Domestic (in)security

May 2017

Nye Thompson is a London-based visual artist and software designer.

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First things first, what exactly are these images? They are so heavily burdened with context that it's hard to know where to start. In fact, they are documentations of process, just as much as they are images; born out of a complex chain of hardware, software and wetware fails. They are the incidental output of security testing performed on connected devices – the Internet of Vulnerable Things. These frozen, screen-shotted moments in time capture and record a search-bot's encounter with an unsecured surveillance camera.

This genus of images is barely a few years old, and for over a year now I've been finding and collecting them as part of my project Backdoored*. Machine-generated waste images and visual overspill, they are the bastard issue of human insecurities and technological failures. These are images created solely by robots following their own programmatic imperatives. There is no direct human agency in the photographic process, no human-decisive moment, no compositional evaluation and no emotional reciprocity, however incidental, between photographer and subject.

These (in)security cameras are all around us. In our streets, shops, buses, restaurants, homes. They are looking, listening and recording. Their omnipresent gaze pierces, protects us, keeps us safe. Through them we are delivered from unknown evils, from the nameless things that might creep up on us if we don’t watch out. Through their panopticon gaze we are quantified, verified, analysed, documented, mapped, filtered and judged. And we are eager collaborators in this system, with our seemingly limitless appetite for the visual data streams of other people’s lives. We fix each other with our technologically-mediated gaze, absorbing their images into the narrative of our own lives, generating new narratives – maybe new images – in the process.

This video essay was based on the realisation that nearly every person captured in the security camera gaze was also engaged in watching at least one screen. There are even images of people in offices watching whole banks of screens while they themselves are being watched on security camera. This led me to a notion of a kind of meta-watching; a recursive mediated gaze in which we are all implicated. We all work with the surveillance machine, willingly or unwittingly; supplementing big data-crunching and quantitative analysis with qualitative insight and emotional response. Together we comprise a human-machine dyad, a global cyborganism feeding on the photographical appearance of things.

*Backdoor, noun. A defect or undocumented feature of a software program or device which allows access to data while bypassing security mechanisms.

This work is part of a series: Machine Vision