CC-licensed photo-book to accompany my CC-licensed essay on CCTVs

Emma sez,
"Snitchtown: the photo essay" is a book of photographs of a (very small) subset of the 4.2 million CCTV in Britain. These have been put together with Cory Doctorow's essay on ubiquitous CCTV coverage, "Snitchtown" as part of the SoFoBoMo event, in which photographers work to put together a solo project in book form in one month.

I was inspired by some of the things that Cory said at an Open Rights Group debate. Not least of these was the fact that his daughter's pocket money was tied, in part, to her spotting the CCTV cameras on the way to school. This sounded so damned transgressive, and I realised how much we've been trained to pay no attention to the cameras that record our daily lives (I counted 21 on my exit from the tube station this evening alone.)

The book needed some words to explain why I wanted turn the lens back onto the CCTV cameras. I started by using some extracts from "Snitchtown", along with quotes from the press, and from CCTV manufacturers' catalogues. I quickly realised that none of these told the story as cogently as the original essay does. The upshot is a creative commons licensed collection of photographs, a creative commons licensed book (PDF only at the present time, but I plan to put it on a print on demand server.)

I'm very new to photography and I know of many people that could have done a much better job, but I wanted to stand under these cameras and document them. Doing so has made me much more aware of just how ubiquitous they are. I hope the photographs will help others to do likewise.

This is, I believe, my absolute favorite CC adaptation of my work to date; in that it's the first adaptation that I prefer to my original. Great work, Emma!



  1. Somebody should start a “Wave at the cameras” day. Just have everyone wave at CCTV cameras. Worldwide.

  2. I really hope that Cory’s daughter has not been pushed under the pocket-money train yet … she’s only 1.5-years-old by my reckoning.

    In a similar trained-monkey way, my 2.5-year-old son points out cameras to me so that we can wave at them together … I’ve told him about how people watch the pictures … he always likes to say hello.

  3. Cory, this post reminded me to finally send a link (which I had intended to send forever, sorry) to a Stephen Fry personal blog post about the joys of unshackled, living language. It’s a great, rambling read, but the pertinent section is toward the end:

    If one believed in conspiracy theories, you could almost call it genius that there is no more powerful word for the complex and frightening system of electronic surveillance that we lump into that weedy bundle of initials. For if CCTV was called … I don’t know …. something like SCUNT (Surveillance Camera Universal NeTwork, or whatever) then the acronyms might have passed into our language and its simple denotation would have taken on all the dark connotations which would allow “One nation under scunt” to have much more impact as a resistance slogan than “One nation under CCTV”.

    So. SCUNT? Any other suggestions for an acronym we could verb?

  4. Is there not a Google maps for CCTV installations?

    As a secondary point:

    Should the individual cameras have an identifier on them (label or number) that is visible to anyone? i.e., a label at street level indicating the camera owner and a contact number.

    There are many logical, practical, and legal reasons for this. At the very least, it should be possible to identify who is watching and a justification (rather than a blanket reason, a specific reason) as to why the camera is installed.

  5. I haven’t seen a generic CCTV Google map, but my mate who does GIS-y things for Camden Council has tipped me off to their “Where’s my nearest..?” web app.

    It seems to show all their “traffic enforcement and community safety” cameras.

    Whilst taking these photos I got very attuned to just how prevalent CCTV cameras are. In a 100 yard stretch in Hendon alone there were 13 cameras. Only one of them had a sign saying what the cameras were for or who was recording the data.

    HotPepperMan, I think the suggestion of registering CCTV cameras is a good one, but addresses only part of the beef. It doesn’t address the problem of the camera operators seeing without being seen, but at least we might have a better idea of exactly *who* is doing the seeing.

  6. Interesting to note that in a ten mile each way urban commute in the heart of affluent southern England (commuting from Surrey green belt to the heart of Stockbrokerville) I only see 1 cctv camera. I used to work in a nearby major town – More cameras in the shop than the entire High Street. – Looks like Big Brother isnt the problem – most cameras are owned by shops etc looking to protect their own interests – Big Uncle maybe?

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