The government may be watching him, but Hasan Elahi is too busy watching himself to worry.
His work, at first glance, is banal -- a long scroll of mundane happenings, ordinary dinners, and other mostly mild events that make up a life. A toilet bowl, an airport dinner, a busy street -- each is captured in images sans filter. But the message he’s conveying -- that the information accrued about individuals by the FBI is massive and largely impersonal -- is a compelling one.
For his “Tracking Transience” series, Elahi has emulated the Orwellian prospect of thorough government surveillance by capturing nearly everything he does. He’s racked up nearly 72,000 time-stamped photos of himself, each taken with his cell phone. The goal, he says, is to “flood the market with his personal information, thereby devaluing it.” In other words, by uploading thousands of images from his private life to a public database, he believes a narrative of normalcy overwhelms any weird habits or secrets he could be hiding.
In addition to making a broader cultural statement, Elahi began the project for personal reasons. In 2002, he was reentering the country after a visit to an exhibition overseas when he was detained as a terrorist suspect. For the next six months, he was repeatedly questioned, but in the process, he learned of the details involved in keeping tabs on a suspect’s whereabouts. In retaliation, he began logging his activities excessively, posting hundreds of photos of his daily meals and happenings, and using GPS to track himself publicly.
“Back then, it was unusual to share such private details online,” Elahi told The Huffington Post. “These days, my project is almost obsolete given how many people are doing something similar and in so many different forms with so many different channels. I’m still amazed at how quickly our culture has changed.”
In 2002, when Elahi began snapping photos of his commonplace activities, his friends thought it was strange. It’s a stark contrast to how we approach self-chronicling today -- an act that’s now as ordinary as sitting down to lunch or conversing in person.
When asked whether making his private self public was ever uncomfortable, Elahi said no -- not at all. “I’m still doing the exact same things and still living my life the same way I have been all along,” he said. “It may sound counterintuitive, but by opening up my life publicly, I’ve managed to live a very anonymous and private life. I might be putting my entire life online, but given the signal-to-noise ratio, there is a great deal of digital camouflage where I’m hiding in plain sight.”
So, after over a decade of posting his happenings on the web for the world to see, Elahi is surprisingly accepting of our cultural shift towards bearing all.
His only concern is that technology changes faster than citizens -- and especially lawmakers -- are capable of keeping up with.
“The challenge is finding a common ground where the technology, culture and policy all work in sync with each other,” he says. “And unfortunately, by the time our lawmakers get around to deciding what policies to do with that tech, it’s already evolved into a whole different thing. I’m hopeful that we’ll learn to adapt and will find a common ground.”
The following photos were all taken by Elahi during a 24-hour period:
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