B. 1991, Leicester
Mark Farid is a multimedia conceptual artist who investigates the perceived autonomy of the individual. Through his practice, Farid examines the ethics of performing in social situations in an effort to further understand how the State, and new technologies, prescribe the identity of the individual. Farid graduated from Kingston University, London, with a First Class (Hons) degree in Fine Art in 2014, and has since given talks and participated in group and solo exhibitions in England, France, Germany, Denmark, UAE, and Japan. Farid recently took part in the Sundance New Frontier program for an on-going project.
Farid’s current practice investigates the structure of the Internet, and comes to the conclusion that the initial promises of the Internet centred around individuality and anonymity have instead paved the way for a conformative landscape in which idiosyncrasies become nothing more than endearing novelties. The new digital age has created a Capitalist Utopia, with backdoor access to governments, practically absent regulation, total privatization, and globalization. Factor in modern surveillance culture with the increasing centralisation of new technologies, and we are left with a society strikingly reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Dave Eggers’ The Circle.
I have nothing to hide
1st September - 1st October 2016
Solo exhibition, Gazelli Art House, London
(Commissioned by Gazelli Art House)
26th October – 2nd November 2015
Solo public Artwork, All Saints Gardens, w/Festival of Ideas, Cambridge
(Commissioned by Collusion, in partnership with The Technology Partnership, the University of Cambridge and Arts Council England)
18th – 21st February 2015
Group exhibition, New York University, Abu Dhabi
(Commissioned by Imagine Science Film Festival, in partnership with New York University)
1st – 6rd August 2014
Solo exhibition w/Arbyte Gallery, London. Part of Hackney Wicked Art Festival
(Arebyte Gallery Supported)
Kingston University Degree Show
29th May – 6th June 2014
Group Show, Project Space, Kingston
Funders and budget cannot be named at this moment in time
Development of Seeing I
Gazelli Art House
25th May – 15th October 2016. London
Production of Poisonous Antidote
£n/a due to nature of gallery
Sundance New Frontier Story Lab
18th-24th May 2016.
All expenses (flights, accommodation and food)
5th-15th November 2015. Copenhagen International Documentary Festival (CPH:DOX)
31st January – 2nd February 2016. International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) Cinemarte
Concept of new project, ‘I have nothing to hide’
All expenses (flights, accommodation and food)
1st June – 3rd November 2015. Cambridge
Production of Data Shadow
Imagine Science Film Festival
7th January – 24th February 2015. New York Univeristy, Abu Dhabi
Production of Seeing I and site specific exhibition
Arebyte and Bl-nk
November 2014. London
Seeing I Funding Launch
August 2014. London
Development and exhibition Profile Picture
February 2014. London
Development of Alone Together (Seeing I)
Stanley Picker Travel Grant
June-July 2013. France, Italy and Croatia
Research for my University Degree show piece, Profile Picture
A response to 'I have nothing to hide' panel discussion
Gazelli Art house, London
27th September 2016
Individuality in the shadow of conformity
Tobacco Dock, London
17th September 2016
The Games Europe Plays BODY < DATA > TECH
University of Greenwich, London
7th July 2016
Projection – Photographic Allegations:
Who is in control when you google something, You or Google?
Hochschule University of Applied Science, Darmstadt, Germany
23rd April 2016
Is Consciousness an Illusion?
SMK, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen
6th November 2015
For six years (1964-70) Britain had a Minister of Technology
Cambridge Junction w/Cambridge Festival of Ideas
1st November 2015
Anonymity is our only right, and that is why it must be destroyed
St John’s College, University of Cambridge
26th October 2015
Cambridge Festival of Idea:
The Power of Data (Panel Discussion)
Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge
24th October 2015
Fukuoka International Congress Center, Japan
2nd October 2015
Internet of Things:
Ubiquitous surveillance cannot not start altering people’s behaviour
7th August 2015
The (Present) After Effect
Künstlerhaus Mousonturm, Frankfurt
30th April 2015
Art and alterity in the age of virtual reality
Google Cultural Institute, Paris
25th March 2015
Imagine Science Film Festival:
FUTURES (Panel Discussion)
New York University, Abu Dhabi
20th February 2015
Reclaim the Game:
Only when something is published does it become real
25th November 2014
20th November 2014
27th September 2016
Telegraph (written by Artist)
7th September 2016
The Creators Project
1st September 2016
Huck (written by Artist)
2nd August 2016
Radio and Download
3rd May 2016
Online and Printed
New Statesman (Artist mentioned)
3rd November 2015
Radio and Download
BBC Radio 4
3rd November 2015
Telegraph (written by Artist)
28th October 2015
Online and Printed
27th October 2015
ITV Anglia News
8th December 2014
4th December 2014
24th November 2014
22nd November 2014
Radio and Online
BBC Radio 5Live
22nd November 2014
21st November 2014
20th November 2014
20th November 2014
Fox Business, Varney & Co
20th November 2014
19th November 2014
19th November 2014
19th November 2014
18 November 2014
18 November 2014
18th November 2014
18th November 2014
4th August 2014
London City Nights
Theseus (1950), Claude Shannon’s mouse, showed us the possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI). An electronic mouse, Theseus, navigated it’s way around a maze to a predesignated target and, once completed, has the ability to recall the route to the target from any place in the maze.
To understand the AI of the mouse (or indeed the programmer of the AI mouse) as autonomous is a misconception: it is in fact Shannon, the creator of the maze and he who determines the mouse’s place within the maze, who holds the autonomy. The freedom of Theseus is limited by what options are available to it within its situation, and acts accordingly from a set of pre-determined choices.
In the 21st Century, how different are we to Theseus? We have the choice of which route we may take, but we never made the decision to endure our maze. We are thrust into the world, with our final destination already determined. There are a few key milestones – school, a job, marriage, retirement – all of them chosen for us before we are born, and we, like Theseus, have the freedom to make decisions, but we do not create the maze that is life.
