We are two UC Berkeley students who have spent the past several months mapping surveillance cameras in Oakland. Concerned with the extent of photo and video surveillance in a city one of us calls home, we started working with the small grassroots organization ICU Oakland to help with the daunting project of photographing all surveillance cameras in Oakland.
Curious about patterns of surveillance across geographical space and the ways in which gentrification might be influencing these patterns, we decided to pick an area to begin this project. This mapping is not a finished project — it’s just a start.
We took a photograph of every camera visible from the sidewalks of every block from Telegraph to Webster between 22nd Street and 27th Street. We picked this area because it’s characterized by varying levels of gentrification; high-end restaurants and boutiques run down Broadway and a few of the numbered streets, while developers are working hard to brand this section of Telegraph as “KoNo,” or Koreatown Northgate.
We noted the addresses of each of these cameras. Some of our photographs contained many cameras, so while we collected over 200 photos, we found that within these few blocks, there are several hundred surveillance cameras.
We found that people were curious what we were doing. They asked us why we were taking these pictures. A security guard called the police on one of us because we were being ‘suspicious.’
We also found that some people were willing to tell us how they feel about surveillance, about how they conceive of safety, and about their personal experiences with the police, security cameras, and simply the sensations of being watched. They consented to being recorded and having their words shared with those who want to hear. Stories from those who did not want to be recorded are posted in text.
On this site, you’ll find some of what we’ve collected. View the map we’ve created, browse through the camera photographs, and listen to and read the stories.
We’ve also included information on how you can get involved mapping surveillance in your own neighborhood, as well as a questionnaire — if you’re willing to share your thoughts and experiences.
We want to note, finally, that we conceive of mapping as an oppositional project. Surveillance works to make all of us — though some of us more than others — highly visible to those with the power to watch. Yet surveillance sometimes goes unnoticed. As a technology of visibility, it’s pretty invisible. We hope this project makes it less so.
-Annie and Katy