In his book American Surveillance photographer Richard Gordon takes on the topic of the ubiquity of surveillance cameras in the US. By documenting security cameras – in malls, buildings, musuems, on the streets – Gordon reminds us we’re being watched nearly all the time.
Gordon is a part-time instructor of photography at City College of San Francisco and Stanford Continuing Studies, and he’ll be a part of “Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera” at the Tate Modern in London in June 2010. He’ll also have four photographs at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from October 23 through January 2010. Here, he answered a few questions about the book and photography for us.
What was the origin of this project for you – the spark or series of events that made you want to do it?
I photograph the social landscape and began to notice what seemed like an exponential increase in surveillance cameras in January ’03 and began to photograph them as part of the urban landscape.
Are these photographs more the result of seeking out the surveillance cameras, or happening upon them?
I avidly sought them out for five or six weeks and quickly came to realize that it was not necessary; they were everywhere and I just go about my business and photograph them in day-to-day life and photography. I did eventually make some trips with the object of photographing them in different places.
Before this project did you have an accurate idea of the amount of surveillance cameras out there? Was it eye-opening?
I have no idea of the number of surveillance cameras then or now except that there are many more now than in ’03. Everything is eye-opening.
It is often difficult to photograph malls and institutions and even architecture in this day and age with security concerns. Did you ever experience problems when taking these photos – either from security or passersby?
Malls are private property and the law regarding photography in public and private places is different and I know the differences. The most obnoxious incident was with an assistant manager at a Safeway market. In general I did not have problems for a few reasons (I suppose, but cannot prove): 1., I am a middle-aged, white-haired white guy. 2., I know how to photograph and when one does something with confidence and competence, most people accept it. I almost never skulked around and at times would make it obvious to any potential viewer of my photographing that I was taking my time, giving the surveillors time to study me as I made my pictures (the precise nature of which they could have no idea). In some circumstances, I would approach a security guard or employee and ask permission. I was chased off the steps of Enron after I made the pictures I wanted to.
I’ve noticed on our own blog when we write about the erosion of civil liberties, people actually (and often belligerently) write in defending the government or police tactics and call those who are outraged “radicals,” saying things like it’s just keeping us safe from terrorists. What’s your take on that?
I try not to argue with the ignorant. There seems to be more than enough stupidity and/or ignorance on all sides of these issues than I care to indulge in.
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