Controversial Artist Matches Influencer Photos With Surveillance Footage

An anonymous reader quotes a Smithsonian Magazine report: It’s an increasingly common sight on vacation, particularly in tourist destinations: an influencer poses in front of a popular local landmark, sometimes even with props (coffee, beer, pets) or changing outfits, while a photographer or self-timed camera snaps away. Others walk around and sometimes watch. However, another device often records the scene unnoticed by everyone involved: a surveillance camera. Belgian artist Dries Depoorter explores this dynamic in his controversial new online exhibition The Followers, which he unveiled last week. The art project places static Instagram images side-by-side with video from surveillance cameras that captured footage of the photoshoot in question.

To make The Followers, Depoorter began using EarthCam, a network of publicly available webcams around the world, to spend a month capturing footage of tourist attractions like New York’s Times Square and Dublin’s Temple Bar Pub. He then hired an artificial intelligence (AI) bot to interpret public Instagram photos taken at those locations and facial recognition software to pair the Instagram images with the real-time surveillance footage. Depoorter describes himself as a “surveillance artist,” and this isn’t his first project to use open-source webcam footage or AI. Last year, for a project called The Flemish Scrollers, he combined livestreamed video of Belgian government proceedings with an AI bot he built to determine how often lawmakers scrolled their phones during official meetings. “At first glance, The Followers, like many other studies, art projects, and documentaries of recent years, is an attempt to debunk the staged, often unattainable, ideals seen in many Instagram and influencer photos posted online,” writes Molly Enking by Smithsonian. “But The Followers also tells a darker story: one of increasingly troubling privacy concerns amid an ever-expanding network of surveillance technology in public spaces. And the project, as well as the techniques used to create it, have sparked both ethical and legal controversy.”

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Depoorter told Vice’s Samantha Cole that he got the idea while “watching an open camera and someone was taking pictures for about 30 minutes.” He wondered if he could find this person on Instagram.