We label predetermines limitations as ‘rights’.
The illusion of autonomy allows for a misplaced notion of happiness. The achievement and fulfilment of one’s moral and values enable the individual to call themselves happy. When one achieves a certain degree of fulfilment against the moral and value-based prescriptions within the maze, our path along the road to ‘completion’ is beset by certain parameters, ie. what we have the right to do.
All of the laws which govern our life are Positive Laws, that is to say: they are man-made laws which oblige or specify an action. They describe the establishment of specific rights for an individual or group, predicated upon the notion of promoting happiness, peace, and order. Rather, it creates a simulation of happiness, where having these rights creates an administered structure of happiness, where the success or failures one has within this scaffolding are secondary. A prime example of this would be the American Dream.
Any man-made laws which we mistake for natural laws have an blurring effect, masking the distinction between true and false happiness. Is the creation of a set of laws, without the consent of those who will involuntarily abide by them, the purest form of censorship? Consider modern surveillance culture to ensure participation - the result is something shockingly akin to the depictions of dystopia in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Dave Egger’s The Circle.
To monitor an individual all one needs is that individual’s appearance and name. Once we have those two pieces of information, the individual’s identity belongs to the state. Bank accounts, passports, birth certificates, mortgages, houses: all of these things are dependent on our image and name.
There is nothing more personal than this information, and yet we readily give it away. The right to privacy and anonymity – the right to give your information only to those who you know and trust – has been rendered non-existent. We can keep our identity personal, but it is instilled in us from a very young age that to reveal is natural.
To reveal is to turn yourself into a statistic for those that govern.
To reveal negates the difference between Theseus and ourselves.
Conformity is misinterpreted as individuality.
One’s right to image and name is one which has been left behind. One’s name and image alone are what can trace anything and everything back to you in the physical world. There are obvious constraints on the extent to which one can reserve the right to the privacy of their image, but the few things you can do are slowly being made illegal or socially unacceptable. In 2010, France ‘prohibited [the] concealment of the face in public space[s]’. This was a gesture by no means made in a political or social vacuum, and France does bear a markedly checkered relationship with religious – particularly Islamic – practice. However, to view things structurally, the end result is that the right to conceal or mask one’s face is taken away.
The veil once used to mask one’s identity in public spaces, had long since been removed in private spaces, with the interception and surveillance of our locations, messages and thoughts, through the tracking of the usage of electronic devices. We are more honest with Google than we are with any person: we Google our problems, whatever they may be, as well as what we like, what we want to know, what we’re planning on doing, our thoughts – everything. We talk to our friends and family through Facebook and Gmail, and we constantly update our image, our preferences, our interests, and our movements. All of this, amongst much, much more information - as we’ve all known for some time - is monitored.
‘But what does it matter? I’ve got nothing to hide.’
'Besides the unhelpfully principled and abstract answer of, ‘because we have a right to privacy,’ there doesn’t seem to be much of a rebuttal to statements such as this. The right to privacy is a natural law - since the ability of privacy is something that has been taken away - that has been impinged upon us by Positive, man-made laws. When the individual’s personal information is sold to advertisers, issues start to become consolidated. Advertising does not equate to increased commercialization of existing commodities in the realm of social media, but it commodifies things such as thoughts, opinions, and ways of life. Advertising is a form of propaganda, an element continually disassociated with the word.
Advertising, like Google, localises information to the individual. This can be very helpful and useful, but also very limiting and restrictive. This means that the individual is restricted to seeing and learning only what the facilitator of this tailored algorithm (in this instance, Google) decide they can see. The ingenuity of its faith in laziness, combined with its correct predictions, allows us to believe that we have the autonomy to select what we see freely, since Google opens up so many more opportunities in the pursuit of knowledge. In reality, it is necessarily Google (and advertisers) who dictate what is made available for us to see, learn and indeed what we want to learn. When we hear certain music, read particular news, we form opinions and seek further knowledge based on this seeding of information.
We are not free to become who we want to be, yet the fabric of this oppression is hidden behind a façade of greater-than-ever-before potential for individualism, greater freedom and greater knowledge. Within this particular maze, crafted by Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt and myriad other, far less public figures, our individual selves are commodified. Our information is bought, used, and sold, and our individual identities are eroded.
Facebook has grown from being a tool for communication into something far larger and more powerful, as the Internet centralises. Our Facebook accounts work like social passports. We provide current photographs, our date of birth, locations, friends, interests and much more personal information. Our every action, thought, and private conversation is documented and stored.
Our online presence acts as a window into our lives, appealing to a carefully cultivated narcissism more and more present within human psychology. Facebook’s genius is not in its communication (though it does this very well), rather, in its model of feeding. It grows from knowledge of humanity, which it gains through our use of it. It is a self-feeding machine, its tool for growth the end result of its offering.
Facebook knows all too well the psychological process which occurs when someone uploads a photo of you, tags you in a status, or posts something on your wall. The narcissistic thirst for public approval and acknowledgement is wrapped in a little package for you to open. At the same time, information about you is being shared to others, and everyone revels.
Facebook has turned everyone into a celebrity. The feeling that others are jealous of us is addictive, as is the jealousy we feel of others as we see them in picture and cannot not make instant comparison with them. Thus, we provide more information, lodge more interests, grow our network of friends, upload more pictures, as we become socially and culturally dependent on this new platform, all the while providing Facebook the endless stream of data it needs to grow more powerful and cement its intransigence to the 21st Century individual and societal foundations.
Personal data is arguably the most valuable collective information there is. The more likes, social interactions and following you have, the more sway you have and the more valuable you become to advertisers. Those with less sway or followers, become the product as their newsfeed is adapted to mirror not only the interests of the individual and society, but rather the interests of the individuals with a bigger influence – who in turn are influenced by what advertisers and the social and political agenda of the Social Media site desires. Advertisers regularly buy posts made by individuals, and ensure that it crops up on your and your friends’ walls if it mentions the product of the advertiser or if it is of appropriate relevance.
