Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

Haunting landscapes taken from thousands of hacked surveillance cameras

June 15, 2018 at 6:00 AM

“33.509720, 126.521940.” (Marcus DeSieno)
“41.997000, -73.997400.” (Marcus DeSieno)

Big data. Surveillance. Privacy. These are issues that are increasingly affecting our lives. Unsurprisingly, these things have also been on many artists’ minds, including photographic artist Marcus DeSieno. In his new book, “No Man’s Land: Views from a Surveillance State,” (Daylight, 2018) DeSieno investigates surveillance culture, questioning what it means to live in a time when our actions are tracked, logged and saved.

Working on a computer, DeSieno hacked into surveillance cameras from around the world, searching for images to include in his investigation. Instead of areas most commonly thought of when thinking about surveillance — airports, shopping centers, busy streets — DeSieno sought out landscapes with no people. Once he found the images that fit his purpose, DeSieno made a computer image, then brought out his large-format camera and photographed the images using a salt paper negative process, which creates an atmospheric feel similar to early pictorialist landscape photography. The resulting images are both haunting and thought-provoking.

In an essay included in the book, historian Martha A. Sandweiss said of DeSieno’s work:

“By effectively rescuing the unvalued landscapes caught up in the digital surveillance of humans acting badly, DeSieno asks us to think about what these places are without us. … In the end, despite all the troubling issues raised here about the privatization of property and the omnipresence of the surveillance state, these pictures are also satisfyingly subversive and gloriously redemptive. DeSieno transforms images made without aesthetic intent into carefully handworked landscapes that reflect his own sensibilities. … Long after the digital footage captured by the surveillance cameras is discarded or erased, DeSieno’s smart and deeply moving photographs will remain.”

Here are some of the images from the book:

“26.142350, -81.693869.” (Marcus DeSieno)
“62.009730, -6.771640.” (Marcus DeSieno)
“48.294685, -113.241478.” (Marcus DeSieno)
“35.996611, -78.899080.” (Marcus DeSieno)
“52.143200, -4.394850.” (Marcus DeSieno)
“59.332580, 18.064900.” (Marcus DeSieno)
“46.979000, -103.538700.” (Marcus DeSieno)
“36.887900, -118.555100r.” (Marcus DeSieno)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

More on In Sight:

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‘That world where veils, blood and smoke go hand in hand with cosmic philosophy.’ Photographs from the black metal scene in Iceland.

Kenneth Dickerman is a photo editor. He previously worked as a photo editor at MSN in Seattle and TIME in New York City. Before that, he worked as a freelance photographer specializing in politics and conflict and his work appeared in The New York Times, TIME and US News & World Report among other publications.

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