Radical Terrain: Hasan Elahi on Landscape

Uploaded by RubinMuseum on 11.12.2012

I'm conti- I'm constantly looking through a camera, through a viewfinder.
Uh, everytime- I mean, I timestamp my life every few moments,
so every few moments there's a photograph of here and there and there,
so I'm always looking through that viewfinder and it's almost always on my phone.
I'm really interested in the way we frame our surroundings.
And if you look at some of the projects, uh, some of the photos that are in uh, in my body of work,
there are all these desolate images of these almost post-apocalyptic places
where there's not a single soul around, and yet I can be in the middle of a crowded airport
or in the middle of a party, and I'll pick that one corner that just looks as if-
that there's not a single soul in sight.
So, I always look through the viewfinder as, "How do- how do we constantly reframe this landscape?"
As this project has gone through, this idea of surveillance and thinking back
and looking at the camera, and looking at, you know, well we were-
historically we're always taught to fear the camera.
You know, there's this camera watching us, you know, you always see these surveillance cameras.
But we all have cameras. I mean, try to buy a phone without a camera these days; it's really difficult.
So I've been trying- I've been really thinking about, "Well what is it that we're actually photographing?"
"What is it that we're actually seeing?"
And in my case I decided to look at it as, "Well, what does the camera do?"
"What does a surveillance camera do? What does a security camera do?"
So I started thinking of it as landscape, as uh- because one of the things is that uh,
most of us tend to think of uh, surveillance imagery as this gritty, grainy, pixel-y-
because that's what we- when we say surveillance camera image, that's what we have in our mind.
But given the technology today there's absolutely no reason why it needs to look that way.
Uh, as a matter of fact, the cameras are such high quality that we really should have
much, uh, much better images. But if the image become this hyper-aestheticized image,
our brain doesn't read it as surveillance image, because it's too real.
It's too real, and therefore it's not authentic.
So what I'm really interested in particularly, in this uh, work here,
is the way a surveillance camera image becomes, well, landscape photography.
Or if you want to look at uh- or uh, and if you look at the history of landscape photography
and in relationship to the exploration- the exploration of the American west,
surveying or thinking about that. And then-
and if you look at the history of the landscape photography from the other side of-
through landscape painting, this idea of uh, the "eye of God", this uh, this grand uh, vista.
Which is also interesting because when you go further back, uh, in a lot of ways the eye of God
was also the original surveillance camera,
where you would behave because well, God was watching.
And uh, so what I'm really interested in doing in this, in this uh, project here, at the Rubin Museum
is setting up this wall, and putting the image- and so, essentially having this ability of x-ray vision,
of seeing through the wall and what you would actually see.
So, the images that you see on the three monitors, which is actually one image across the three monitors,
is exactly what you would see from that point if you were looking out directly, out through the walls.
So, this idea of continuously monitoring, and continuously watching.
And in most of the image, there's not really much that happens,
it just looks like a- image just looking out the window.
And you don't know whether it's a live image, or it's a processed image,
or whether you're the watch- or who's watching you at what point
because you're watching somebody.
So there's this constant thing of- and obviously us being in a city and being in the middle of Manhattan,
this is one of the most surveilled uh, cities in the world, I mean, there's cameras everywhere.
You step outside, you simply cannot be uh, outside of a camera frame.
And I'm not even just talking surveillance cameras, but just- just people just taking pictures on the street.
I mean, there's this continuous bombardment of images that are coming everywhere.
So I'm really interested in the way surveillance and landscape, and the two come together.
And uh, this was a great opportunity to put that into position, that-
right at that specific spot in the middle of this- in this town.