We alter our choice in actions because of the documentation of our activities on Facebook. At this point, our actions become artificial and driven by the social media rather than the pursuit of actual gratification: at this point, Facebook has altered the parameters by which you can get the validation from others to call yourself happy.
As mimetic animals, it is easy to disseminate an idea of happiness, controlled and defined by Facebook and advertisers in which they do business with. We start using particular words and phrases, we learn the structure of Facebook which allows the desired effect: to make us look the most attractive to our friends and sexual partners. We form, grow, and destroy friendships – all of which take place in an arena where everything exists publicly through documentation, and the way in which we interact, both online and off, are defined by the medium.
Our projected identities have been given a concrete podium with the creation of Facebook. The distinction between who you are and who you want to be can cohabit online, and when the structure of Facebook necessarily breeds conformity, taking contrived outward appearances as the basis for interaction, then we have a society in which individuality is replaced by conformity, where our idiosyncrasies become nothing more than endearing novelties.
A recent BBC report state that 79% of 10-12 year olds have a Facebook account in the UK, with some as young as four also having personal accounts, (you must be 13+ to have a Facebook account), with the need to have one ascribed to the desire ‘to fit in’ with others, and ‘not be different’.
There is a social standard for how Facebook should operate. In the physical world, we are influenced by social and legal law. Our Facebook selves are no different – but are also limited by the very structure of the platform itself. Despite the potential freedom the Internet promised, the centralisation of the Internet has meant that these limitations are far more restrictive than those of the physical world.
Facebook has allowed us to create an image of ourselves which we perceive to be the most outwardly appealing. We choose the most attractive photographs of ourselves, we choose to say things which we think others will like. We align ourselves with some and distance ourselves from others, without the difficulty and commitment required to do so in physical society. We can mould our online personae into whoever we want ourselves to be while remaining, on the other side of the screen, Joe Bloggs from Leicester, born in the early ‘90s, and yet, our image of who we want to be is standardised to the norms of every other Facebook Account user, and where different, is defined in being different in reaction to the social norms which Facebook has bred.
Our prescribed virtual identity is seeping into the physical world: there is necessarily a very murky line between the two, and ramifications are forced to cohabit. The US government have denied access to people based on posts made on social media sites, and on some occasions Facebook Accounts have quite literally acted in lieu of a passport. In December 2013, Zach Klein boarded a plane with only his Facebook Profile in place of his passport when he left his passport elsewhere. Passports have carried with them a character profile since 1915 in Britain, and what Facebook allows is for the most detailed and vivid account of a person’s character – and/or the projected ideal of ones character.
Our online passport is becoming the standard. But our prescribed identities are subject to the restrictions which Facebook puts in place, and that coupled with the evolution of data mining, analysis and the autonomy to decide what is seen or not, is adding up to a world in which we maintain only a very fragile grip on the self which we believe to be inherently our own. We don’t own the profile or passport: Facebook owns all of the information posted on it. We merely borrow it. We cannot delete it, or ever alter archived information. Facebook owns our projected personae, and Facebook owns our biggest insecurities.
In a society strikingly reminiscent of Brave New World, can become 1984 in a generation.
If we take ‘privacy’ as a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people, and ‘anonymity’ as a state in which one is unidentifiable, then we have to understand that the ‘privacy’ and ‘anonymity’ we are presented with are illusions. As the levels of data collected on the individual continue to grow and be legally shared, the illusion can only become more fragile.
Privacy is an important social right because it ensures that one’s validation comes from within, and ensures that one can live freely and without judgement. This self-validation has historically taken place when one is anonymous - no matter how briefly - from society. However, technology now intrudes into this space, meaning that we are never truly alone. Moreover, many of these new technologies are predicated around individually tailored algorithms which, instantaneous and uninvited, feed our desire for further information, simultaneously giving us a sense of empowerment, accomplishment, and fulfilment. We respond to this means of communication as it allows for almost total, unbridled connection at all times, and allows for our memories to be documented, and allows us a new window on the world.
We don’t see ourselves through our emails, text messages, or phone calls, but the recipient can and often does. We know the majority of those we would call our friends through their texts, phone calls and social media accounts – the technology becomes a veil between us and the world. We represent how we want to be seen or heard through technology. Viewing others in the restrictive structure which the Internet has brought with it papers over the cracks of our insecurities, focusing on socially positive aspects of one’s life and interests. This is not to question whether this is in aggregate a positive or negative thing, but rather – when something becomes so personal – whether embodying the individual in details probably unknown to the individual themselves, requires tighter government regulation of the data being collected, assessed, and sold, in order to protect the individual.
Below is a (by no means exhaustive) list of some of the information that is easily accessible:
Locations – our physical whereabouts at all times when our phone (or laptop) is in our presences
Photographs – our memories and reference points - time and location
Searches – most often used to find out facts about our conversations - time and location
Phone calls – caller, duration and location of call
Music – emotion, routine and character type - song, time and location
App usage – Tinder, Grindr, likes, dislikes, and success rates
Online purchase history – physical location and buying habits
When you start combining these pieces of information, one is able to paint a fairly detailed portrait of an individual. As much as anything, the information could be used to determine: your wealth; the places you visit and your routine based on this use of location tracking; and detail around when you are likely to be home, useful to the potential burglar.
A discussion needs to be had around the levels of responsibility the government has to protect the individual. Advertisers are the most publicly visible manifestation of the growth in data mining, and are commonly sold much of the above information. Click on Amazon, and view a book, then load up Facebook and you’ll likely see the book advertised there. This usually happens in the space of 0.01 seconds, and has over 3 billion potential targets worldwide. The two most valuable companies in the world are Apple, with an estimated worth of $720bn, and Alphabet (the parent company of Google), at around $500bn (figures correct as of June 2015).
