Sunday, May 4, 2014

From a strange planet - 4

I'm still researching the fascination of Scandinavian webcams. Previous posts are here: part 3, part 2, part 1.
In the previous post I listened to writers and literary critics for explanations. Now I look at artists and their descriptions of their artistic practice.
The pictures in this part of the post are from live road-webcams, I've only quoted texts of the artists, not their pictures, to prevent misunderstandings. But I've included many links to their artworks and these are certainly worth detailed attention.
Webcam scraping script
The pictures were collected using this Windows Powershell script. Then the best ones were selected by hand. Using computers to watch the watchers, to sample the surveillance. To wake while I sleep.

$source_path = ""
$ids = "412927","100105","180849","113101","100104","208374","100102"
$destination_path = "C:\Users\uair\Pictures\Webcam"
for($i=1; $i -le 100; $i++)
 $d = (get-date).toshortdatestring()
 $h = (get-date).hour.tostring()
 $m = (get-date).minute.tostring()
 foreach ($id in $ids)
 $source = ($source_path + $id)
 $destination = ($destination_path + "\" + $id + "-" + $i + "-" + $d + "-" + $h + "-" + $m + ".jpg")
 write-host $source
 write-host $destination
 $wc = New-Object System.Net.WebClient
 $wc.DownloadFile($source, $destination)
 Start-Sleep -s 17
 Start-Sleep -s 923

