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by Suzanne Révy, Associate Editor
The concept of surveillance is ingrained in our beings. God was the original surveillance camera. ~ artist Hasan M. Elahi
No system of mass surveillance has existed in any society that we know of to this point that has not been abused. ~Edward Snowden
Is somebody watching you? Do you know who, or where? With the exponential growth of surveillance cameras since the 9/11 attacks, we may sense that everyone is being watched everywhere. And it may well be that the sheer quantity of cameras, both in public spaces and in our own palms, has diminished our societal sensitivity to being photographed. But what does this enormous cultural shift in surveillance mean? What roles do our acknowledgment and permission play? Photographer Sheri Lynn Behr raises these issues in a dynamic, eye-opening solo show BeSeeingYou, on view at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA through July 15th, 2018.
Behr began her exploration of surveillance by surveilling. Photographing strangers in New York City through windows from the sidewalk outside, she grappled firsthand with the idea of permission. Reactions varied widely: some would hide their faces, others would mug for the camera, some ignored her. She enlarged and cropped the images, creating a series of enigmatic portraits that, as Behr writes, “reference mug shots, identity cards, Facebook friends, missing persons, or even paparazzi celebrity captures.” While making these pictures, Behr sensed she herself was being scrutinized, thus becoming aware that she, too, was being watched. She started to photograph the surveillance cameras that pepper every intersection and many buildings around New York City, producing a multi-pronged photographic investigation.
Behr organizes the variety and ubiquity of surveillance cameras by separating them into categories, approaching and photographing them in different ways. In NoMatterWhere Behr presents images of cameras on buildings, out of sight and looking down from above in boldly geometric compositions. In WatchingYou she employs mobile capture and a muted almost monochromatic palette to reveal cameras that are hiding in plain sight, such as one image she made inside the Griffin itself, and in WatchingMe, Behr essentially turns the camera back on herself, capturing self-portraits in the mirrored surfaces of surveillance cameras. Over time, Behr also began to notice surveillance cameras in television shows. By taking pictures off of the screen of different types of shows, from the Simpsons to sitcoms and police procedurals, she adds a comical layer to an otherwise alarming trend that challenges the notions of our public and private lives.
I think this is one of the finest installations I’ve seen in the intimate Griffin Gallery space. In it, Behr artfully ties together the threads of her inquiry with long strips of small images that are culled from her various projects and extends to other issues around surveillance, such as showing criminal suspects on television or the posting of warning signs near cameras. In BeSeeingYou, Behr has created an unnerving, almost claustrophobic, display that provokes both disturbing and humorous questions about the profound shifts in a culture that has become captivated by imagery.
For more information about this exhibit, go to: https://griffinmuseum.org/show/beseeingyou/
Feature Image: Installation view of BeSeeingYou by Sheri Lynn Behr, courtesy of the artist and the Griffin Museum of Photography.