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In an age of rapidly advancing technology and a blurring of personal boundaries, exploring the intersection of photography and surveillance has become an ever more fruitful artistic pursuit. The half dozen artists in the Goethe-Institut exhibit “Surveillance Blind” hardly exhaust the topic, but collectively they do a thoughtful job of probing this multifaceted subject.
John Vigg travels widely in southern New Jersey’s expansive Pine Barrens, using both traditional methods like four-wheel-drive vehicles and motorbikes, as well as homemade drones and downloaded satellite images, documenting tracts of land best known as the setting for a classic Sopranos episode. Vigg’s most emblematic image of this forbidding wilderness may be the one of a pickup truck stuck in a large mud puddle (second from bottom).
AnnieLaurie Erickson offers an approach that’s more clever in concept than in execution—photographs of “server farms” that make up the Internet’s cloud (at bottom). She hits upon the obvious point—that all of our information is stored in bland buildings in obscure places—but the most compelling images are those where something unexpected pops up, such as a deer that somehow got inside the facility’s gates, or a farm vehicle plowing an adjacent field.
Meanwhile, Simon Menner builds matrices of images from a mix of archival photos from the Stasi—the old East German secret police—and his own staged surveillance images. He has a knack for creating faux Stasi photos; it’s hard to tell the archival ones from his own.
The exhibit’s two standouts are the collaborative team of Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman and German artist Jens Sundheim.
Larson and Shindelman sift through embedded GPS information on tweets and pair a message with the location in the real world where it was sent. Considering the throwaway nature of tweets, the photographs are surprisingly evocative—a dog peering out of a screen door, or a red convertible parked outside a seedy motel at dusk, portrayed in a fashion reminiscent of Gregory Crewdson (at top). Most notable is the image of an orange grove. The caption—“These tweets have my location?”—offers the perfect commentary on public cluelessness about new technologies.
It’s Sundheim, though, who offers the whole package. Sundheim researches security cameras that have a public feed; he then travels to those locations and poses, always wearing the same outfit. Finally, he endeavors to secure a screenshot of himself on camera—a digital souvenir of his travels to cafes, parks, intersections and receptionists’ desks (second from top). To a greater degree than anyone else in the exhibit, Sundheim tracks the river of surveillance from its headwaters to its delta—and, in the process, turns it on its head. In so doing, he notches a small victory against the bewildering network that increasingly circumscribes our lives.
Through Dec. 3 at Goethe-Institut, 812 7th St., NW, Washington, D.C. Mon-Thu 9-5, Fri 9-3.