Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 17

Thread: ...photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

  1. #1
    Tin Can's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Posts
    14,749

    ...photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

    ..." While indelible images of places like Yosemite taken in the 1860s have long been ingrained in American mythmaking, Mr. Paglen is interested in them as early assertions of military control. The War Department (now known as Defense) funded several reconnaissance missions into the West in the 1860s and 1870s and sent photographers as part of a push to capture the new territory. ..."

    NYT The artist Trevor Paglen peers into the history of photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

    we are the problem...

    and yes I know all photos are scraped
    sin eater

  2. #2
    Drew Wiley
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    SF Bay area, CA
    Posts
    14,487

    Re: ...photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

    Huh? Sounds like somebody is cooking up their own neo-myth in order to get undue attention. Various survey expeditions went into the West to assess what was there, and after the Civil War naturally included photographers for various reasons, such as the ability to have their bulky gear transported by a funded expedition, personal safety, the ability to make a buck on those picture or personal reminisces afterwards, sheer adventure, geographic understanding related to mining and farming interest, potential tourism, etc.
    If someone is implying "surveillance" or "big brother" control was the primary motive, that's a crock. The French fur trade was already displaced, and Spanish control of the SW already crippled. The US claimed New Mexico as a Territory ever since 1848. The railroads were already looking at places like Yellowstone for sake of tourism and hotels.
    There was nothing to militarily "capture" in Yosemite. Everything except the high country had already been overrun two decades before by the Gold Rush, and much of the area was even more heavily populated by whites than it is today. Troops were later sent in to try to control grazing and tourism abuses! In the 1860's, budding entrepreneurs were more concerned about getting the remaining Indians modestly clothed for sake of proper tourists. My own elderly babysitter when I was an infant was allegedly the first white woman ever in Yosemite Valley, when she was herself young, around 1865 plus or minus, although there is another such claim. I've seen those old tintypes and ambrotypes.
    The Mormon Wars were still going on, and some of John Wesley Powell's crew who tried to hike out of the canyon were lynched as "spies". But that was a different issue, and finally resolved by formal Utah statehood. California was absconded by the Bear Flag Rebellion soon after the Gold Rush began, SF was the "Paris of the West". What was there left to hypothetically spy on? "Manifest Destiny" already stretched coast to coast.
    I get tired of these artsy gimmicks. I've seen this guy's work before. Around the perimeter of Area 51, I was a lot more interested in aiming a long lens the other direction at wild mustangs.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    southeast Idaho, Teton Valley
    Posts
    188

    Re: ...photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

    Drew makes a good point -- I agree that Paglen is pushing a little bit too hard on the surveillance aspect. But he is not way out there. A good source for the history of these surveys is William H. Goetzmann's "Army Exploration in the American West, 1803–1863" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959) or his "Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West" (1966). A recent article "Native Americans, Military Science, and Ambivalence on the Pacific Railroad Surveys, 1853–1855" by Sean Fraga pulls together many ideas and has a fresh look. Goetzmann is a notable historian, but he has made mistakes before. California and much of the SW had such an early history compared to the main Manifest Destiny epic, and some of what Paglen is saying is more true for the interior west.

  4. #4
    Drew Wiley
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    SF Bay area, CA
    Posts
    14,487

    Re: ...photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

    Leading up to the Civil War there was enormous intrigue over which side certain intermediate territories like Kansas would take. After the war, it inevitably developed into epic rivalries between the railroads. Spying against Spanish and French interests was way before, like the expeditions of Fremont. The Mormon issue had been tricky for awhile because they controlled the crucial resupply hub between the Missouri River and California. What to do with what remained of larger Indian tribes was also a question involving surveys, mapping, location of timber and mineral resources, and soon basically stealing all that and relocating them to marginalized land. But within that vortex, there was plenty of rivalry between white commercial interests, with the military by no means free of individuals in command who were entertaining the same kind of greed, the "revolving door" as it is now termed. Post Civil War there was also a scramble in the frontier as to which attitudes would take root first, as ex-Confederates headed west to form new communities. Some of my own ancestors landed right in the middle of those rivalries between adjacent ex-Confed and former Union soldier founded towns. The enmity lasted well into the 20th C.