In the new digital age, individuals have become the commodity and personal data is the currency. In the commodification of the individual, clicks, engagement and interest has become the payment. The phrase ‘time equals money’ has never been more appropriate than in the new digital age, which has brought with it the purest form of Capitalism, which is barely regulated by government, and in which globalisation, total privatisation and monopolisation (by companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook) rule the conglomerate.
The Internet brings with it many things: connectivity, safety, education, exploration, and unprecedented acceleration in the growth of medical research. As well as this, an increase in national and international interaction unity, and unfathomable social phenomena. Everything which allows society to grow and come together is available, while still allowing a platform for individual voices.
One’s perception of oneself, as well as of others with who interact with the platform with a digital avatar, be it through Facebook, Twitter, or even more basic telecommunication, gives a sense of empowerment. However, this feeling of empowerment is a false one, and only very rarely are we actually heard.
Localised misconception of empowerment being confused with true empowerment, is a misconception the government actively cultivates and maintains, as was made clear in 2013 when The Guardian, The New York Times, and Der Spiedel leaked some of the documents Edward Snowden copied.
This was not the first time the illusion of privacy and anonymity had come under attack by the media: in 2001 William Binney, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) Technical Adviser and employee for 32 years, blew the whistle on the removal of safeguards on a programme called ThinThread, which would allow US Citizens’ data to be monitored by the government. In 2011 Casper Bowden, a former Microsoft manager who warned the governments of 40 European governments that if they used Microsoft based Cloud storage systems then their information would be passed onto a surveillance operation called PRISM.
PRISM enables the US Government to capture the private data of citizens who are not suspected of any connection to terrorism or any wrongdoing to individuals of major Internet services like Gmail, Facebook, Microsoft, and others. It’s was one of many of the US government’s post-9/11 electronic surveillance efforts, which began under President Bush with the Patriot Act, and expanded to include the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), enacted in 2006 and 2007.
It wasn’t until 2013 that the methods and reality of the operations of the NSA and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) became clear. The level to which the NSA have legal permission to access sensitive information is not limited to that of the individuals under – FISA – the NSA intercepted over 125 different forms of Angela Merkel’s communication lines and 98% of Latin America’s communications which passed through their servers, as well as human rights charity, Amnesty International’s private conversations.
FISA was introduced in America by Richard Nixon in 1978, in order to allow the president to spend political resources to spy on potential political and activists groups without the need for Judicial and Congressional courts, as well as physically and electronically collect ‘foreign intelligence information’ between ‘foreign powers’.
(a) “Foreign power” means—
(1) a foreign government or any component thereof, whether or not recognized by the United States;
(2) a faction of a foreign nation or nations, not substantially composed of United States persons;
(3) an entity that is openly acknowledged by a foreign government or governments to be directed and controlled by such foreign government or governments;
(4) a group engaged in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor;
(5) a foreign-based political organization, not substantially composed of United States persons;
(6) an entity that is directed and controlled by a foreign government or governments; or
(7) an entity not substantially composed of United States persons that is engaged in the international proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
To contextualise FISA, this act was introduced in 1978, during the cold war, thirteen years before Tim Berners Lee built the first website in 1991. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 passed through Congress, combining three key elements:
(1) The first stated this law only applies to; ‘citizens outside the US’; roughly 95% of the human population, meaning a ‘warrant is not required’ for access.
(2) The second, largely overlooked at the time, was that access would be granted to remote computer services – essentially what we would call Cloud Computing.
(3) The third and most importantly makes clear that ‘criminality’ and ‘national security', are not necessities for access.
This discrimination against anyone who is not American fundamentally contravenes the European Human Rights Act. Human Rights are universal, and included among them is the right to ‘privacy’ – if the state is justified in infringing the individual’s right to privacy by way of surveillance, then it follows that the ‘justification has to remain objective’. That is to say that it must relate to an individual’s actual or potential actions, not reduced to nationality.
The 4th Amendment reads: ‘the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’
After the American Revolution (1775-1783), the 4th Amendment was introduced to counter the frequent British abuse of the powers of ‘General Warrants’. A General Warrant allowed a British Redcoat access to the home of any American Protest Revolutionary, and the right to seize anything from weapons to alcohol. It essentially allowed for British intrusion into any home, whenever it was convenient, and as a result the 4th Amendment was introduced in 1792 by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (the 3rd President of the United States, 1801-1809) and US House Representative James Maddison (4th President of the United States, 1809-1817). As a result, it has remained a vital cornerstone of the constitution upon which American notions of Human Rights are largely based, borne out of a very real, but very distant and separate threat to privacy than the ones which the American public have faced in the centuries since, no longer at the mercy of the British but of their own governments.
After the leaks of 2013, Congress discussed whether the 4th Amendment applied to non-US citizens. The conclusion reached was that a warrant was not required to intercept and decipher personal information, be it text messages, searches, locations, or anything transmitted electronically. In simple terms: if you are not American or physically in residence in America, and your information is sent through American servers, you have no rights whatsoever to the privacy of the data you amass and use.
The European Human Rights Law, which includes the right to privacy, applies to European and non-European residents, and is intended as a universal and objective law. However, US-based Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Tinder allow the US government blanket access to our data, which is in turn is passed on to GCHQ and the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND).
As we move further towards cloud-based storage, due to its economy, convenience, and perceived security, every aspect of the individual’s life is being collected and analysed. What we find as with any new and exciting media is that it becomes increasingly consolidated, closed, and dominated by monopoly or oligopoly. History shows us that monopolies are powerful tools for governments, as they can be used to serve political ends.
‘They’d never look at my information.’
Reports say that police have a 93% success rate when requesting access to private mobile phone and email records, with a request being lodged on average every two minutes in the United Kingdom – 670 successful requests per day.
‘I have nothing to hide.’
