“SMILE! YOU ARE BEING WATCHED” – “24 HOUR AUDIO/VIDEO SURVEILLANCE IN PROGRESS” – “ALL ACTIVITIES ARE BEING RECORDED” – “WE ARE WATCHING”
How much of our daily lives do we see these phrases plastered on public signs? How often are we aware of it? Or unaware of it? And what of the situations in which we are being watched in less obvious ways? Six students at the Hogeschool Zuyd / Maastricht Academy of Media Design and Technology under the guidance of teacher Joery Erna attempt to answer some of these questions that arise from the proposed idea by Visual Atelier 8.
A STRANGER IS WATCHING
To be watched is an utter human experience, even with the involvement of technology as a means to accomplishing such surveillance. Cognizance and acceptance is another facet of the experience that begs to be recognized. This collaborative project of Visual Atelier 8 with Zuyd Hogeschool / MAMDT explores layers upon layers of what surveillance by an unknown transient entails with each student’s own conceptualization of this idea.
Lok-Yin detours from the pressing dangers of a watching stranger and approaches with observation in personal intimacy. She conducts an audio interview with a woman who she wasn’t acquainted with yet piqued her interest based off perceived mannerisms. The subject’s room was photographed with a purpose to reveal glimpses of her livelihood in the most intimate space. As a stranger herself, Lok-Yin familiarizes herself with the way in which her interviewee conducts herself, getting an impression of the world she comes from including her personal ideology. Artifacts and little details from the subject’s room tells a story, it is something special to encounter from an stranger’s point of view. Taking technology out of the picture (i.e. cyberstalking), watching someone becomes a palpably mortal experience that takes time to really begin to know them. A stranger is watching, yes, but also learning through observation. Among the university students’ submissions, Lok-Yin’s innovative and nuanced project has been chosen as the winner of the collaboration.
Anne de Graaf embraces a stylistic direction that centers on the idea of depersonalization and derealization. The experience is one of altered reality, a stranger is watching and it untethers the subject from not only the familiar environment, but from the familiar self. The conceptualization comprised of visually appealing components such as evocative posing, RGB colored flash, lighting, and deliberate choices in fashion. The mood is a colorful disconnect, appearing hauntingly sophisticated. The female subject expresses a detachment, deep and physical, photographically captured at strategic angles that give a perspective of watching her. A mirroring effect is successful in embodying this alongside the surroundings loaded with incongruous meaning. The subject knows she’s being watched and what we see is the effect it has, a visual representation of not recognizing oneself and immersion in an unnatural reality to which the stranger is able to witness.
Dean Kisters shows an understanding of society’s use of CCTV monitoring through his conceptualization. Surveillance is viewed as an ominous entity. It seems that in every pocket of a city, a camera is nestled away- watching you. In essence, these cameras are just robotic interfaces through which a human monitors other humans and their activity. Kisters presents the idea of a stranger is watching in a way that reminds viewers that a camera is synonymous to a real person’s gaze. He also stresses the possible threat of extreme surveillance via facial recognition as a means of tracking humans. The photos are screenshots of a typical CCTV monitor, the view of the person operating it. The imagery appears to be of areas with high foot traffic like sidewalks and subways, further illustrating the magnitude of people who are subject to being watched through systematic monitoring.
Martyna Wittbrodt addresses conflicts arising from stranger monitoring with the use of powerful imagery. The thought behind this set of pictures is that any part of ourselves we release onto the Internet no longer belongs to us but to the prying eyes of others. This consumerism allows a distortion and misalignment of identity to occur, especially with youngsters who use social media. With that said, Martyna also emphasizes an unfortunate aspect of negative influence upon the youth from the pressure of social media, to appear a certain way that is totally appealing- nothing less. The loaded photos she captured demonstrate this corruption of innocence at the hands of an unknown audience of strangers online. The choice of a mostly dark color scheme and intense tone enhances the text that accompanies each image, dissecting the dissonance that unravels in the face of a stranger watching.
Mitch Van Schnijdel imparts his take of the proposed concept through a purely audio mode. Running for about 30 seconds, he is able to embody the essence of anonymity that comes with the theme of a stranger is watching. The audio clip sounds fraught with unsettling disquietude and troubling sounds resembling a tech glitch. The interruptions heard are abrupt, sharp and they jolt the senses. Some spoken words can be discerned from the disturbing noise, almost as if recorded by someone and played back over. Familiar text and ring tones can be heard every now and again, alluding to the technological aspect that is often involved in the process of cyberstalking. Mitch’s work allows for listeners to freely manifest their own meaning from the obscure and mysterious audio. Perhaps listeners can draw from their own experience while being immersed in the calculated sounds.
Sarah Laven’s project carries an emphasis on hyperfocus. The act of watching is visceral and intrinsic, as if under a microscope. She presents a grey scale video clip composed of shots that are extremely concentrated on details. The clip opens with a vertical panning view through some blinds, peering to the world just outside. Then the following shots cut to zoom in’s on what appears to be a bed. The word “WHAT” displays, almost as if the female subject being watched is coming to grips with this reality and sternly retaliating to the stranger in a direct manner. The audio that plays during this ordeal is disconcerting. The sinister ambient sounds mingle with a female humming a tune, the combination intensifies the visual experience. Laven addresses the scrutiny felt under a stranger’s gaze, yet offers a tasteful rebuttal told in the story of a brief clip.
“FEEL LIKE YOU’RE BEING WATCHED? YOU ARE!”