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Tomas Van Houtryve. Blue Sky Days & In Drones We Trust, 5 min video

In October 2012, a drone strike in northeast Pakistan killed a 67-year-old woman picking okra outside her house. At a briefing held in 2013 in Washington, DC, the woman’s 13-year-old grandson, Zubair Rehman, spoke to a group of five lawmakers. “I no longer love blue skies,” said Rehman, who was injured by shrapnel in the attack. “In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray.”
Over the past decade, drones have become the preferred weapon of the United States military and the CIA for strikes overseas. Their use for surveillance and commercial purposes is also rapidly expanding at home and abroad. Tomas van Houtryve attached his camera to a small drone and travelled across America to photograph the very sorts of American gatherings that have become habitual targets for foreign air strikes—weddings, funerals, groups of people praying or exercising. He also flew his camera over settings in which drones are used to less lethal effect, such as prisons, oil fields, industrial feedlots, and stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border. The images captured from the drone’s perspective engage with the changing nature of war, privacy, and government transparency.
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Tomas Van Houtryve. Blue Sky Days
 
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Tomas Van Houtryve. Blue Sky Days
 
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Hasan Elahi. Tracking Transience, 27-screen video installation edited from thousands of images of Elahi’s daily life.

An interdisciplinary media artist, Hasan Elahi’s “Tracking Transience” project was born of a false accusation of terrorism. Ten years ago his name was added by mistake to the U.S. government’s watch list. When the FBI directed him to ‘stay in touch,’ he decided to cooperate and turn his life inside out for all the world to see.

He started with constant phone calls and emails to the FBI to notify them of his whereabouts. Then, he began posting photos on TrackingTransience.net of his minute-by-minute life, up to around a hundred a day: hotel rooms, train stations, airports, meals, beds, receipts, even toilets – generating tens of thousands of images in the last several years. Just for good measure, he also wears a GPS device that tracks his movements on his site’s live Google map. And as if to prove his point that “the best way to protect privacy is to give it away,” Elahi – while still being watched by the authorities, according to server records – hasn’t been bothered since.

“Intelligence agencies, regardless of who they are, all operate in a market where their commodity is information, and the reason their information has value is because no one else has access to it,” says Elahi. By increasing access to his information, he is both co-opting and undermining the surveilling authority’s monopoly on it.
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Hasan Elahi. Tracking Transience, 27-screen video installation edited from thousands of images of Elahi’s daily life.

 
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Jenny Odell. Satellite Landscapes

Satellite photos of human-made structures with humans removed.

Odell's work attempts to momentarily render humanity legible to itself by mining the surplus, latent value of secondhand imagery, mostly from Google Maps, but also from Youtube, Craigslist, and other sites. The value of this imagery has to do with the way the it happens to reflect us, obliquely and in a way more accurately than otherwise possible, in an environment so familiar it has become nearly invisible to us. The result is something like the most candid photo possible: we, and our world of things, are captured in an arbitrary moment by a mechanized camera on a satellite or on top of a car, or by a tourist who meant the photo to be of something else.

This shift in perspective can make visible to us the utter strangeness of everything, including ourselves. It creates a moment of ope
nness, a temporary removal that allows us to see our world as the strange and specific place it has become, before the old familiarity settles back in. At best, this removal can effect what writer Walter Benjamin once described as “blasting” an image from the historical continuum, in some cases allowing us to really see it for the first time. To be able to see this way has broad implications. Speaking about dialectical images, Benjamin gave the example of seeing an image of a bomber plane superimposed on DaVinci’s original drawing of a flying machine -- which DaVinci, heartbreakingly in retrsopect, envisioned using “in order to look for snow on the mountain summits, and then return to scatter it over city streets shimmering with the heat of summer.” Such a superimposition enables the realization that history is not linear and that each moment of the past existed in a field of possibilities (as in the early stages of any technology). This kind of stereoscopic vision allows us to see through the idea that things turned out the way they did because they were destined to be this way. In other words, to reopen the field of possibility in the past is the reopen that same field in the future. At a remove from things so familiar we have forgotten to look at them, we can just begin to see it: all of the things the world has not become and, most importantly, all of the things it could become.

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Jenny Odell. Satellite Landscapes
 
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Pitch Interactive / Wesley Grubbs. Out of Sight, Out of Mind: A data visualization of every known U.S. drone strike in Pakistan from 2004-2013

Since 2004, the U.S. has been practicing a new kind of clandestine military operation. The justification for using drones to take out enemy targets is appealing because it removes the risk of losing American lives, it's much cheaper than deploying soldiers, it's politically much easier to implement, and it keeps what is actually happening obscured from the world’s eyes and scrutiny. In short, conflict is taken out of sight, out of mind. However, drone strike success rate is extremely low and the cost on civilian lives and the general well-being of the population is very high. The Obama administration classifies any able-bodied male a military combatant unless evidence is brought forward to prove otherwise. This is a very grey area for policy. Possible targets could be neighbors of a target killed. Or, they may all be militants and an actual threat to U.S. interests. What we do know for sure is that targets are identified without being given any representation or voice to defend themselves. “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” shines light on the U.S. military’s use of drones. It does not speak for or against, but simply informs, allowing the viewer to decide whether or not to support drone usage.
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Pitch Interactive / Wesley Grubbs. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
 
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Pitch Interactive / Wesley Grubbs. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
 
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The Guardian US.NSA Files: Decoded. Interactive documentary on Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations

NSA Files: Decoded weaves together the complex political, legal and technological questions raised by the Guardian’s agenda-setting NSA revelations. Employing all of the Internet’s storytelling tools—including video, interactives, maps, charts, text, and GIFS, the web-native feature guides readers through the revelations in an accessible, relatable, and visually compelling way. The feature was constructed to help readers understand one key question: What do the revelations mean for me?

The feature is built in a single, cohesive, scrollable format that integrates video interviews with key experts—including U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, and ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. As the reader moves through the narrative, the videos automatically play. Decoded integrates interactive pieces throughout to help readers make sense of some of the more complex topics that the NSA revelations touch on, including: visualizing your own “digital trail,” how much metadata you generate, how many people could be caught in NSA dragnets if they became a target of surveillance. It also employs a globe that shows how information travels between countries along the world’s fiber-optic cables. Other tools include an interactive that breaks down encryption technology, the laws and legal precedents that the NSA asserts to justify surveillance, and a demographic breakdown of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), which is tasked with judicial oversight of the NSA. The interactive elements are held together with original source documents and text-based narrative that offers background on how the story originated. All the features come together to create an innovative form of interactive documentary that illustrates complex political, legal, and technical issues in an immediate and relevant way.

Credits:
By Ewen MacAskill and Gabriel Dance
Produced by Fielding Cage and Greg Chen
Video: Bob Sacha
Production: Kenan Davis, Nadja Popovich, Kenton Powell, Ewen MacAskill, Ruth Spencer, Lisa van Gelder
Additional Production: Spencer Ackerman, Kayla Epstein, Paul Lewis, Amanda Michel, Katie Rogers, Dominic Rushe

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The Guardian US.NSA Files: Decoded
 
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The Guardian US.NSA Files: Decoded