History also teaches us that power corrupts. As this power becomes more insidious and absolute with technological revolution, will history repeat itself, or finally prove to be archaic?
Based on true data
There is an assumption in the 21st Century that data doesn’t lie.
Based on speaking to a software developer who specialises in backend cyber security, I have learned that a conservative estimation of the digital footprint of each individual is predominantly comprised of three areas:
(1) Meta-data, which has been accessible since 2007. Meta-data summarises basic information about data, for example: time and location of when and where a photograph is taken, where and when you visited a website from and the duration of a phone call, along with the phone number dialled, time and locations. The total meta-data on an individual is around 1-2gb at any given time.
(2) Data backed up since 2011. Backed up data can include iCloud, Google, and DropBox. Anything backed up to the Cloud has three copies of it backed up in various places, and no data uploaded to the cloud is ever totally deleted. On average, there is 600gb of backed up information per person.
(3) Facebook Data since around 2007. Although this might fall under the same bracket as backed up data, I have separated here to emphasise the amount, 2-4gb.
Statistical, black and white numbers, rooted in facts without contexts, do not lie. However, when meta-data is combined with mobile phone data and the MAC number of the user (the unique identifier on all smartphones), and desktop computer information, this information becomes necessarily contextualised.
Currently in the process of raising funding for the exhibition and documentary of 'I Have Nothing to Hide'.
Only when something is published does it become real.
I am a paparazzo. I wait for celebrities to come out of their house, car, restaurant, or club. Anywhere. I bide my time, get the shots, and upload the most valuable to a website. From the point at which I take the photographs to the time at which they are bought by newspapers there are almost fifty identical images uploaded by other paparazzi. That’s three minutes. It’s a competitive business – the images of celebrities are in very high demand.
My take is 60% of what the image sells for and the company takes the remaining 40%. Photos go for between £50 and £80,000.
During my career as a paparazzo, I took two very good photographs. One was of footballer Carlos Tevez, who was in the airport ready to get his flight for a medical at his future club. The other was a photograph of David Beckham, who I papped in a pub in London, around the time of his retirement and speculation around the future of his career. The image of Beckham, which I had been directed towards by the agency, wasn’t worth too much – although it was made more valuable for the fact that he was looking down the barrel of the lens – but the Tevez shot, which was complete fluke, would have been very valuable, were I to sell it.
I never sold an image because I never uploaded one to the site. I did, however, become the agent of a co-owner of one of the largest paparazzi company in the UK, and then turned the lens on him. I became the paparazzi’s paparazzo.
I will tell you one thing about this person (X): he is male.
Once I had decided who the most viable target was, Facebook was my first port of call. I spent almost five boring and intrusive months ‘Facebook stalking’ him, and was able to glean a few key facts. I found out his date of birth, area of residence, education history, his friends past and present, the places he liked to spend time, his interests, his car, his registration, and the identity of his girlfriend. Via the same means, I was able to find out the above information for all of his friends and their friends and partners.
To find someone’s address, all you need is a name, a rough area of residence, and a website. From there you can find out the exact address, who else is resident there, and – if you’re lucky – their telephone number.
With a name and address, using www.itraceuk.co.uk/Find_Mobile_Telephone_Number.asp, you can find out their mobile phone number. Using www.gov.uk/get-information-about-a-company you can find out the business registration number. Feed that information into www.kompany.co.uk and you can get a registered address of the company.
With a Facebook profile and the endless mine of information that is the internet, you can find out whatever you want to know. Other sites give you the address registration plates are registered to, and others methods that are on the illegal side, but very accessible, can provided you with IP addresses and thus their exact location at different points.
I was able to determine X’s address, phone number, and address of business registration, which was also his father’s residence.
Paparazzi companies have a reputation for doing anything for that money-shot, and from my understanding the one I worked for briefly was no different.
With the information gathered on X from Facebook, I created a new, fictional person. This indemnified me, because there are only laws against impersonating real people. The new identity was an old schoolmate of X, so I added some of his friends on Facebook, and messaged a few to find out how X was doing, whether he was still with his girlfriend – anything which would help me to paint a fuller picture.
I emailed X’s company, as myself, asking whether I could get an internship with them, with the intention of building to shadowing X. This would allow me to get to know him personally – although I already felt like I knew him pretty well. From speaking to some of his friends I had already worked out that he was an insecure man, the kind of person who amasses his friends, girlfriend, and possessions as social capital. I speculate that he is not faithful to his girlfriend.
The company was reluctant to offer up anyone to shadow, let alone the co-owner of the company, so I had to prove my worth. They knew who I was – my real name, my interest in the culture of paparazzi, as well as what I was studying and where.
We agreed they would add me to their mailing list of celebrities whereabouts. After I got the picture of Tevez – as I mentioned, a sheer fluke – suddenly I got a reply that seemed interested. They asked me to upload it to the website for them to sell, but instead I emailed it to them with Tevez’s face blurred out. Again, they told me to upload it, so I didn’t reply. They tried to buy the original from me directly. I didn’t reply, again, and by this point it was too late to sell anyway.
A few days later, I emailed to say that I had a picture of Beckham. A similar series of events unfolded.
I played dumb and emphasised that I wasn’t ready for my photographs to be seen publically yet, and I needed to develop my style - I wanted to shadow X. I maintained that with three days guidance from him I would learn everything I needed to know. I could learn the paparazzi code of conduct, and become a valuable member of the team.
Some examples of the paparazzi code:
The first paparazzi on the site has the choice of positioning,
One must never block another paparazzi’s shot,
One must fully respect all other paparazzi.
The paparazzi business is predicated around a contract between two freelancers. A freelance company hires freelance workers, who in return use the company to sell their commodity. They were, therefore, not able to offer anyone for me to follow. With further sycophancy and persistence, repeated professions of my desire to ‘learn from the best’, I eventually had my three day internship.
