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HERE’S LOOKIN’ AT YOU
On March 1st, I was a panelist for the BagNewsNotes Salon The Lens in the Mirror: How Surveillance is Pictured in the Media and Public Culture.
In coordination with the Open Society Watching You, Watching Me exhibition, this online panel wanted to reflect not only upon surveillance in our society but how it is pictured and if those depictions meet the realities of networked viewing that are at constant play behind our walls,, systems, nodes and screens.
I felt like an amateur in the room with other esteemed panelists lining up thus – Simone Browne, Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, UT Austin; Cara Finnegan (moderator) writer, photography historian, Associate Professor of Communication, University of Illinois; Rachel Hall, Associate Professor, Communication Studies at Louisiana State University; Marvin Heiferman, writer and curator; Hamid Khan, co-ordinator, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition; and Simon Menner, artist, and member of OSF surveillance exhibition.
Over two hours discussion, we discuss 10 images in turn. They flash up as we deconstruct their meanings, but it might be helpful to consult the gallery first, too.
Over the coming weeks, BagNews will be adding highlight clips for easier to digest morsels that get to the meat of our conversation.
“Surveillance technology permeates the social landscape,” says BagNews. “Tiny cameras monitor traffic, parking lots, cash registers and every corner of federal buildings. Through personal devices and social media, citizens also monitor one other.” In the highlight clip (above), moderator Cara Finnegan and panelists Simon Menner, Simone Browne, Hamid Khan, Rachel Hall and Pete Brook discuss generic imagery and the use of stock photography to represent this reality of daily life
The BagNewsSalon is an on-line, real-time discussion between photojournalists, visual academics and other visual or subject experts. Each salon examines a set of images relevant to the visual stories of the day often focusing on how the media and social media has framed the event. The photo edit is the key element and driver of each Salon discussion and great care is taken to create a group of photos that captures the depth and breadth of media representation.
Video still from a surveillance camera in Richmond Heights Jail, St. Louis, Missouri. Anna Brown has just been carried into the cell and laid on the floor. She is dying.
Over on BagNewsNotes, Karen Hull has written a brief but poignant piece about the death of Anna Brown, a young, Black homeless woman. In particular, Hull considers the role surveillance cameras have played in the investigation into Brown’s death.
In September, 2011, Brown died in a jail cell in St. Louis, Missouri. She had visited three hospitals earlier in the evening complaining of pain in her legs but she was turned away by each of them. When she protested and insisted she needed treatment she was arrested and booked into jail. 15 minutes after they closed the door she was found dead. Brown had not used drugs, yet an officer later casually remarked and assumed she had.
Race, health care, and surveillance culture come simultaneously into play here. That the healthcare system can be reckoned as something other than a force for good is balanced by the good of a typical “evil”: surveillance. Without surveillance film, it’s possible the death of this young woman would have gone unnoticed. […] as much controversy as there is surrounding CCTV, rest assured that in the future, we will increasingly witness via surveillance.
The footage was attained by the St. Louis Dispatch via a sunshine request.
Unfortunately, the mistake of authorities to think of a distressed woman as manic instead of in need of urgent medical attention is not unprecedented. In 2009, Cayne Miceli suffering an asthma attack was dragged away from a New Orlean’s hospital and put into a five point restraint in the Orleans Parish Prison. She was disruptive, fearful and loud, but the medical staff at the jail should have known the immediate threat to her life. She died of hypoxic brain injury, cardiac arrest and asthma, brought on by the horizontal position of her restraint.
BagNewsNotes ran the above photograph with commentary. It goes without saying that I am opposed to the death penalty, which is nothing more than foolish symbolic act in our political economy.
Four bullets passed through Ronnie Lee Gardner. In this photograph, three bullet-holes are visible in the wood. Photographer, Trent Nelson presented a six-part series on his coverage of the case, appeals and execution in Utah. Part six is titled ‘The End’:
I’m told that I can only bring one camera, no camera bag, and I must have a lens cap on my lens. That changes things. I grab a body with a 16-35, stick a flash on top, pop in my most reliable battery and an 8 gigabyte card. It’s an uncomfortably light kit for such a big assignment.
The photographs and text are a detailed account of a surreal event:
Immediately there are disagreements about details. Standing at the window of the execution chamber after Gardner was shot, one reporter had drawn a sketch of the target on Gardner’s heart indicating the four bullet marks. He insists his sketch of the target is accurate, while another reporter disputes it, saying that two shots were actually on the left not the right.
Reporters are soon climbing all over the chair, pointing at the bullet holes, poking their fingers in them.
In this execution chamber, in this prison, the media record the evidence and in so doing confirm the deed done. Very surreal.