Image credit: annotation of Civic Gaze at Beyond Documentation: Aesthetics of Policing by Haitham Haddad.
Civic Gaze is a participatory research initiative formed to examine how spatial politics in New York City are shaped through policing infrastructures. In collaboration with Camila Palomino.
The project examines the recently released New York City Police Department surveillance films archive, a digitized collection of over 140 hours of 16mm footage made between 1960 and 1980. The subjects of the NYPD's surveillance practices during this tumultuous period included activists, religious groups, local labor leaders, and even NYPD officers as they organized for various workers' rights.
The archive offers a rare look into aesthetic forms authored by the NYPD. This includes imaging for monitoring political and demographic subjects, but also immense cartographic information about the city that officers inadvertently captured in the dragnet approach to data collection. Through civilian-led investigations on the complex legacy of the NYPD’s monitoring units, we will trace the development of surveillance technologies and their inextricable link to urban placemaking.
Civic Gaze received research funding from the Graham Foundation. The Graham Foundation announced 2023 year grants to individuals on May 18th—64 projects by 92 individuals from around the world.
Civic Gaze was first presented at Beyond Documentation: Aesthetics of Policing, a workshop that critically examined policing and its representation using an interdisciplinary and international framework. Hosted by the OSUN Center for Human Rights and the Arts (CHRA) at Bard College on February 3—4, 2023, the workshop brought together artists and scholars developing new research at the intersection of aesthetics and politics. Moving beyond customary notions of indexicality and documentation when approaching surveillance, testimony, and evidence, the workshop offered participatory and speculative modes for critically examining the aesthetic dimension of policing. In the workshop, participants were introduced to the New York City Police Department surveillance films archive as a starting point for discussing the development of the NYPD’s surveillance practices from the early 20th century to the present. Participants then viewed materials from the archive and began to think critically about the ethical implications of further display of the archival materials outside of the workshop.