  5. #5
    jp's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Maine
    Posts
    5,349

    Re: ...photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

    Photography is a tool. It's like saying moveable type has a relationship to state surveillance.
    Surveillance state also uses other tools like duct tape, zip ties, lights, cars, and other things normal people use every day.
    The article is not entirely incorrect but leading toward clickbait.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Location
    now in Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    2,993

    Re: ...photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

    (Grammar pedant alert) It would be very hard to do "surveillance" (e.g. watching someone, something or someplace) when you don't know what's there, or what or who might be present in that unknown area.
    jp, well said.

  7. #7
    Drew Wiley
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    SF Bay area, CA
    Posts
    14,487

    Re: ...photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

    One of the most interesting aspects of rapid exploration of the center-West and employing actual paid spies involved the early dinosaur-hunting feud between Cope and Marsh. That rivalry got terribly bitter and really dirty (in more than a literal dirt manner). A lot of money and sabotage was involved too. It wasn't just gold or silver or timber claims that were at stake in the West; so were massive egos and professional scientific reputations involving intense competition between the museums themselves.

  8. #8
    Drew Bedo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Houston Texas
    Posts
    2,631

    Re: ...photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

    Surveillance?


    Weren't these cartographic or survey expeditions? Jackson and other photographers were one type of specialist along with artists and surveyors. They were guided my indigenous peoples from several nomadic traditions as well.

    Most people east of the4 Mississippi had very little idea of what "The West" was actually luke back then. We now take the vbisual wonders of the National Parks for granted now. Back then most folks wouldn't believe the verbal descriptions. No one believbed John Coulter when he talked about the Yellowstone area.

    At that time, photography was a cutting-edge technology. Think what it took to do large format and even ULF wet plate photography on the side of a mountain.

    Is this article another "Everything-American-Is-Bad" thing?
    Drew Bedo
    www.quietlightphoto.com
    http://www.artsyhome.com/author/drew-bedo




    There are only three types of mounting flanges; too big, too small and wrong thread!

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Los Angeles, CA
    Posts
    4,968

    Re: ...photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

    “ Is this article another "Everything-American-Is-Bad" thing?”

  10. #10
    (Shrek)
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    Montreal
    Posts
    1,758

    Re: ...photography and its relationship to state surveillance.

    Photography has been co-opted as an instrument of war since it's inception, or soon after. I assume that famous 1906 aerial photograph of San Francisco was made with a rig designed to photograph enemy trenches. Technology may have improved but it's still being used for the exact same purpose, only now with firefly-sized drones and video instead of still images, right up to massive solar-powered drones that can remain aloft for several years and transmit who knows what images. When I look through McKeown's there are countless cameras from the turn of the last century for covert photography, from detective cameras in handbags to watch cameras, and if you visit spy museums they have many on display. I assume there are modern micro versions of these as well. And we are continually reminded that our phones, tablets and laptops can all be used to spy on us via their cameras and microphones. I seem to recall Mark Zuckerberg gave an interview or something with his laptop visible in the background, and sure enough there was a piece of tape over the camera, as I have with every laptop I've ever used.

    But surveys of terrain and features are not what we normally think of as 'surveillance'. Not that the purpose isn't also military. In fact, besides gunpowder, I can't think of another 'peacetime' invention that has been so thoroughly used for military purposes. Perhaps aircraft? Radar, satellites, radio, the Internet were all military and then adapted for peaceful purposes.

Similar Threads

  1. Replies: 76
    Last Post: 22-May-2014, 13:26
  2. Replies: 1
    Last Post: 1-Apr-2010, 06:16

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •