Written by Nick Heer.

The Follower

Dries Depoorter:

How does this work?

  • Recorded a selection of open cameras for weeks.

  • Scraped all Instagram photos tagged with the locations of the open cameras.

  • Software compares the Instagram with the recorded footage.

Smart surveillance art. The video of this project was removed from YouTube because of a nonsense copyright claim by EarthCam, even though Depoorter’s work is derivative and clearly of artistic merit.

The discussion on Twitter is unfortunately focused on the risks that Depoorter’s work would somehow be duplicated by governments or is more intrusive than the existing surveillance state. I disagree. It sure seems creepier than its elements suggest. The webcams are all public and in public places, and the Instagram photos are all public and location tagged. Tying these things together is a good illustration of how individual pieces of data are irrelevant, but collectively powerful.

Like Kyle McDonald reflected on the ten-year anniversary of his “People Staring at Computers” project, I think the time for shocking people with privacy-violations-as-art is drawing to a close. Merely showing the invasions we are routinely subjected to is no longer enough. It must be framed more carefully and respectfully. I think Depoorter’s work generally considers these factors, but I wish there were another layer to explore.