Visibility On Main
Grace Miyaji, Austin Howard, Holly Hill, Amy Eschenfelder
Main Street is a vibrant strip of Columbia which is home to multiple buildings and different businesses. As such, one might expect the area to have multiple types of security watching over it. For these reasons, Main Street appears to be the best area for our final act of surveillance for this class. It was important, for multiple reasons, that while on our walk we paid particular attention to the visibility of the cameras and whether or not any one is actively aware of them. We were/are interested in seeing these things: not only how openly visible the cameras on main street are, but if anyone outside of our class actively notices them, how many more cameras there are versus security guards, and how people act when they think they’re being watched.
It will be interesting to see if the community has a natural behavior with a change to their normal environment. It will also be critical to notate camera locations in relation to how people interact and travel. It could be productive to ask people if they are aware of camera locations to see if they are under the public anonymity clause or fully aware of how they are monitored.
Since our group’s main focuses are visibility and lines of sight, it is necessary to consider not only the mechanical and ever-watchful eyes of security cameras, but also the eyes of our fellow citizens. The presence of security cameras is so ubiquitous in our society that we often do not notice them. While everyone knows they are observed to some extent while in public, it is possible to overlook just how many cameras one passes on a day to day basis. It is easy to maintain an illusion of public privacy. However, one of the purposes of security cameras is to premediate and deter crime. This is evidenced by the countless dummy cameras available as cheap home security. When a camera is unnoticed, it cannot fulfill this function. While unseen security cameras can provide a record of events, they cannot deter potential crime and ensure good behavior in the same way, for example, a policeman or security guard can.
Security cameras provide evidence of observation, but not a guarantee. Even when one is aware of a camera, they may assume no one is actually watching the feed, or even that it is a fake camera. Foucault says that the knowledge that one even might be observed at any time is enough to ensure good behavior. However, concrete proof of surveillance, such as the watchful eye of a security guard, can sometimes be more effective at controlling a population. Which is more likely to deter a potential bank robber: a shiny black dome on the bank ceiling, or a uniformed security guard at the door? This is an extreme example, but the idea holds true in more common situations as well. Are you more likely to goof around at work if your boss is in their office, or if they are standing next to you? For these reasons, it will be productive to observe how people's behaviors change in the presence of not only security cameras, but also in the presence of guards and police.
Another aspect of visibility pertains to the behavioral patterns people adjust to while being watched or monitored. During our observation of Columbia’s Main Street, the idea of people adjusting to a norm, a natural behavior triggered by a subject whether they are consciously aware of their actions or not, was a prime discussion. The natural behavioral response to change in the environment was no change. Each subject monitored resorted to a smoothness in behavior, accepting something different due to the perceived “open” (everything being watched and providing a safe environment) nature of their surroundings.
Foucault stated, “He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.” This idea embodies the side of visibility previously mentioned and its effect on behavior. When a subject is under surveillance, and knows they are being watched, they are immediately the rulers of their own fate. They mentally understand everything they do, look at, or notice of is now on camera and encountered a “double vision” Slobogin describes. The double vision idea is derived from philosopher Jeffrey Reiman who stated that “when you know you are being observed, you naturally identify with the outside observer’s viewpoint, and add alongside your own viewpoint of your action” [Public Privacy pg. 94]. This, as a result, alters the subject’s actions. The path someone walks may change (walkways in Russell House), how a subject waits in line (Wells Fargo line), or even what someone decides to purchase (clothing store).
Slobogin also ponders on the idea of public anonymity which embodies the other side of the visibility when it comes to behavior. What is anyone allowed or able to do when someone is being watched but is unaware of being watched? Does it diminish their natural rights when one is watched but displays actions, sometimes criminal, due to their lack of knowledge of camera placement? Even when the cameras are used, as Slobogin describes, very few arrests are made for crimes since “recordings are sometimes of poor quality..., images caught on tape are always subject to interpretation..., and subjects are hard to identify even with good images....” (Public Privacy pg. 86). Cameras placements are used to spot current crimes, provide a record of events, and to prevent crimes from happening as a whole. Does this deteriorate self-accountability and the effectiveness of cameras overall?
When focusing on visibility, lines of sight, and blind spots, one will immediately think of the “Panopticism” readings. Here, Foucault states that “the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Panopticism 201) and “Panopticism is the general principle of a new ‘political anatomy’ whose object and end are not the relations of sovereignty but the relations of discipline” (Panopticism 208). When one knows they are being watched (in the line of sight), they will be on their best behavior. It is an innate trait of most people, to always be on their best behavior when they are being watched, or that there is even the possibility of one being watched.
