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Sousveillance

October 15, 2007

Sousveillance is the recording or monitoring of real or apparent authority figures by others, particularly those who are generally the subject of surveillance. Steve Mann, who coined the term, describes it as watchful vigilance from underneath.

new ways of looking I

When I was recently covering a music gig following a local friendly political protest, I decided to photograph those who were photographing all of us all the time (see above).

Later I discovered that there is even a FlickR group called Surveillance Mirror from which I have borrowed the explanations of the terms. It is worth the visit, both for the theCCTV, St Mary Abbot’s Church by Dr John2005 written posts -concerned with democracy and freedom, as well as for the photos. They often do elevate it to art, as the photo at the left demonstrates (photo by Dr John2005)

The term sousveillance stems from the contrasting French words sur; meaning above; and sous; meaning below, surveillance denotes the eye-in-the-sky watching from above, where as sousveillance denotes bringing the camera or other means of observation down to human level, either physically (mounting cameras on people rather than on buildings), or hierarchically (ordinary people doing the watching, rather than higher authorities or architectures doing the watching).

In Britain we are officially the most watched people on earth. If you live in London, the chances are you are caught on CCTV about 300 times a day.

new ways of looking II

In a recent competition called ‘new ways of looking’ I sent that photo above from Bradford’s train station, in which I had photographed a massive police poster depicting an officer photographing the public. At the moment of shooting the photo, I smiled thinking that I was returning the favour.. And I was wondering if the poster’s self-controlling message had ever reached the man with the suitcase sitting on the bench away, appearing with his back and shoulders down as having a long and tiring trip ahead of him…

The idea of an inherent resistance to the top-down application of this type of power, and its disciplinary and normalising effects (with tools, such as ‘the gaze’ which target the mind and not the body any more) can be found in Foucault’s work. Especially in his classic Discipline and Punish and the selected writings and interviews titled Power/Knowledge.

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