I had a few months before it was to begin, though, so I spent the time learning as much as I could about X, whilst explaining I had to focus on my university work – ironically that work, was this project. I was able to consolidate my speculations around his insecurity – it was hardly a huge leap of faith considering that he was a representative of a world in which image is everything. I learned that he is the type of person to cultivate himself in a certain image – specifically the alpha-male of ‘lad’ culture. I believed that this was purely affectation, though.
I knew about his friends, where he hangs out, what car he drove, his interests, his character, what he was like at school and what he grew up to be. I wanted to meet him.
One of X’s friends included me in a Facebook Event for weekly (although it looked more like every two months or so) drinks. They were going out for a drink the next day, and I saw that X would be there, and X’s girlfriend was seeing other friends.
The project is about six and a half months along at this point. Prior even to its beginning, I had spent a lot of time talking about the morality of the potential of this project with a close female friends (Y). Along the line we had gone over a lot of the details I had uncovered and speculated together about his infidelity. Y offered to sleep with X. She insisted that she wanted to do it. I told her to think about it, which I think both of us needed to do. We broached the topic back and forth over a month and Y insisted that she wanted to do it. I made it clear that at any given point she could back out, and she agreed that she wouldn’t go through with it unless she was 100% certain. This point came around two months prior to my being invited out for drinks.
The day came around. I went to the bar with Y and waited, for around an hour.
They didn’t know what I looked like, but I was nervy. When they came in, Y and I went to the bar to get some drinks, leaving our old ones at our table. We ordered new drinks, and waited for X and his friends to sit down, and sat in the booth next to them. All of them had short, cropped hair, slightly longer on the top, and a mix of chinos and jeans.
When X went to get a drink, Y went to the bar alone. She flirted with him, and quickly they exchanged numbers and parted ways. We left.
When we arrived at my house, X had added Y on Facebook. The next day, he text her.
His messages were very forward and very presumptuous. He made it clear that he ‘only want[ed] a little bit of fun, nothing serious.’ Within two weeks, he was sending very explicit photographs (and in one case, a film) of himself. He suggested meeting up, and Y said that she wanted to go through with it.
X said that he would pay for the hotel room, but he couldn’t book it because it would appear on his bank statement, which his girlfriend would see. This was the first time he made reference to a girlfriend, and was quickly forgotten. I booked the room, which was around the corner from Piccadilly Circus Tube Station, in her name, and everything was set.
Friday 13th, 2013, 19:00.
X was ready, Y was prepped. Everything our end was set in stone, and if X’s texts were anything to go by, he was excited.
I went ahead to the hotel room on the afternoon of the 13th. I placed a copy of that day’s Guardian, as well as a clock, with three GoPro cameras in place.
I waited in the lobby from 18:00. At 19:04, X came in and sat with his back to me. I felt Y’s phone vibrate in my pocket. My stomach churned, but I managed to quell the flinch. I waited 30 seconds, and then got up and asked the man what – as a tourist – I should do with my evening. As I turned around, I could see X on his phone.
I went to the toilet, and at the urinal I text him back:
‘the bus is taking ages. Fucking buses… just go up to the room, its booked under Y, and I mentioned on the phone a guest would be joining me ;). Excited. XX.’
As I walked towards the lobby, X was going towards the lift.
At 19:17, he rang, but I didn’t answer.
At 19:24, I texted him:
‘Won’t be long… Traffic is a nightmare. XX’
‘Just getting everything ready babe… It’s gonna be a fun, long night. X’
19:36: he rang again. I didn’t answer, and by this time, I was in a café not far from the hotel, in Oxford Street with Y.
At 19:48 I sent the final text which would be sent between either party:
‘I’ve just got a phone call from my mum. Family emergency. Can’t make it. Soz.’
The next day, I collected the GoPros, paid the hotel bill, and left.
A month or so prior to the internship, I tore a ligament in my ankle, putting me on crutches. A month later, I was able to walk but not run – a prohibitive injury for the paparazzo. I couldn’t do it.
This was probably for the best – I’m not sure that I would have been able to spend long confined hours with someone I ‘didn’t’ know without spilling something. Nonetheless, I wanted to do it – I wanted to know him. I tried to reschedule, but to no avail.
In one of my emails, I asked him the most important question I would ask him: ‘How would you feel if you were being paparazzied?’
His reply: ‘I hope they get my good side.’
This project was building towards an exhibition, and X was invited to a private view. The invite was sent to his home address, stating that there is an exhibition about the culture of paparazzi, and that he was to be guest of honour. It was made clear to him that there were to be no plus-ones. He RSPV-ed.
The exhibition was just for him, there were to be no other viewers.
As X opened the door, I sat in a concealed annex to the gallery. I heard him laughing at the camera flashes, which flash as the door opens.
From then on, there was no laughter. Y’s phone was there, her Facebook account was open, with all of the conversations he had with her. Photographs from the night they met, with photos from the hotel lobby and of him waiting in the room, were scattered around the room. All of the photos he had sent to her, in all of their explicit glory, were printed out for him to see, and the audio in the room was a phone conversation I had with X’s dad on loop.
After around five minutes, I came out.
We had a relatively short conversation, considering, and this conversation will remain between the two of us. I gave him the password for Y’s Facebook account, which he deactivated. I gave him the hard drive with all of the footage on it. He has Y’s phone, and all digital records of it. It was never made public, and nor shall it ever be.
It never happened.
We make the assumption that the physical world is reality.
The greatest limitation on human beings has always been the restriction of civil liberties. These are normally determined by financial and social wealth. We see this in every country on the planet, capitalist or not. We are born into the world totally dependant on our parents, and necessarily dependant on the development of our understanding of the structure and format of language, relationships, education, societal relationship, and ultimately our expectation of life.