Art and surveillance
Webcams imply state surveillance. But I cannot read the road-webcams as "evil". I even cannot read them as utilitarian. I'm compelled to read them as "artistic" and "mysterious".
These surveillance cameras are everywhere, a daily reality invisible or visible, always monitoring everyday life in anticipation of the crime to happen. It seems as if webcams are based on the surveillance model - sinister and empty without narrative - but a record of what is there and, like the panopticon, you're seen but can't see who's seeing you (...) These banal smeared images are images of our time and in this age of high resolution they have the feeling of a vague memory. (Cristine Wang)
But nowadays it's almost impossible to escape the metaphors of surveillance and the panopticon. But in this case it might be more benign, an example of a shrinking world, of a real global village.
There is a long tradition of artists exploring or intervening in control mechanisms such as surveillance, and at a time when pervasive surveillance is widely accepted, and the popularity of webcams and reality TV suggest that fear and suspicion of surveillance is giving way to a desire to observe and be observed, the Broken Channel projects seek to offer new visions of how surveillance shapes perception, and new strategies for how to intervene. (Drew Hemment)
Authenticity of boredom
The road-webcams are a pleasant contrast with the narcissistic, "selfie" culture of the Internet. There is no person, no being, active here. Just the raw existence of a medium. Real and extremely authentic.
There is no guarantee that anything we see or are shown is authentic, but the site accumulates enough supporting detail to give it the weight of a 'real life'. (...) The abundant narcissism on the Web, with its 'all-about-me' homepages, is only matched by the hype surrounding Webcams as an extension of video's potential for everyone to become their own mini-broadcaster. (Daniel Palmer)
Watching webcams in real time is less interesting (for me) than comparing downloaded images. Comparing images, noticing the subtle changes in light and being surprised by any rare "event". Minimalistic details are enlarged. This sensibility translates into normal life, awareness is enhanced permanently.
(... In) most live Internet camera sites precisely nothing happens most of the time. Pointing your browser to a Webcam will more often than not result in the peeling back of an image of an empty (and often dark) bedroom, street, or cityscape. (...) We wait for evidence that isn't forthcoming, we watch the light gradually shift on a mountain or street, we watch the hands on Big Ben slowly tick over. Webcams can do this, for time is not the scarce commodity on the Web that it is on TV (...) the scenography of Webcams is usually empty of action but endlessly open to signification. (Daniel Palmer)
But even when nothing happens, the absence of events is a remarkable event. When you live in a busy city it is liberating to realize that in some places nothing ever happens. Emptiness and loneliness as soothing meditation.
Unlike the generally extended present of the Internet clicking experience, Webcams exist in an intensive present characteristic of the ennui of early video art. As Douglas Davis once wrote of video:
when we are watching 'live' phenomena on the screen we participate in a subtle existentialism. Often it is so subtle that it nears boredom. Yet we stay, participating. [...] waiting, aware that something unpredictably 'live' might occur next ...
Micro awareness
I'm not the only one who's fascinated by subtle changes in a view. It's not widespread but on the Internet you can always find others with the same fascination.
From here I could see the backs of the rundown shops and the Annandale Hotel, the Parramatta Rd and Bridge Rd intersection, and the billboard on top of Strathfield Car Radios that I imagined held special messages for me. Stare at something long enough and it will become fascinating, and it was so with the building across the alleyway. It’s not the kind of building that has ever had a name and was noticeable only due to its position on Parramatta Road and its dereliction. (Vanessa Berry)
Artistic use of webcams
Scraping and comparing webcam images is just the beginning. It's a passive use of the technology. The technology can also be used more actively, by appropriating steerable webcams and their images.
I started to create monumental composite images, drawing upon my ongoing collections of webcam stills. (...) Many miles away from the actual location yet connected via the Internet, I direct these robotic cameras to scan the field of view bit by bit. Over the course of several months or even years, I capture thousands of images, and meticulously stitch them together into a panorama of great complexity and detail. (...) It reveals the passage of time and develops its own narrative logic, offering a fictive yet hyper-realistic portrait of a place. Changing seasons, light and shadows, diurnal rhythms, all are compressed into one composite scene. (Isabelle Jenniches)
While watching the webcams I often wondered if I could visit and capture myself in these remote places. And of course one artist has already done that.
German photographer Jens Sundheim tracked down more than 400 webcams with online feeds around the world and posed in front of them (he says New York City cops once questioned him for suspicious behavior by a traffic camera).
And many artists recognize the beauty of webcam pictures. And some are able to put their interpretations into words, better than I can. The difference between images, the space between images.
By continuously receiving this section of the landscape view via the web camera, it is possible to follow the changes of the landscape and weather in Antarctica. The endless stream of images on the internet and their equally rapid disappearance, fascinate me in the same way that the eternity of day and night and the earth’s rotations do. The rapid changes are enhanced by the smaller shifts between each picture. This is where the image really emerges, in the space between the pictures. It is the stream of pictures, each different from the last, that carries with it the changes I follow. It is no longer a landscape, but a stream. (Patrik Entian)
And the artist recognizes the beauty of the distant picture. A beauty that is intense enough to paint. A beauty that remains, even when content is replaced by glitch, when the medium becomes the content. Painting the medium, painting the failure of technical infrastructure.
The web camera overlooks a wide landscape. Every ten minutes it takes a picture which is loaded onto the internet. (...) Sometimes when painting from the web camera, the picture stream is there all day. (...) I soon discovered that the web camera often demonstrates its technical imperfection for all the world to see, one second showing a sublime view of ice, sky and glowing horizon, and then, when the sun has gone down and taken away the light, showing a helpless black square with technical problems. The landscape is replaced by black and white noise that emerges from the camera. After a while I started exploring these technical incidents. While the grey images make me doubt what I actually see, there is no doubt here. I see technique, not weather or landscape. (Patrik Entian)
And the artist recognizes the strangeness of the medium. Webcams may be old-fashioned and quaint in these times of Facebook and NSA surveillance. Remnants from when the Internet was young and innocent, when anything was surprising. But they still sound their quiet siren-song and are available when you listen.
To regard a distant landscape from a webcam on your computer screen, evokes in you a vague sense of being where you are not. There is something riveting about the possibility – to immerse oneself in the landscape being beamed from such an inhospitable location as Antarctica (...) A succinct sensation of simultaneity in a world where everything is in constant flux. In spite of all the available possibilities to navigate across the world, I have for some reason become entrapped by the webcam placed at the Neumayer Station and can not stop watching it. The distance to the South Pole with its opposite seasons, in regards to my studio, the vast uneventful nature of this virgin wilderness, the limited information supplied by the little framed image, and a strange sensation of belonging, or proximity to the deserted landscape fascinates me, and keeps me returning to this image daily. (Patrik Entian)
Webcam quotes - surveillance:
Webcam quotes:
Webcam artists:
Isabelle Jenniches:
Jens Sundheim:
Jane D. Marsching:
Patrik Entian:


  1. Thanks for this report. The environment webcams are great. My more urban favourite at the moment is Webcam N322 in Zaltbommel, Holland, where UFOs have been seen. You can watch it here:

  2. Wow! That's live video. It's much different to see the cars drive by. In Norway some cameras have only one picture each 30 minutes. I guess they send the pictures by GSM or some other slow medium.

  3. Thanks. The still camera photos are meditative, but I like the moving video best. Similar to this are the truck driving videos, that are very hypnotic, and seem to capture other realities. This is a good one:

  4. I have moving pictures here:
    The trucking videos remind me of "Strassenfeger" a TV-program that ran at 3:00 AM on the German TV and showed someone just driving through Germany. It had a big cult following.

  5. Thanks, your site is very interesting. 'Strassenfeger' is cool.

  6. I only caught it on video in the depths of the night. Never stayed up to watch it. But I think most people did it like that.