Date of publication: 2015
Edition size: 100 copies
Dimensions: 18.5 cm x 25 cm
Number of pages: 128 pages, 99 colour plates
Type of printing: Digital offset print, matte paper 120g
Cover/binding: Embossed hardcover with lenticular image 10 cm x 7.5 cm
When perusing for the first time Keep an Eye on what you See by Yury Gudkov, I found myself wondering about the nature of this work, and what I would describe as controversial.
The very first – and perhaps the most obvious – aspect that caught my attention is represented by the mysterious, even compulsive, presence of an old man standing in a presumably office-like environment, watching something from a window. The man, always shot from behind but from different angles, scrutinizes something.
As we gradually follow through the pages of the book, we begin to get an idea of what, supposedly, the man is looking at. Urban and anonymous spaces, buildings, some hints of nature.
And gradually, we find ourselves part of a game in which the author is questioning us and inciting us to look deeper, to reflect on what our society is today and the role that we, as individuals, have within the space we live in.
Yury Gudkov puts on a show where he himself is the protagonist, though in a different way than the mysterious character who appears and reappears in the photographic series. The artist plays the role of the observer, one who presents us with a situation where the watch becomes a control mechanism. And this is exactly what the work of the Russian photographer is based on; a philosophical and conceptual investigation on the development of a society where surveillance video systems are part of the everyday life, leading us to reflect on the notion of freedom and respect for privacy.
The excessive security measures in our cities are justified by recent history: in a world where terrorist attacks, invisible powers, crime and constant threats have become part of daily life, the need for security becomes a critical argument, and easily fetched through propaganda. We, the citizens, in this context, are willing to give up some of our freedom just to feel safe. But are these mechanisms really effective for the attainment of the objective they set out?
In Keep an Eye on what you See, we play on different levels related to the perception of images. The process may seem obvious, but becomes extremely complex as the basis is the perception that the viewer has of the image itself.
In the digital age the continuous flow of images is unstoppable, and this puts us in a position (consciously and unconsciously) to be at the same time authors and subjects. Distinguishing the private sphere from the public one is a difficult task now since every day we leave traces which, if intercepted, can bring anyone to draw an identikit of the way we live and relate to the world.
We know we are being watched, but at the same time we don't accept it or, rather, we convince ourselves that it ain't so.
It's hard to get into that mental mechanism that triggers an awareness that allows us to grasp the extent to which being observed reassures us or, on the contrary, frightens us.
The way the author plays on a conceptual level with this perception adds in to the debate on the actual role of the image in contemporary society. Both from an aesthetic point of view – sci-fi style photographs – and from a conceptual one – redundancy, looping sequence etc. – the Russian photographer emphasizes some highly discussed concepts on an ethical and political level.
After all, one of the main keys in the reading of an image in visual politics consists in the perception different public has of the image itself. And through the latter it's possible to determine the actual impact of an image on a social scale.
Observing assumes a broader meaning: it becomes the act that allows us to understand what we are faced with. And perhaps today, as never before, the act of observing, perceiving, and looking becomes fundamental in our way of relating with the world and living our daily lives.
The work of Yury Gudkov fits into that genre that is characterized by artistic exploration of new technologies and the virtual world, where aspects related to privacy, monitoring, digitization and use of data are substantially related to the everyday experience.
In its complexity, this book is an example of how an artistic and conceptual work can be the bearer of a social message that concerns a much wider audience. Its construction makes it suffocating, at times distressing, triggering a reaction of cause and effect that intrigues and, without a doubt, suggests that we try and look.