Hiding In Public
On Wednesday June 15th from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. I observed a surveillance camera in Carolina Café at 925 Sumter Street, Columbia, SC 29201. This camera was positioned exactly over the door pointed straight ahead. The camera I chose in relation to the seat I chose to sit in had the best view of the four-way intersection, the door and the counter. The only traffic I had behind me was people using the restroom, which was far less busy than the front door traffic.
This is a map of the general area of Carolina Café. I watched the camera on the far left for the duration of the project. Along with this camera are a couple of others in near sight and the collection of the cameras focus on one general area. The area is highlighted in blue where most of the action goes on in the café and the business makes sure they have plenty of surveillance from various angles. This is great in case of a robbery since the food products and cash register are in this vicinity. Not only robberies are the main focus, employee misconduct such as theft is key for the location of the cameras.
Listed are the observations I had of people who walked in the Carolina Café. It was a white model Samsung surveillance camera.
Blue shirt and khakis - ordering coffee
Black shirt and jeans (older) with purple shirt and khakis – ordering coffee and chicken sandwiches
Black shirt with a tattoo sleeve – delivered ice from behind the counter to a car waiting outside & washed front doors
Purple shirt and khakis, zebra purse – walked in confused then walked out
Green blouse and black skirt with red shirt and black pants – ordered coffee and breakfast sandwiches
Green blouse 2 and khakis – wait for pick up food and stand in front of the camera completely unaware of being recorded
Grey shirts with navy blue pants (state employees) - walking
Male College student with a book bag and binder in hand - walking
Female with a white tank top and red shorts – running
Columbia Police on three wheel segway – patrolling the area
Three cars parallel parking to the Carolina Café - parking
This still photograph shows the central location of the camera. If it were to catch a revealing act such as theft or any type of crime, it would be easy to reveal it to the public and the authorities, but we tend not to notice. Grusin describes a consequence of this sense of normalcy. There is a normalcy of being imaged all the time. We’re not startled or surprised by cameras anymore. We ourselves, take pictures all the time. In his Affect and Mediality after 9/11 he states, “They came into existence through ordinary media practices – taking digital photographs, burning them on CDs, uploading them on websites, and emailing them to friends and family – that were a piece with our own everyday media practices of photographing our pets, our vacations, or our loved ones, and then sharing these images with friends, family, or strangers via the same media of file sharing, email, social networking, mobile phones, and the web…” (Grusin 65) However, in the case of Standard Operating Procedure, the person who began to document the situation by photography, wanted to bring the Abu Ghraib situation to the public. She felt as though she needed to document the crimes that were taken place. Writing letters to her loved ones about the experience at Abu Ghraib wouldn't suffice, so she began to store all of her pictures on her computer. She was aware of taking pictures, but didn't realize what Grusin does. That it is normal to take pictures and in most instances automatically reach for a camera. In retrospect it may have been the wrong decision to photograph every detail due to the jail time everyone faced.
As a whole this experiment consisted of me surveying the area surrounding the Carolina Café on the block of Main/Sumter/College/Pendleton streets. During this observation I found that cameras are almost non-existent. Other than ATMs and emergency poles located all across campus, this is the only camera easily visible from the street. Cameras may very well be in discrete locations on this block and would be good for safety reasons. I was surprised that the Byrnes building seemed not to have exterior cameras. The public could hold a state of anonymity on this block opposed to many blocks in downtown Columbia that are filled with cameras following your every move. In How Little We Know of Our Neighbors by Rebecca Baron there was almost no instance of public anonymity. In London when an average person is photographed 300 times a day with one camera for every 14 people, it is difficult to hide and remain anonymous in public.
I assumed there would be a camera with a bird’s eye view looking down on the corner for Sumter and College streets overlooking the Horseshoe. The Horseshoe is historic on the campus of the University of South Carolina because it was part of the original 1801 campus. Being the tallest building in the area, I assumed it would have cameras at various points, street level and aerial. This could be great for safety considering the traffic going through this area during school.
During the actual experiment on day two I was relatively hiding in public because there were no disturbances with my observation time, while some of my classmates didn’t have such luck. I kept to myself at a little table writing down every last detail about the customers, workers, and every person in or around the café. A sense of normalcy would be the best way to describe this project. No one approached me wondering what I was doing or why I had been there for so long without someone keeping me company. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred and people minded their business and went about their days in an average manner.
The sense of normalcy during the mass observation was anything but accidental. I walked into the café to order a muffin and a drink, which is considered normal for breakfast time at 10:30 a.m. Doing this it was almost as if I disarmed any worker or owner that could have been skeptical of a guy walking into a store strictly taking notes of the surroundings for two full hours. I did this not only to “fit-in”, but also to avoid any further problems if they happened to ask me to leave. Francois Ewald states, “Normalization, then, is less a question of making products conform to a standard model than it is of reaching an understanding with regard to the choice of a model…Normalization is thus the production of norms, standards for measurement and comparison, and rules of judgment.” (148) The “normal” model would be a customer that walks in a café and makes a purchase. The understanding with regard would be the person recognizing they have made a choice to conform to this model rather than go astray by disregarding the standards for measurement and comparison.
Ewald, Francois. “Norms, Discipline, and the Law.” Representations 30, Special Issue: Law and the Order of Culture (Spring 1990): 148.
Grusin, Richard. Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11. London, UK: Palgrave/MacMillan, 2010. 65.