I’ve realised it would be useful for me to clarify at the beginning of this project that this work is not intended as an anti-CCTV gesture. While I have a generally skeptical attitude to an overabundance of surveillance and security architectures, I am well aware that CCTV can and does perform an important role in contributing to a feeling of safety when one is alone and/or in a vulnerable position.
Rather this research in an exercise in seeing things more clearly. The commuting route I am focusing on is a route I travel along well over 100 times a year. Each of these times, I am documented by all the cameras on this route, for Hackney Council, TfL, The Barbican and a number of private businesses. While I am broadly aware that this takes place, at this stage I have no idea of the specifics; how many cameras, who owns them, who is looking.
For my own interest, I would like to know the answers to these specifics. But wider, I think it is good practice to try to be more aware of ones’ surroundings, to get to know better the networks of power that one negotiates each day. I’m just trying to look back.
This period of research will focus on my commuting route to The Barbican Art Gallery, where I work on a zero-hour contract as an invigilator.
Concretely this research will look to identify and catalogue all the CCTV cameras I encounter/am subjected to on this route. More than just mapping them, this will be an opportunity for me to develop a better understanding of these cameras as machines, looking to identify the model, owner, jurisdiction, storage period and sightlines. I will collate and present all this information, hopefully producing a document that will be useful for similar analysis of other urban journeys.
But in a deeper sense, I will look to use this focus on my commute to engage with wider questions about wage labour and how this works alongside attempting to be a sometime visual artist. There is quite a lot of overlap between my art practice, interested in the functioning of secrets, and my time spent in the Barbican, being an overt surveillance worker.
My position of supplementing my invigilator income with some money from making art (as I’m doing here) is one I have in common with many of my co-workers. So the second strand of research that will contribute to CAMERA CATALOGUE will be a series of interviews with my invigilator/artist co-workers. This will initially be focused on their commutes’ to the Barbican too. But expanding on this, these interviews will then then use the commuting discussion as a basis for interrogating how my peers negotiate an art career alongside an invigilation career.
So this period of research will in some senses be an exercise in bringing my two kinds of labour together, reconfiguring my commute to the Barbican as a part of my art practice. Reflecting this dual use of my time, I hope the outcome of CAMERA CATALOGUE is some kind of sharable document that extends this process of concurrent labour tactics beyond my specific practice and conditions, interrogating and illuminating different approaches to finding avenues of space, time and agency for an art practice while being subject to market forces and watching eyes.