E.E. Smith’s surveillance-like photographs of pedestrians on American streets ask us to question our notions of privacy. Who are these people, we ask? Why are they being photographed, and what information can be gleaned by these grainy, evocative images? As the national discourse on security threatens to overrun basic individual rights, we are forced to wonder who is being protected, who is being persecuted, but most importantly, how can we tell the difference.
Smith begins by taking street photographs, chance images, which depict people individually and in groups walking, working, listening to their iPods, talking on their cell phones, unaware of her camera. Ironically, their assumption of anonymity is maintained, even as their privacy is breached. From this raw data, she makes oil prints, cropping and editing, enlarging the snapshots to 24 x 18” and printing on hand-prepared watercolor paper. By making her own photo-sensitive coating for the paper, Smith replaces the confident clarity of the traditional silver print with greasy printer’s ink.
The blurred and somewhat abstracted images presented in Street Watch call into question what kinds of information can be conveyed by photography and hints at more sinister uses of questionable “facts.” With the widespread use of invisible surveillance techniques and our country’s increasing obsession with illegal immigration and national identity, street surveillance raises basic questions about the difference between being an inhabitant and a citizen.