I am a Programme Director in the School of Design at London College of Communication which is one of six colleges that comprise the University of the Arts, London.
My role includes managing a number of graphic design based undergraduate and post graduate degree courses within the School as well as teaching graphic design on BA(Hons) Graphic and Media Design.
I have taught at, the then, School of Art and Design, Hull, Southampton Solent University and have been a visiting lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh and the Design School, Cologne.
I’m an awarded member of Design and Art Direction and have had work published nationally and internationally including EYE magazine.
For the past three years I have been collecting and collating web cam images from around the world. These I have reproduced as prints which feature in this blog.
Watched spaces. It was about six years ago that I downloaded the World View app for my new iphone. I can’t remember what the motivation was – novelty I suppose. The app was a distillation of Webcams Travel a directory of webcam images that gave access, at that time, to 28,000+ webcams. The site allows individuals to add a webcam and consequently since 2009 the number of available cams has risen to 47,000+.
In the main the webcams fall into the following categories:
seaside resorts, ski slopes, city centres, weather cams, roads and highways, tourist and culturally significant sites and, interestingly, scientific research facilities.
The images collected and shown here are all static although there are sites with real time moving imagery and in a few cases apps that allow the view/observer to remotely control traffic/cctv cameras.
There are of course ‘adult’ sites in which the viewer ‘directs’ a subject or more accurately a, usually, female ‘object’.
There are some novel sites which encourage innocent
interaction including Andi and Mike’s Bubble Cam where the observer can set off a bubble machine in the back garden of a Florida home.
BigRig Travels is experiential and allows passive engagement for which the viewer ‘shares’ the cab of a truck, live, in the US. It’s compelling and hypnotic although you have to share the driver’s musical tastes.
Andy Warhol’s grave cam in Pittsburgh could be described as his ultimate art work. I looked at the site in June and someone had placed Campbell soup tins around the headstone. At the time of writing it was 9.40 am in Pittsburgh and there’s a squirrel sitting on the headstone.
The images in the exhibition are photographic but I’m a collector, not the photographer. In a conventional sense I have no control over the object, the detail, the composition, the exposure or the point of view but those are
exactly the criteria applied by me to their collection.
The images and films exhibited represent a proportion, maybe 50%, of those collected. Classifying the images was difficult as many subjects are capable of multiple interpretation and a road webcam for instance could just as easily be
classified under weather.
I finally classified them as landscape, highways, volcanoes and mountain, people, enigmatic and Antarctica.
Landscape. The images represent a diverse range of
landscapes some of which seem illogical unless the viewer is aware of the context. A particular example is that of a webcam of a group of trees in Sweden that were in fact part of a research project into the effects of climate change on particular tree species. This webcam is no longer broadcasting however another camera – not exhibited – but also in Sweden has what appears to be an agricultural implement in the foreground. The camera is still broadcasting images but absolutely nothing has changed, apart from weather
conditions, for some years.
Ski resorts and ski slopes feature significantly in Webcam Travel and their obvious purpose is to allow the viewer to assess piste conditions. Many of them aren’t focused on a particular piste but on surrounding countryside and it’s this that has made them interesting, Nordfjellstøllen for the icy stillness interspersed with out of focus snowfall and the Tatra Mountains webcam for its similarity to an Expressionist film set and its obscure otherworldiness.
Highways. Road cams form a very significant proportion of the 47000 cams available and tend to be centred on US and Scandinavian highways particularly those in Finland and Iceland. The function appears to be to monitor road conditions, weather and traffic density although in the case of Davidson in Canada the camera is monitoring a particular crack in the road. Little traffic passes as is the case with a significant number of those collected including Strandarheiði in Iceland.
These images were collected over a Summer and Autumn.
A few vehicles appeared and the limited color and light quality, combined with the diagonal sweep, gives it a period quality.
Messages. Occasionally viewers are addressed directly by the subject, usually with simple written messages, ‘Happy Birthday’, or more curiously a ,‘Let them Go’, message next to a group of soft toys in front of a Greenpeace ship. (not shown)
The Snow Penguin however is a narrative. It appeared over Christmas some years ago and it’s obvious that the person responsible, probably someone working in a research/military centre on South Georgia, knew that the penguin would melt over a period of time and was very conscious of an audience.
