The Whole World's Watching: Photography & Terrorism

Privacy And Control, by Michael Pickard, Creative Commons: Attribution 2.0.

It’s a sign of the times that we’re being watched often and everywhere. Surveillance, a word that once summoned up all things intrusive and sneaky, is part of everyday lexicon and experience. Since 9/11, a spectacular terrorist attack planned with photography and the media in mind, countless security cameras and screening devices have been installed in and around airports, train station, and harbors; on the peripheries of office and governmental buildings, financial institutions, and the most famous and crowded of tourist attractions.

The goal of all of this photographic oversight is to stop, or at least deter “evil-doers,” to borrow George W. Bush’s phrase, from accomplishing their goals. Does it work? Hard to say. A recent study in Great Britain—the most surveilled country in the world, with an estimated 4.2 million closed-circuit TV cameras (CCTV) installed, one for every 14 people—suggests people may not be much safer for it. In a recent online article, a Scotland Yard official estimates that in London (where about 1 million of those CCTV cameras are in use) just one crime (of any sort) is solved a year for every 1,000 cameras that have been installed.

Missing people posters at Kings Cross station, London after terrorist attacks (11th July 2005), by j

Bombers WANTED reads the news stand at Waterloo Station, London, by Bombers WANTED reads the news st

While photography can’t stop bad things from happening—because who’s got the time to surveil all that surveillance imagery as it’s being made—one thing is certain. Once a terrorist attack takes place or is foiled, available security images are analyzed, after the fact, to glean information about those involved. When a series of explosions rocked various links in London’s transportation system in 2005, CCTV images of those responsible helped authorities recreate a scenario and timetable for how the plot played out, and images of the perpetrators led to the arrest of four of the perpetrators.

For click! photography changes everything, wanting to learn about photography’s role in the fight against terrorism, we reached out to Bruce Hoffman, an internationally recognized expert and author. In his newly published piece for click!, Hoffman looks at a single a London CCTV camera and based on what he sees, reflects on how images and the face of terrorism have changed, literally and figuratively, to reflect what political scientist Hannah Arendt famously described as “the banality of evil.”

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