were, you know, gonna go to this important meeting, I’d put both of you there too,
’cause I’d make more money. I’d make three reports instead of one. And so you start to have people’s lives being completely distorted
and people’s lives sort of, kind of, you know, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, right? And it sort of, you know, yeah, so that’s basically what happened. Yeah, I mean so like 185,000. The number varies but were given back. The amount of people who picked them, is not really something
that’s been quantified. But it’s all word of mouth. So like part of the genesis of the project was also that I grew up sort of knowing that this had happened. Everybody’s like, well you
know, don’t go to a rally, a student rally because you’ll be watched. But when you sort of
look at these documents it really detonates the
severity of what had happened and that it’s very real. But you know I had to
do some pretty, sort of, heavy research and sort of
ask through my social networks to find people who had them
and then work through them. Because the movement is
still very much stigmatized. If you are member of any of these parties, there’s sort of, kind of
a criminal tinge to it. You know, they will extrapolate, you know being a member
of the Green Party, to supporting the armed wing
of the Nationalist’s Movement, which is nowhere near real in most cases. So there’s also a very
strong stigma to this day. So I had to sort of
work through the network that I found out. But that said, you know I put
out a Facebook message and you know everybody’s was like
oh my grandmother has one, my cousin has one, my
brother, sister has one. You know, so it’s something that is very specific but also
like incredibly pervasive. And in a country that, you know, sort of had it’s industrial
revolution in the 1940s and ’50s you know where did all
that money come from? Where did those resources go to sustaining all of these people,
especially the undercover cops that basically would just park
themselves outside your car and had no real law
enforcement capabilities? – I think Chris makes a really good point, which is that a lot of the negative
effects of surveillance aren’t nescessarily that a
cop sees you do something and then you get arrested, it’s that you have the stigma, the internal stigma, mentally
that you’re being watched. And that’s why, it’s kind of
a brave new world out there to certain extent, because with all the different
apps on our iPhones, you’re walking around with
basically a homing beacon. And people are kind of
just realizing that. So building these technologies in way where you don’t have that internal stigma while you’re walking
around is really important. And I think work like
yours really conveys that. There were no arrests made, it really effected people’s lives. – I mean it’s the idea, like in philosophy that it’s an octagon. It’s the jail that like you never know when the guards are watching
and so you censor yourself. And I think that that’s the
real fear in the NSA, right, because it used to be the FBI agent. If you were part of the movement, you sort of knew somebody was kinda funky. You know, somebody showed
up to every single rally and you didn’t know who he was. Or you did, right? There’s also that. But I think with the
NSA, is you have no idea, and you don’t know what
behavior’s gonna trigger them watching you or the other thing, I mean famously I was listening to This American Life, and there’s this case of this guy who went to the Apple Store and he’s like oh you know,
I hate the Apple Store, ’cause it was like
terrible customer service and he was like, I’m gonna go
there and like shoot it up, which is a very, like, not funny joke, but two hours later,
an anti-terrorism unit, like SWAT stormed his apartment. And the guy’s like a former veteran and at that he was in legal proceedings to sort clear his name
of like really severe, like national security charges, for posting something on Facebook. Which is interesting, because
Facebook doesn’t mine it. So somebody must have seen it and said, oh you know, report it into the cops, when he was in fact, he wasn’t, like he was no where serious about it. It was a joke. So there’s that too. – So on that note one question
to each of the panelists. How do you feel about
your own privacy nowadays? And do you worry about it? Do you maintain it? Do you do something? Do you like, unplug? I mean or have you given up? – I don’t have a Facebook page. So I don’t know if that
answers a question or not. I mean, I think this is
something we’re all aware of and I think there are different levels of information that we allow ourselves to put out in the world, you know. I’m here tonight and people
know I’m here tonight, so if any one wanted to have access to me, they know how to find me. I think even through popular media, you know watching TV shows or movies, that you become very aware that you don’t really have
many choices in the matter at a certain point. If you call a friend and
you use certain words or you’re chatting with someone online and you use a string of three words that are totally unassociated but, they’re key words on a list somewhere, like you’re gonna get a knock on your door and that’s kinda frightening. And last week when we
had our panel discussions and opening receptions
for the exhibitions, I think it was Simon Menner mentioned, before he got on the airplane, he was wondering, you know,
can you open a door midflight? But then he thought, I
shouldn’t Google that, because I’m about to get on an airplane and if anyone has a record
of me having a ticket and me Googling this, I’m
gonna get a knock on the door. And so I think there is a
lot of self-surveillance and behavior modification that
comes along with being aware that it’s even possible. – You can’t by the way. I’ve researched. (audience laughs) – [Host] Oh the door? – It’s the pressurization. – Yeah, and I would argue that, I mean, I don’t know,
in my personal belief is there’s no reasonable
expectation of privacy anymore, because I mean, yeah. And people also, it’s kind of astounding. Actually there was an
article in the New York Times about this today about like this Pew Research that said, you know, it was like half of the people surveyed in this research, I hope I get this right, basically said that
they want more privacy, but that they wouldn’t
modify their behavior at all. Or wouldn’t stop using
any of these services. So there’s sort of a paradox
where people want more privacy but they also don’t wanna give up using any of these technologies. So yeah, I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t really modified my behavior, but I’m certainly very aware of it. I mean and I think the
awareness comes from you know, in the 1930’s
before Nazi Germany, there was a census conducted in Germany, where the people
identified their religion. And that was used to persecute
Jews and people by the Reich. So the information is out there and I think what’s scary
the potential to abuse it, especially down the line. So I don’t know, I don’t know what to do. – I haven’t modified my behavior at all. And I think what you’re referencing also are like the people who buy these like $1,000 phones that are
supposed to be encrypted, the black phone. I might sound a bit naive
but I do have a little trust in kind of, at least in America,
the American justice system to certain extent. And I know that doesn’t
win me much favor here, but I really do be that our
Constitutional rights are there, are given to us and
given the right sort of, and it’s not perfect, and
abuse does happen, but given the right people who are running it, you can have this kind of
pervasive information out there, but not a system that abuses it. And I think that’s
really where the hope is, because the flood walls
have already really opened. So I think one of the
things that I really feel Edward Snowden did bad for
America to a certain extent was it made us too cynical,
made us too fatalistic about how our government operates and how we’re treated by
our government domestically. And I think that there’s still hope in that if we involved
ourselves in those discussions and conversations and try
and improve civic society that you could create a
society where people don’t fear surveillance or at
least mass surveillance. But maybe that’s just me. – No, on that note I’m gonna wrap up, At the School of Visual Arts, there’s boxes where every
student, staff, faculty member can pick up a copy of the Constitution. Because the president of
the school believes greatly in the Constitution and
our privilege of voting. And that’s the first question
he asks class freshman, are you registered to vote? And it’s one of the last things he says when people graduate. It’s a little problem for
the international students, ’cause they can’t really vote, but– – [Chris] Or if you’re Puerto Rican. – Yes, you’re in a institution that respects
that a great deal. And I respect your time,
your insights, your talent, your creativity, and
your openness of sharing with all of us. Thank you very much. (audiences applauds)

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