They could not, however, predict the appearance of real penguins in the middle distance as the snow penguin disappeared
Out of order signs tend to be corporate but some of those in the exhibition address an audience directly and have curious attitudinal and sometimes political orientation.
Enigmatic. The Stones in the Czech Republic were immediately interesting because of their bizarreness but also for their similarity to examples of land art. My interpretation of artistic endeavor was undermined some weeks later when machinery appeared and it became obvious that the site was to be developed. My definition of intentionality was not shared by the initial observer, (camera owner), whose intention was more mundane. It was obviously a security camera.
Loipeneinstieg shows a superimposed directional arrow
pointing to the entrance to ski trail. The change of image caused by the reflection is common where cameras are inside a building but looking at an external place or object. When the light changes the observed image changes and the camera appears to turn in on itself and any human being caught by the camera is oblivious to their participation.
Camera Faults. Camera faults are not uncommon but what is interesting is the length of time that elapses before the fault is rectified or the cameras are taken offline. It implies that monitoring is neither effective or rigorous and therefore that the camera may be unnecessary.
Buildings and places. The buildings and places shown
represent a small selection of those available. Mundane and idealised, and some might say, oppressive, the housing development at Syracuse, Utah has a Disney/Truman Show/ Stepford Wives feel enhanced by the slightly faulty camera lens which gives an artificial quality to the vegetation. Few people are ever seen on the sidewalks and disturbingly there are two cars, one parked while one drives past at different times but in exactly the same positions. It possess a JG Ballard feel.
As with many webcams for which the subject is an individual building the motive appears to reflect civic pride, Capitol Building, Austin Texas is one such example.
Volcanoes and mountains. Mountains and volcanoes are well covered by webcams. This may be because of their cultural or mythological significance and their place in public imagination – Mount Fuji and Popocatapetyl for example.
Augustine in Alaska and Koryasksky in Kamchatska face each other across the Bering Sea and are diametrically opposed physically, culturally and politically.
Augustine in the US – brash and dominant – contrasts with Koryasksky in Russia, which is distant and barely visible although an ominous presence over the town in the middle distance. While we watch the volcano it appears to be
watching the town.
The Matterhorn is equally brash, even vulgar in daylight. This is the most popular webcam with 6,286,760 viewers to date and far surpasses any other site. When bad weather obscures it it assumes another chararcter and becomes more readily identifiable as the mountain which has claimed many lives.
People. There are plenty of people caught on webcams but generally they are distant and unaware. In such circumstances they are unconscious participants. The Lone People are often isolated sometimes purposeful, sometimes reflective as with the person resting their hand on the football sculpture.
That’s Donetsk and as of May this year all the webcams in the town went off line.
Where people are aware of the camera they pose and often gesture. We all do it. Look through your own photos and notice, for instance, how often people in landscapes stretch their arms out in a proprietorial gesture.
The WebPhotoPoint in Germany has captured many gestures mostly, ‘I love you’ or ‘Peace’ signs alongside the occasional and probable misinterpreted gesture meaning ‘fuck off’. This may reflect a lack of awareness of cultural interpretation on the other hand it could just be ‘fuck off’.
Its fascinating how often people present their pets or children to the camera reflecting possession and pride. Their gesture is somehow valedictory.
The Assemblaia de Deus are Pentecostalists in Brazil. Their webcam is of high quality and is probably used as a supportive adjunct to their proselytizing meetings. The images reflect the groups dedication and obsession and only occasionally focus on the audience who are numerous and attentive.
The speakers, plead, cajole and even threaten.
During the days over which these images were collected it seemed that the preachers rarely left the podium expect to change their suits.
This is a category in itself because surprisingly webcams are so relatively numerous on that continent. Equally there are a disproportionately large number in the Arctic. They often show research in practice but are also a visible reflection of national pride in research endeavour.
The O’Higgins facility is a military base jointly managed by the Chilean army and the German government.
The films are looped stills and include amongst others 200 a camera in the Alps which monitors snow depth while the Colorado camera shows a strange landscape the result of a camera fault. Everest is a mountain of consistency and contrasts completely with Matterhorn and its blousiness.
Thanks to Edward Hobson for putting together the films and Ben Stopher for curatorial advice.