In the nineteenth century, scientists travelled, collected, catalogued and labelled. Their collections became the foundations of numerous museums displays, which often survived for most of the twentieth century. I remember being taken on a school outing, many years ago, to the Natural History Museum in London. In one section of the museum I was overawed by arrays of glass cases and cabinets with wide drawers full of butterflies. They had been collected from around the world, skewered, pinned down, neatly catalogued, then labelled with place and date of capture.
By the mid twentieth century, even schoolboys were assembling collections of specimens, which they laid out with as many pins, considerably less dedication and no scientific rigour. My butterfly net failed to cause a single butterfly death, so my own collecting ended before it began.
Now, in the twenty-first century, mindless electronic machines relentlessly collect images of us. I imagine these images, skewered with virtual pins, laid out in myriad memory banks, all neatly catalogued, then labelled with place and date of capture. While human photographers face progressively greater restrictions, these robotic photographers proliferate unhindered.
A decade ago, I decided to turn the tables on these machines—I would photograph them.
Belatedly, I would become the schoolboy collector.
I would grab evidence of these so-called
security systems wherever I chanced to find them.
In this exhibition, I present some of the specimens I have collected. They are displayed, as they should be, in their glass cases, skewered, then labelled with place and date of capture.
security systems are presumed to be innocent;
human photographers are presumed to be
Who is watching whom and for whose benefit?
Privacy is like oxygen.
We really only appreciate it when it’s gone.
Sykes quoted by Taylor7
- Roger Clarke for his perceptive observations about the ethics of technologically enhanced human abilities and surveillance5
- Martyn Jolly for his intellectually engaging comments about photography in public spaces4
- Emmeline Taylor for her detailed studies of CCTV in England6, 7
- Josh Wodak for drawing my attention to the Guardian reports3