News and Coverage

Camscape: Participatory Reverse Surveillance

Alex Haw (atmos), Mark Simpkins (geeKyoto)

The UK’s prime provider of geographic digital content, the Ordnance Survey, denied Google the opportunity to upload a detailed 3D model of London to Google Earth because it felt its profit imperative had been breached. That software’s representation of the UK is thus a desolate flat landscape of texture-mapped satellite imagery, devoid of substantial massing.

This brief absence beautifully mirrored the UK’s other signature environmental characteristic – that it currently has more CCTV than any other country in the world, and thus is a predominantly electronic landscape. Our software Camscape evolved from a concern to not only put the UK literally back on the map, in the form that it deserved (the CCTV camera was a popular icon in a recent vote on what exactly should symbolically represent the country), but to grapple with the exploding geography of surveillance cameras that increasingly constitute our built environment. Reversing the process whereby everyday life gets consumed and projected onto surveillance screens, everybody’s own computer screen becomes the platform enabling one to administer CCTV’s own optical medicine straight back to it.

Camscape operates as an ARG, using a natural sense of competiveness amongst the British masses to deploy a powerful mapping force in every corner of the country, transforming the ardor of dry, precision mapping into the pleasures of a collective game. People compete in a virtual form of neighborhood watch, staking out their local territory by mapping the precise spatial position and typology of all CCTV, winning “points per pixel” in the process (a weighting which helps inflate the nascent megapixel technology into the trophy kill targets). The online database of gamers thus becomes a collection of data-collectors, a catch-all for those social networks watching the unsocial network of watchmen.

It builds around Google Maps and uses a basic step of clicks to establish a camera’s position, viewing direction and angle in plan and section, and overall type to then generate a 3-dimensional data object mirroring its pyramid of vision, each mapping requiring the authentication – like a Wikipedia entry – of a second, separate authority. Geometry can be augmented with other metadata and apocrypha, “mug shot” photos uploaded to underscore the way the watchers are watched back, visually criminalizing the very machines that daily extend that same implication to us all as they wait for signs of misbehavior.

2D maps of surveillance abound but give us very little rich data; and they tell us very little about the spatial experience of CCTV. Camscape enables the base datapoints to generate a 3D model that aggregates online in Google Earth, the camera positions proliferating their pyramidical view projections across the land like skewed ancient monuments. Metadata collects in a politically agnostic database freely available to “non-residents” operating elsewhere in this giant cooperative online gaming platform.

Alex Haw

atmos

Alex Haw is an architect and artist operating at the intersection of design, research, art and the urban environment. He runs atmos, a collaborative experimental practice which produces a range of architecture and events including private and public buildings and spaces, videos, installations and larger public commissions. Projects include Sunlands (the transposition of realtime solar data to the waters of Canary Wharf), Hurry Up Please It’s TIME (an interactive bar projection), LightFall (a responsive cascade of light through the canyons of Cutty Sark’s DLR station), SpacePro (an interactive body-tracking laser installation, SeeCTV (an installation for dancing to CCTV), Beammobile (a kinetic mobile arts facility), a listed tree-house and a disappearing kitchen. LightHive, a 3d-cctv transmutation of everyone in the Architectural Association into light, was highly commended at both the FX and Lighting Design awards; Work/Space/Ply/Time, a CNC-plywood rapid-assembly pavilion, won the Urbantine competition and is currently touring China with British Council funding. Alex studied at the Bartlett and Princeton on a Fulbright, and has taught design studios at the Architectural Association, Cambridge University and TU Vienna. He has written for AAFiles, Blueprint (for whom a recent illustrated article has been nominated for a D&AD award), Contemporary, Building Design and the Architect’s Journal, with career profiles in Blueprint, Dwell and *Surface magazines.

Mark Simpkins

geeKyoto

Mark Simpkins is an online activist and artist, who is the co-founder of geeKyoto and also the founder of ‘This Is Our Algorithm’. He has worked on civic software projects such as ConsultationProcess.org which started the craze to make government documents open and annotatable. He also worked with some other MySociety.org volunteers to build both IVotedForYouBecause.com and TheyWantToBeElected.com for the 2005 UK General Elections. He runs a small consultancy, NodalResearch, on the use of online tools for social and civic software solutions and has been technical consultant for the Design Against Crime Research Centre based at Central St. Martins in London. He is also a Senior Technical Project Manager at the BBC and blogs intermittently at nodalpoints.com

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