What we collectively deem to be socially acceptable, that is to say cultural and legal norms, is the main influence of people’s conduct and moral beliefs. Historically, the moral and ethical code of law has been dictated by the establishment, but over the last 100 years, namely with the influence of the media, there has been a shift towards the converse, a state in which what we, the collective of individuals, deem to be socially acceptable feeds into the law, most notably when it comes to rights. We see this in growing women’s rights and in the legal and social ramifications of racial and sexual prejudice. Laws enable rights - the core of any code of rights is the limitations and restrictions placed on attitudes and behaviours. Rights offer privilege, gratitude, and the perception of autonomy in the potential of legal reform. Legal reform, of course, is the renegotiation and ultimately further restriction of rights.
We learn the concept of rights and how we must interact with one another from our parents and those around us at an early age. In school, we are taught the value of history, competition, and the structure through which we will deem ourselves to be a success or failure. We go to school from the age of 4 to 18 (in the United Kingdom), and during those years we are also taught that maths, language, and science are incredibly important and that to succeed in these areas is tantamount to individual fulfilment. Our grades are standardised, so that we must ‘beat’ our peers in order to succeed – we measure our success through the failure of others. Conflictingly, we are also taught that deep-rooted competitiveness is a negative trait, and to live our life by a deeply philosophical ideology which governs the entirety of our lives. Only those with the best education (omitting some high profile examples of those with a less successful education) and grades achieve what we are all taught to desire and to measure as success: financial security, happiness, and social validation. The system is fundamentally built to ensure that unless you conform to this structure you cannot ‘succeed’.
The expectations we have of life are dictated by how we measure success. A male born into a working class family in China has a very different set of societal ideologies than that of a woman born into a Saudi Arabian family, or a white, middle-class male born in the United Kingdom. All societies use a similar structure predicated around capitalism to ensure that wealth remains fixed and unequally distributed. As the rigidity of social inequality is firmed, philosophical discourse is confused with success and individualism.
To use an extreme highlight to emphasis this point, on 4th August 2011, a 29 year old black man named Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police as a result of allegations of terrorism. Protests were held in Tottenham Hale, North London, and by 6th August thousands of people rioted across London and England. The resulting chaos generated looting, arson, and the mass deployment of police. Several violent clashes ensued, and police vehicles, double decker buses, and businesses across the country were destroyed.
By 15th August, the riots had essentially come to a close, and over 3900 arrests had been made, with 2298 people prosecuted for theft, 885 for disorder, and 67 for arson. There were five deaths, and at least 16 injuries, and an estimated £200 million worth of property damage was incurred, not to mention a significant compromise of local and national economic activity.
Political and ideological protest at the unjust murder of a young black man - via collective individual power - was turned into material avarice, and instant self-gratification which we are taught to strive for in modern Britain. London lost sight of its motives, and instead wrought havoc in pursuit of the new 40 inch Sony TV or Air Max 1 trainers which we’re repeatedly told will make us happy. The civil distress has resulted in the purchase of water cannons and rubber bullets by Boris Johnson with taxpayers’ money at the cost of £218,205, against Parliament’s wishes, as a means of ensuring future autonomy.
Boris Johnson in 2015 talking to Theresea May, Home Sectary, in Parliament, London: “We can’t use them [water cannons] at the moment. We haven’t been given a general licence for their use. We will keep these devices in reserve and should there be another occasion when they might be a useful tool of crowd control, the Metropolitan police commissioner can make another application.”
The structure of protest as means of displaying dissent exists and is permitted by the government, as long as 6 days’ notice is given and a route and timescale is published. What should be a pro-active, self-validating and important civil action appears to be an illusion of empowerment, not unlike the world wide web. One must ask: what options are available to the public once protests have been completed and ultimately ignored? Riots are protests, borne in frustration at the decisions and behaviour of those who hold governance and a lack of alternate recourse. Protests, and this kind of action, allow the public a vent for frustration, a show of self-worth, however when it is rooted in genuine emotion by enough collective of - generally speaking work-class individuals - riots emerge due to alternative options, at which point frustration becomes aggression which in turn becomes about individual gain and material value.
It is clear that this frustration was not one which gestated and grew over the course of the London Riots in 2011, rather the looting began almost instantly, on the 6th August. The need for material luxury was already well fixed in the minds of the frustrated, and reared its head almost as soon as the opportunity was presented. Once we’re past the wealth necessitated by society – accommodation, food, bills – we still want more.
The appearance of wealth is key, because wealth is a signifier of success, and to show its validation – the restaurants you can afford to eat at is a gesture, just as your hobbies, interests and choice in your professional life.
Individuality is evident to a degree in the choices we make with our money, but the choice whether to make this show of affluence is one made by society, and by the time we have the money to show off, we are so used to having been funnelled through certain decidedly limited life choices which have been instrumental in deciding where we are at certain points. At the age of 14 in the UK, we decide what GCSEs we are going to take, and thus begin determining our futures. We are presented with choices tailored to standardised individual tastes.
The structure of the physical world we live in is no different. We all live in square boxes, we look out of our window and see square gardens. Every building, road, park, and field has been designed. Trees are planted with express goals, pertaining to aesthetics, ecology, and positioning. Every sound; creak of a floor board, every church bell we hear ringing, engine revving – they have all been engineered. Nothing we exist in is natural: even the sound and feeling of the wind we experience is influenced by the man-made surroundings it passes through.
The illusion of autonomy presented to us is in simple, unimportant choices. What model of car? How we shall arrange our living room? Which football team we support? We take for granted that 21st Century Britain is domesticated 21st Century Britain, and we forget how unnatural that is. We submerse ourselves in manufactured audio, sound, and touch. Our means of experiencing this world is dependent entirely on the senses, so it must follow that our experience of the world is purely synthetic. Imagine a world in which we have no senses, in which we are deprived of sensation and unaware of our surroundings, we become numb to the world, and numb to the fact that our experiences are fictional and simulated. We believe that this fiction to be the truth, because it is the only experience we know of. We assume the physical world is the real world and at this point the simulation becomes life. We are standing in Plato’s cave, facing the walls and giving names to enough shadows that we are beginning to believe that this is it, oblivious to the fire and life outside.