A site of visibility would be where one is completely out in the open to be seen by everyone and anything with “eyes”; no actions can be hidden, and all actions are to be recorded via surveillance devices, or monitored by people. A blind spot on the other hand may be out of a persons’ peripheral vision, or out of the cameras line of site if it doesn’t cover all angles. One could fix this issue by having multiple cameras in multiple positions, or placing people at different places in certain locations, so no site goes “unwatched”. In Foucault’s “Eye of Power”, Bentham “poses the problem of visibility, but thinks of visibility organised entirely around a dominating, overseeing gaze” (152). Here we see that being under constant supervision could raise issues, but no matter what, we are being watched for all the right reasons; it is never to impede ones privacy, but rather ensure their protection and to prevent the possibility of any harm or wrongdoing.
Since the Gressette Building, located on the State House grounds, on Gervais Street is a government building, it is assumed that there will be no blind spots in terms of surveillance. We should be closely watched from all angles by both cameras and security officers. Our classmate Carl’s astute observance of the State House grounds and the Gressette Building further solidify this theory. Blind spots in terms of security on government property could prove to be detrimental to many if something bad were to occur. Therefore, taking the proper precautions that there are no blind spots, and everything is visible, is a proper step that must be taken to ensure the safety of all.
Security cameras have become a normal sight in society, so much so that most people don’t even actively notice them anymore. Still, there are certain places that are assumed to have more security than others, as in banks or government buildings. We expect these places to want to have a higher level of security “just in case” even if we’re not looking for it. There are other places though that have been adding security to their premises for reasons that do not usually come to mind first when we think of common reasons behind installing cameras. Grusin says that the reason for why people use cameras is all about premediation; the cameras are essentially in place to prevent things from happening and always being ready for an “inevitable” something to happen.
Grusin says, “Unlike prediction, premediation is not about getting the future right.” (Premediation pg 46) What he means by this is that predicting the future is just guessing what is going to happen but not actively doing anything about it while premediation is about trying to deter a problem or situation that you assume will happen before it actually happens. Grusin explains, “Premediation entails the generation of possible future scenarios or possibilities which may come true or which may not, but which work... to guide action in the
present.” (Premediation pg. 47) By installing cameras in certain places, businesses believe that this will cause an inevitable negative outcome to not happen, thus avoiding a worst-case scenario.
The interesting part about this is to see where the cameras are placed. We can assume that the most cameras will be placed in areas that either have a certain history (i.e. past break-ins, muggings, accidents, etc.) that requires extra security or that area anticipates needing extra security in the future (either to be able to help solve the crimes already happening or to prevent them in general). Assuming that the areas with cameras are at higher risk of unwanted activity, illegal or otherwise, one wonders if there is any other logic to the placement of camera systems.
It is possible that the cameras serve a more analytical purpose by allowing the viewer to study society through them, in a completely natural environment. This would be one explanation as to how the installers know what to expect in certain areas. In 11 January 1978, Foucault says, “...I see [this analysis of mechanisms of power]’s role as that of showing the knowledge effects produced by the struggles, confrontations, and battles that take places within our society...” (pg. 3) Strategically placed security cameras can be used as a means of studying society without them knowing, therefore allowing them to be seen in the most natural of their ways.
Upon further analyzing of the prompt and the selected readings, one begins to wonder, is complete visibility a good or bad thing? Being monitored, whether by camera or by person, definitely promotes better behavior, which in turn promotes a safer environment for everyone. If people know they are not being watched, they are more likely to do something they should not be doing. In a sense, this is similar to the behavior of a toddler or high school student. The likelihood of getting caught doing something is what prevents most from doing something wrong if they are aware they are being watched – therefore constant visibility is a positive thing.
Foucault, Michel. “Foreward” and “11 January 1978.” Security, Territory, Population. Lecture at
the College de France 1977-1978. Ed. Michel Senellart. Trans. Graham Burchell. New York: Pallgrave, 2007. xiii-xvii and 1-23.
Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1977. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1979. 200-228.
Grusin, Richard. “Premediation” and “The Anticipation of Security.” Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11. London, UK: Palgrave/MacMillan, 2010. 38-63 and 122-142.
Slobogin, Christopher. Privacy at Risk. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago, 2007. Print.