Mass Observation Report: The State House in Columbia, South Carolina

Carl Burnitz


Dr. Cooley




November 19th, 2014


Mass Observation Study : State House Surveillance Report




My area was the State House. Located at: 1100 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29201.On the first day, I walked through the area and mapped where the cameras were placed, as well as notated observations and points of interest. The cameras are numbered in the order I found them. Here's a map and photos of their locations.


Full Map:

Cam 1: Area and Close Picture (Furman E. McEachern Jr. Parking Facility)

Camera 2: Area and Close Picture (L. Marion Gressette Building)

Camera 3: Area and Close Picture (State House; Back)

Camera 4: Area and Close Picture (South Carolina State Office Building)

Camera 5, 6, & 7: Area and Close Pictures (L. Marion Gressette Building)

Camera 8: Area and Close Picture (State House; East Wing)

Cameras 9 & 10: Area and Close Pictures (State House; Front)

Camera 11: Area and Close Picture (State House; West Wing)

Camera 12 & 13: Area and Close Pictures (Edgar A. Brown Building)

Camera 14: Area and Close Picture (Solomon Blatt Building)

Other: Police SUV Presence (Near Camera 11 - State House; West Wing)

Description continued:


If greater understanding of the area is warranted, then there is a YouTube video here ( that can be viewed.


On Day 2, I chose Camera 2 as the surveillance camera that I would watch. I took a video of Camera 2 for the duration of my viewing. Here are the photos of my vantage point. (Once again, the video link above can be viewed for greater clarity, as well as the video of my viewing.)


Vantage Point Pictures

Other: Squirrel Watching Me





Cameras 1 & 2 were the only easily visible cameras, though you could consider Cameras 8 & 11 fairly easy to find if you were looking for them. All other cameras excluding these four were high above normal eyesight, or high on the rooftops.


Cameras 1 & 2 were also the only cameras for which I could visibly see a brand labeled upon them;

Camera 1: Pelco and Camera 2: Avigilon. I attempted to find the specific brands of these cameras, but ultimately came up empty handed. However, using the camera selection tool ( I did find this camera:

This was the best example for Camera 1 that I could find, and honestly Camera 1 seems ancient compared to all of the results. What I found appears significantly newer based on the picture.


Also, this camera ( appears to be the newer version of Camera 2.


One thing that was interesting to me on both websites, dome cameras seem to be all the rage, meaning I saw them the most frequently. This makes sense to me, as all cameras that I observed, omitting camera 1, were dome shaped. Not only that, but they hide the angle at which the camera is observing and thus give the illusion of covering more ground. This reminds me very much of panopticism. It gives greater power to the camera because you never know if your direction is being watched. Not only that, but with any of these cameras, how can you be certain if they are even on? We can only assume they are, but we can't know for sure.


Camera 2 is the only camera that I was confronted with question over what I was doing. You can see it here at 43 seconds ( As you can hear, he asks, “Whatcha filming?”, and I didn't notice it until after the second or third time he said it. I told him I was a student at USC, and he asked again what I was doing. In my confusion I said, “Oh, I'm just taking care of the building.” Surprisingly, he ducked his back inside and left me to my own devices. This event heavily influenced my decision to watch this camera on Day 2, because I was trying to see if I could create a response again. Risky, but I guess that's part of the fun.




The majority of the people were civilians passing through. This included: students, teachers, businessmen/women, locals, tourists, homeless, and construction workers. There were some policemen, and security guards, but they weren't nearly as frequent. On both days combined I saw about 5 police officers. 2 the first day, and the 3 the second.


The police officers didn't approach me, or say a word to me. Only one officer even looked at me for more than 3 seconds...staring suspiciously. Others just glanced.


The students, teachers, and businessmen/women didn't linger. They clearly had places to be. They seemed to be just passing through the area to arrive at a different destination.


Others, like the locals and tourists stayed awhile. Tourists walked around exploring the grounds and took many pictures of the State House and even plant life scattered throughout. Locals exercised on the grounds; I watched many run up and down the stairs and run around the State House. One woman at the top of the stairs in the front, waited patiently for me to snap a quick photo of Camera 9, before she continued with her workout.


Homeless persons stayed primarily on the outer edges of the grounds. I assessed their state from their appearance and what they had with them (tattered, dirty clothing, unkept hair, plastic bags). I saw a total of 2 homeless people and they both had taken a bench for their own. Neither spoke to me, or looked at me.


