Digital Media- ‘Rest’ Influences

After decided to focus on looking at the idea of the link between the digital world and the human brain and how they can be seen as not sleeping, I needed to think about a way of showing these ideas through a set of images. In my previous research I also looked at how cities and towns have lights left on through the night, even when most people would be sleeping, and how this could be seen to echo my idea of not sleeping and resting; the city at night could be a possible subject for my images to show my themes and ideas. I began my research into possible influences that I could use to inform my own body of work.

I first looked at the work of Christiane Zschommler, who has a large body of work looking at cities at night. Her photographs show the lights that illuminate the city even into the early house of the morning, echoing the idea that the city never sleeps. As well as looking at the bright vibrant lights of the city, her photographs also look at reflection; the images become surreal and abstract, and making the viewer question the image and reality. This could be seen to show the ideas around dreams and the blurred line between dreams and reality; dreams can be extremely realistic, so much so that sometimes when you wake up you initially feel that the dream actually happened.


All of the images link well to the themes that I want to address in my own image set, Zschommler shows the life in the city after dark, echoing my idea of looking at how the digital world and our brains are always awake and switched on. The images also link to ideas about dreams and the surreal world which could extend from my themes that I am looking at about the mind being awake, and part of this is related to the fact that we dream. In my own work I could take influence from the crisp style of Zschommler’s work, even though I do not want to look at reflection in my own image set, I still want to make sure I have detailed and sharp images that show the idea of being awake, as I feel if the images were blurred it would link more to the blurred idea of dreaming and being asleep.

Next I looked at the work of Todd Hido; in his series, Homes at Night; Hido focused on photographing different houses and apartments at night, the photographs shows dark scenes that were lit by either street lighting or lighting from within the homes. Many of the photographs show homes with light coming through the windows showing the idea of the inhabitants presence in that home. The photographs are very beautiful with contrasting dark and light making the images mysterious, echoing the mystery and unknown quality of each inhabitant.

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In my own work I plan to take influence from Hido by looking at the lighting from within homes rather than street light; I feel that by looking at the internal lighting not only does it make each picture individual to that home it also representthe human presence within the home. The light could be seen as showing how at night even though it is dark and people seem asleep, the light represents the brain and how it is still awake and working. To link back to my ideas around the technological world and how it is always on, I plan to focus on looking at light cast from technological devices to represent the idea of the digital world not sleeping. Many people go to bed and leave their TVs or laptops on, or fall asleep with them on; I want to look at these lights in the early hours of the morning when most people are asleep but technology and its lights are still awake.

Photographing peoples windows at night will pose an issue at some points, I will have to consider the ethics behind it, as I wouldn’t want anyone looking into my home and photographing it at night; I will stand back from the homes, like Hido did and photograph from afar, focusing on the light cast rather than the items inside the house. I will also photograph very late at night/early in the morning, so that people are out of sight asleep, this will mean I am not ‘spying’ on people, also this links better to my idea of how the internet and brain does not sleep but humans do.

This idea of photographing homes at night makes me think about ideas around surveillance and how we are always being watched; surveillance is the close observation for a subject, which can often be related to spying and crime. My body of work does not aim to spy yet I do feel that I can be seen as observing a subject from afar. The idea of surveillance links to the idea that we are always being watch, I looked at the article ‘How we are being watched‘, in which is states different ways we are constantly being observed:

  • There are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain – about one for every 14 people – making it one of the most watched places on earth.
  • Everything from shopping tags to mobile phones has the potential to be watching us.
  • CCTV in Britain’s streets can trace its genesis back to a limited system set up for the Queen’s coronation in 1953. By the 1960s there was permanent CCTV in some London streets. Now there are an estimated four million cameras in the country, viewing us as many as 300 times a day.
  • CCTV cameras in stores monitor shoplifters, those in cash machines look for fraud gangs, those on public transport watch vandals and thugs. But they also watch ordinary people at the same time. Digital CCTV systems can be configured to use face-recognition and look for criminal suspects
  • Cameras that could recognises the registration plates on suspect vehicles
  • A massively growing area of surveillance technology is radio frequency ID tags. Shops and logistic firms say they will eventually be vital in stock control, with products communicating to “smart” shop shelves that they are being picked up and that a replacement should be readied in a warehouse.
  • In addition to requesting lists of calls to and from suspects mobiles, the police now frequently use mobiles’ communication with different masts to triangulate the position of a suspect

The list of items that ‘watch’ us goes on, there are so many examples out their that use different technologies to survey us. This made me think about to our lecture material this term; we looked at Gigapixel images that are super high quality images that are used for surveillance, one photograph of a large crowd can be used to identity individuals. These cameras are being used for riots, but they are very expensive so can’t be used for normal CCTV. Gait recognition is the use of technology to identify people by the way they walk, each person’s walk is entirely unique. Both of these examples show how photography and technology have come together to help society.

I decided to look into photographic work that already exists around the idea of surveillance; the exhibition “Watching You, Watching Me” looked at the this theme through the work of nine different practitioners. The exhibition explored how photography has been used both as an instrument of surveillance and as a tool to document, expose, and challenge the impact of surveillance on civil liberties, human rights, and basic freedoms.

The nine artists and projects selected are as follows:

  • Edu Bayer, “Qaddafi Intelligence Room.”
 Bayer documents late Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi’s security headquarters in Tripoli, just a few days after it was abandoned when rebels stormed the capital.
  • Josh Begley, “Plain Sight: The Visual Vernacular of NYPD Surveillance.”
 Begley draws on AP-released documents to create a collage of photographs used by the New York Police Department’s Demographics Unit in its surveillance of Muslim-affiliated businesses and institutions.
  • Paolo Cirio, “Street Ghosts.”
 Cirio uses appropriated imagery of people captured on Google Street View to create street installations at the very sites where they were originally photographed.
  • Hasan Elahi, “Thousand Little Brothers.”
 After an erroneous tip linking the artist to terrorist activities led to a six-month-long FBI investigation, Elahi began to voluntarily monitor himself by photographing mundane details from his daily life and sending these images—now totaling nearly 70,000—to the FBI.
  • Andrew Hammerand, “The New Town.”
 Hammerand uses a publicly accessible networked CCTV camera in an anonymous midwestern American town to create images that reflect on issues of surveillance and privacy.
  • Mishka Henner, “Dutch Landscapes.”
 Henner appropriates censored Google Earth images of significant political, economic, and military locations to draw attention to the Dutch government’s attempts to prevent their own civic buildings from being monitored.
  • Simon Menner, “Images from the Secret Stasi Archives.” 
Menner presents images found in the East German State Security Service archives to reflect on how photography was used by the Stasi as a tool to train spies, conduct secret home searches, and track people’s movements.
  • Julian Roeder, “Mission and Task.” 
Roeder highlights the border surveillance system EUROSUR, which connects all border control systems of individual EU member states, allowing them to share and exchange information.
  • Tomas van Houtryve, “Blue Sky Days.” 
Reflecting on the changing nature of personal privacy, surveillance, and contemporary warfare, van Houtryve uses a drone to create aerial photographs in the United States of the types of gatherings that are targeted in foreign air strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, as well as locations where drone use has been approved on American soil.

All of these photographs look at the theme of surveillance in detail, often looking at political issues. In my own work I can be seen to link to the ideas around surveillance and privacy, yet these are not the main themes of my work; I want to focus of the ideas around how technology and the brain do not rest. When photographing I will be aware of some of the ethical issues about my work but I believe my approach is respectful, standing back and not getting too close, yet also showing my theme well.


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