A Belgian artist shows who else is watching while you click that selfie
Titled The Follower, the art-tech project is meant to demonstrate how much of our lives is now recorded, and how easy it is to access this footage.
In a twist on the “Instagram versus Reality” trend, Belgian artist Dries Depoorter creates digital art in which he uses a short clip or picture posted by a netizen of themselves (usually in a tourist destination) alongside a clip of them taking that photo, drawn from an open-camera feed. He’s been posting these eerie juxtapositions on X (@driesdepoorter) and his website (driesdepoorter.be) since September 2022.
Titled The Follower, the project is meant to demonstrate how much of our lives is now recorded, and how easy it is to access this footage. Open-camera livestreams include footage from open surveillance cameras generally positioned at or around tourist spots, public places or government buildings, which can be found online on the company websites.
It was while working on another art project that Depoorter stumbled upon an open-camera feed for the first time, capturing a bunch of people taking photos of themselves at a popular tourist spot. “It piqued my curiosity. I resolved to try and locate the corresponding images on Instagram manually. Although my initial attempts proved unsuccessful, that marked a starting point, driven by the challenge of whether it was possible,” he says.
Depoorter soon found a way. He made a list of open-camera feeds that he would focus on. These included ones at Times Square in New York City and Wrigley Field in Chicago. He recorded video footage from the operating companies’ websites. (The legal ramifications of such use are unclear, and he has faced criticism regarding this project.)
He then picked a date and time, and scoured open social-media accounts for images with these location tags. “The most challenging aspect was pinpointing the exact moment when someone snaps a photo within the vast array of open-camera video material. To accomplish this, I used a programming language, AI and open-source facial recognition tools,” he says.
The result is a series of unnerving clips in which the same people are being photographed willingly, and unwittingly.
“Privacy loss, surveillance, social media and AI are subjects that are woven into the fabric of our daily lives, yet their implications remain abstract or unnoticed by many,” Depoorter says. “By turning these issues into something engaging yet playful, I hope to make people think about the risks, without overwhelming them.”