Construction workers were completely distracted by their own work. I witnessed a pair measuring the height of the windows during recording Day 2, luckily captured for your viewing. It's at 11:57 (


I found it particularity interesting the amount of people that even acknowledged my presence. I would expect little awareness of me without a camera, but with one I thought surely people would look. However I found, on Day 2, that only about 50 of 141 people looked my direction (and I believe at me).


On both days combined, only three people talked to me. The man from the Gressette Building (, and an older man with a younger woman who was with him ( At 54:45 on youtube. The second conversation went as follows.

Old Man: “Are we walking too fast?”

Me: “Oh, you're fine.”

Young Woman: “Do you work here?”

Me: “Ah, no. I'm a student.”

Young Woman: “Ok.” (as I'm talking) “Thanks?!” (confused tone to her voice).

They came walking the other direction (back by me) later (approximately 24 minutes), and the old man turned to me and said, “Have a good day!”

I replied, “Thank you! You too!”.

This unfortunately didn't record correctly on my video.




I noticed the Police SUVs on the west wing of the State House (on Day 1) and I thought it was interesting how one of the SUVs was obstructing the path. I wondered why they were parked there and why there were two. I would like to know the reasoning behind that. My best guess is that they're a form of security for the people who work there, or it's a convenient spot for them to park considering the lack of parking available in typical areas and that fact that it's government property.


Also, I found it funny, later on Day 2, that I found a squirrel, as you can see above in the photo, watching me! He sat there for the longest time, probably 5 minutes or so, until a man came walking by and made him move. The squirrel in that moment, reminded me of myself. I, like the squirrel, was prompted by something in my environment to survey; to watch and take in information. Was I, too, waiting for someone to come by and stop me?


Lastly, there is a building adjacent to the South Carolina State Office Building that appears to have mounts for dome cameras. I didn't see any actual cameras present at the time, but I thought it was of significance to note the possibility. In the future, this may be another area of visibility for security cameras.




The idea that seems most prominent to me upon looking over the data I've collected is smoothness. The idea that all these cameras can be present on the State House grounds (or anywhere quite frankly) and no one bats an eye. We all accept it, and are okay with it. To say we accept it may be inaccurate, I feel that there's more of an indifference than an acceptance. People couldn't care less that they were being watched. I was the only one on the grounds looking, watching, and taking in the cameras, no one else acknowledged their existence. But they know they're there and that they're being watched. I think our society has that ingrained in us (that we're watched at all times most notably in public places), and it's a part of the norm so much, that it's not even worth taking the time to think about. Even I, a guy very much visible and with a camera, was about 2 out of 3 times ignored. Are 2 out of 3 people wrapped up in their own lives so much, that they can completely ignore others watching them? Is this our “average man”? That's kind of troubling, but in another way I guess that does make sense. There are so many people that may or may not be watching us; it's impossible to know, so one is safe to assume that they are being watched at all times. No need to look if you already know. This reminds me again of the Panopticon, but it makes me feel as if there is more than one tower that may or may not be watching us, which makes it impossible in a lot of ways not to be watched. Not on Facebook? Well, you still have a cell phone. I know where you were at the time you placed that call at 5:34pm. Don't have a cellphone? Well, I can see your credit card actions online. You're completely off the grid? Well, I can see you from my surveillance camera. You're invisible? Well, you are still aware of yourself. Does that count? I would say so. You know exactly what you're doing at all times. You're your own security camera. You're constantly surveying your surroundings, collecting information; regarding yourself (emotions, reactions), the others in your area (people, animals), and the actual location itself.


All the people I saw, besides the homeless, had places to be, people to see, or things to do. I felt this really supported Taylorism. Everyone had work that needed to be done by a specified deadline. The policemen patrolled, the students, teachers and businessmen walked by, the construction workers worked, and the locals exercised. Even the tourists probably had planned out specific times to be there at the State House. They can't be tourists if they don't leave! Really, even the homeless most likely had plans besides sitting on the bench. I, myself, had a tight schedule in which to get things done; I didn't have time to be at the State House all day. I found it interesting that we're all on-the-go, running, doing the best we can, as quick as we can.


The most interesting idea that came to me when Dr. Heidi Cooley showed pictures/video of us observing our locations during class. It made it really evident to me the circularness of the process of surveillance. I thought it funny how we watched people and the camera while they also watched us. Then, her assistants, watched us, usually without us knowing. (I personally thought he was taking pictures of the State House.) She held her aids accountable for having the information on us, putting herself in control of them. But also, in the meantime, she still watched us (as she can personally see our results). I find Dr. Cooley to be the Eye of Power in this class. I feel that she, in a lot of ways, holds all the cards: She has all the information.