Our understanding of life is only based in part on sensory experience. The rest of it is made up of our memories – this is how we learn and grow as people. As such, the documentation of events becomes of the utmost importance, and often we remember the documented truth of events, rather than a photorealistic and nuanced recollection.
Our friends and our families are able to fill in a lot of blanks in our memories, however we also store the highlights of most of our interests and indeed the events of our lives, in a virtual world; with friends and family aiding this collection of cropped positives. Not unlike the way in which we interact with films, we peer through a screen into the protagonist’s life. For the two hours we watch the movie we suspend our disbelief and take what we are seeing to be reality. We in turn watch and edit the documented moments of our lives, and forget the undocumented moments which exist purely in our physical lives.
When documenting the physical world, the individual makes decisions about what makes the cut based upon social norms and ideals, and furthermore is acutely aware that this documentation is taking place. When in public, we subconsciously judge our actions through others constantly. Through the validation and editing which this results in, a particular social behaviour is entrenched. This validation and fulfilment structure around which society is based, becomes heightened by our existence in a digital life.
John Burger said in Ways of Seeing (1972): ‘A large part of seeing is dependant upon habit and convention,’ where ‘perspective makes the eye the centre of the visible world. But the human eye can only be in one place at one time. It takes its physical world with it as it walks. The invention of the mechanical eye [camera] changed everything. We could see things that were not there in front of us… Appearances could travel across the world. And it was no more. It was no longer so easy to think of appearances travelling to a single centre.’
When humanity transitions to an epoch in which every waking moment of an individual’s life is auto-publicised without cursory thought given even to the concept of privacy, there is going to be a potentially indelible effect on the human psyche. We understand and shape the world in our distinctive image, and our individuality becomes eroded with our ever-hegemonised and ever-globalised cultural identity. Our identities and behaviours are stored publicly and permanently, allowing only for conformity to political, social and philosophical ideals, norms and thought processes.
There are profound consequences if the chicken came before the egg.
Individual knowledge – knowledge that is cultivated privately and never spread – exists purely for that individual and only extremely rarely will have any impact or reality collectively unless it is told. The media, ‘the main means of mass communication,’ exists to talk to the masses and to tell us what happened, but also to tell us what will happen.
The introduction of the radio in the 1920’s brought the media directly into the home. This lead the transition from an experience shared with others to a more individual, private experience. We are regularly alone in our consumption of media, through the once analogue and now digital mediator. This different form of mediation has meant that our consumption of politics, culture and entertainment has become an isolated experience, existing between us and the media.
The media gives us context and highlights not only the social class of our individual lives, but that of the functionings of society and the world. Cultural influences, like art or film, lean more towards the notion of having social influence. They teach what is ‘cool’, what and how to interact with people, and how to seduce partners.
Political influences, like the news allows us a perceived empowerment – it gives us an illusion of literacy and a sense that we have come to conclusions on our own, empowered and autonomously – this is a false perception.
Interestingly, the news has become self-referential, validating its truth by the source itself (eg The Guardian, Radio 4 and Sky News), and/or your social network. To question the media’s validity is fruitless, but to acknowledge the authority and respect its’ command over the individual is fundamental.
The free press distributes this information with in reality, little accountability and the individual absorbs it unquestioningly, whilst only a very small percentage of the information absorbed by the individual is ever spoken about. Our relationship with the news has become a one-way relationship broadcast directly to us, telling us what we need to know. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld – there are things we know, there are things we don’t know, and there are things we don’t know we don’t know. To decide there is information we don’t know we don’t know about, on behalf of the individual, is taking autonomy away from not only the individual but the collective of individuals who determine their actions and behaviour based on the limited information provided.
The responsibility of the free press is to ensure that a respect and diversity of morals exist, and to give voice to minorities and culture, thus holding politics accountable. It is vital that the press remains free; the UK has the 38th freest press, and the USA has the 41st out of 180 countries (34th and 49th the previous year respectively) according to the RSF World Press Freedom Index) as it is a defender of our civil liberties, constantly challenging and pushing boundaries. In these endeavours, however, it is setting the parameters and restrictions on what is culturally, socially, and morally acceptable. It chooses what and who to question, and it decides what we will be aware of. Fundamentally, it influences our decision-making, morality and way of life, by setting out the limits on norms.
The ‘Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship’ Edition 2, 2011, is one of the required readings to claim citizenship in the UK, and the content of the book are the words of the Home Office: “The UK has a free press, meaning that what is written in newspapers is free from government control. Newspaper owners and editors hold strong political opinions and run campaigns to try and influence government policy and public opinion. As a result it is sometimes difficult to distinguish fact from opinion in newspaper coverage.”
In much the same way as a text can shed and change meaning in translation, the imagery, phrasing and framing of shots deliberately allowed for misinterpretation and manipulation. On 17th April, 2015, The Sun newspaper reported that ‘what we need are gunships sending these boats [refugees] back to their own country’ in reference to Syrian refugees. The same newspaper retold the story five months later on 2nd September in a completely different light: ‘today The Sun urges David Cameron to help those in a life-and-death struggle not of their making,’, attaching images of a Syrian child who had drowned. This image alone emphases the power of relatable imagery, swaying the UK population in favour of allowing Syrian refugees residence in Britain – 20,000 refugees will be permitted by 2020.
The flaw with time travel theories is that if you travel back in time to change the present, then the present would already have been built around that instance of time travel, meaning that there would never have been any need to go back in time in the first place. In other words: as our present is moulded, the future is being shaped in the contemporary.
In determining our perspective, the media decide our future. Their proleptic vision becomes reality. We don’t own the news, in much the same way as we don’t own history – it becomes part of the collective record.
Currently in the process of developing the narrative of the public artwork.