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Camera Letters: Through the Looking Glass

Camera Letters is an experiment in trying to communicate "through the looking glass," to the people that watch from the other side of surveillance cameras. This project challenges received notions that surveillance cameras can only function in one direction, that the state and corporate surveillance apparatus is impenetrable, and that the ever-watchful "eyes" that line our city streets are at once superhuman and devoid of humanity. By re-imagining the productive power of the surveillance apparatus, I am attempting to humanize the experience of watching/being watched, to find new ways of crossing restrictive divisions and boundaries on which economic, social, and political systems of power rely, and to point out the invsible labor of the people hired to sit on the other side of the punitive/ protective surveillance machine.

THE PROJECT:

For two days in early October 2006, I "wrote" to people on the other side of surveillance cameras in New York City, sending my camera letters via surveillance cameras at sites that I thought would have live people watching the surveillance consols.

My goal was to sollicit pen pal-like communication to the camera letters email address: "cameraletters@gmail.com"

My camera letter consisted of 5 posterboard signs, with cameraletters@gmail.com written at the bottom of each, which I held up for each surveillance camera.

I dressed as an [[international woman of mystery]] to simultaneously protect my identy and call attention to myself on surveillance cameras.

THE CAMERA LETTER:

To see my camera letter, look at these photos taken from a camera screen in the [[Bloomingdales]] lobby on 59th and Lexington.

OTHER PICTURES:

Click to see pictures of some of the places I went on the first day, courtesy of my camera-man:

[[Starbucks: 58th & Lex]]

[[57th St. Public Space]]

[[Bank of America ATM]]

[[Fitzgerarld Hotel: 56th & Lex]]

[[Citigroup Public Space & Barnes & Noble]]

[[United Nations Plaza]]

[[Trump World Tower]]

[[Grand Central Station]]

[[Subway station: 8th St & Broadway]]

[[New York University]]

[[Washington Square Park]]

The next day, without my camera-man to document, I sent camera letters at Carnegie Hall, The Park Meridian Hotel, The Disney Store, CocaCola Headquarters, Trump Tower, St. Patricks Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, MOMA, and Times Square.

THE SCOPE:

I sent over 50 camera letters in two days. I estimate that I sent camera letters to about 30 private corporation cameras, 5 UN cameras, 4 New York City Transit cameras, and 12 NYPD cameras.

CONFLICTS/ INTERRUPTIONS:

I was asked to leave several locations: Bloomingdale's Lobby, Park Meridian Hotel lobby, Grand Central Station, Trump Tower Public Space, and inside Rockefeller Center. In each case I respectfully left, inquiring as to the specific illegality of my act.

In the case of Grand Central Station, it was because signs of any kind are illegal (unless they are part of a formally sanctioned exhibit). In other spaces I gathered that management feared I would freak the customers out or that I was involved in a politically subversive activity.

ONLOOKERS:

At most places, [[passersby]] stopped to watch or ask me about the project. Some took photos of me (in Times Square and Washington Square Park that I noticed).

I definitely received most attention and responses (mostly positive) from 'civilian' onlookers: my project ended up functioning more as entertainment/ provocation for them, which was a re-direction of my original intent to communicate "throught the looking glass."

RESULTS:

So far, one person has written back! Tony, who saw me sending a camera letter at 53rd and Lexington while he was eating at a restaurant (Houston's), wrote to me from his blackberry. See his [[email]] and my reply.

I have hopes that more people will write back. In several places, passersby took pictures of me sending a letter to a security camera (performance art), so maybe they will get curious and write. I think that those kind of responses count as camera letters too.

FUTURE:

I got really into this project, and hope to send more camera letters in other cities. I am curious about Providence, Boston, Washington DC, Portland, OR, which are places that I will be over the next few months.

I will continue to update this site with any new correspondence I receive!

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