But back to my previous example of myself and the people at my location. I, myself, functioned as a security camera. An inefficient one, because I'm human, but I noticed all that I could around me. Initially, I tried to note everything possible (How many people, clothing, gender, etc.), but I found that I couldn't write that fast; so I had to resort to writing down more significant findings only. The most interesting relationship is the one between myself and/or my camera and Camera 2 (the one I watched on Day 2). It felt strange to me, but fitting. What better way to analyze a security camera than to try and emulate one? It was strange because I've never witnessed a possible means of trying to combat a security camera other than trying to avoid it's gaze. The idea of coming at a camera head on was foreign for me, and I thought it would provide for an interesting experiment. The tension was great. Two 'perfect' beings never blinking; fully aware of the other at all times. I of course would fail a stare down with a security camera, but my camera could win! However, I do believe, in a sense, I did lose, because I left and stopped surveying. I think that's the only way to win surveillance. Have the longest, and most accurate representation of the past, and all the information that comes with it.


To summarize the findings of my project, I have three main points to make. The smoothness in the always present visibility and the indifference that comes with it are at large in our society. Taylorism runs rampant, and we're all negotiating our time with the clock and our schedules. Dr. Heidi Cooley is the Eye of Power in our class, and surveillance is very circular in the sense that we are always surveilling each other. Those that are watched turn to those who are watching them. They in turn watch them, and then others. The process happens again and again. Finally, the only way to 'win' surveillance is to be omniscient essentially.



Crary, Jonathan. "Chapter 2." 24/7 : Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (2013): 29-60. Print.

Burnitz, Carl. "State House Surveillance Footage." YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2014. <>.

Foucault, Michel. "Eye of Power." Power/Knowledge. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 146-65. Print.

Foucault, Michel. "Part 3 - Panopticsim." Panopticism. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979. 195-228. Print.

"HD PTZ | Avigilon - The Best Evidence." HD PTZ | Avigilon - The Best Evidence. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2014. <>.

"Pelco Camera Selector Tool." Pelco Camera Selector Tool. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2014. <>.


    A very impressive bit of work. I'm interested in the idea of "winning" at surveillance by having "the longest, and most accurate representation of the past, and all the information that comes with it." On the one hand, it would seem that folks like you and me are not even in the game, because we lack the infrastructure to accumulate information on anything like the scale of, say, credit card companies. On the other hand, your researches suggest that information gathering of a fairly serious sort lies within our grasp. What are your thoughts about this? Most importantly, what would be the point? What would a winning countersurveillance do differently? 

    Thank you very much, this also interests me.

    We do start off at an extreme disadvantage due to our lack of available tools or resources (money primarily), but, like you say, I don't think it makes it impossible (just very difficult) to "win" at surveillance. 

    In order to truly "win" at surveillance, I think it would require a group effort, or large resources. I believe this because by the end of my hour and fifteen minutes recording the camera and taking notes on the second day, I was exhausted. In order to "win" I would have to go for longer than any other medium of surveillance in the area. That's why I brought a camera, but even that is limited in that it relies on battery power. If you had multiple people who could take turns, then you may be able to "win", but eventually, whenever they lose interest or fall to fatigue, you would fail. 

    If you wanted to get extremely technical, I would say that no one could ever truly "win" at surveillance. This is because no one is omniscient, and we don't have the capacity for infinite amounts of information.

    I believe the point would be to obtain data about the area and about people in the area. What is the area used for? Who comes here? Is this a settlement or thoroughfare? (I found that the State House to be both in my other report.) Basically, to learn certain information that you want to know, or to try and knock down other surveillance systems by attempting to obtain more information than them (back to "winning" surveillance).

    I believe a winning countersurveillance would put itself at the Eye of Power by taking the place of the previous system. What they would do, and how they would use their information would depend on the individual in control of that system. It would be a form of rebellion, and I'm sure would warrant a reaction from the system who was strongest before. Assuming that the system has the resources to stand up to the countersurveillance. 

    Honestly, I don't think the police suv's purpose was to make me feel safe. The purpose of it was to provide security for the State House, or at least the appearance of security; to make you believe that police were present, and would return to their vehicle at any moment. To answer your question, I don't know if I feel safe or unsafe due to the lack of knowledge of the police's whereabouts.

    As I said in my report, most people just ignored me. On the second day only 50 out of 141 people looked my direction, and the conversations I had were all documented in my report as well.

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