That seemingly irrational paranoia of always being watched begins to rise when viewing photographs from Andrew Hammerand’s series, The New Town. The artist, currently based near Phoenix, Arizona, has created a power play in the dichotomy between watching and being watched. He offers us a glimpse into the lives of a small, Midwest town and its anonymous inhabitants by electronically accessing and controlling a webcam on a cellular tower, taking screen-shots of what was captured over the course of a year. This camera, overlooking the town, is appropriately located on a steeple of a church, giving new meaning to “omnipresent”. This camera is watching over the people, not unlike a higher power. The question is who is in charge, who has the power? Do the townspeople have power through the safety gained by being observed, or do we have the power because we are doing the looking? We live in a world of meta-data in which digital snapshots are constantly being taken, whether it is through the lens of literal cameras, or by information given from our Google searches.
One element that is especially significant in this remarkably unique series is the anonymity behind every aspect of it. The artist is unknown to the subjects being watched, the town’s location and peoples’ identity are also a mystery to us. Although we see small hints of each person’s life, what he or she is doing remains unclear. We have no indication if their intentions are malicious or moral. By nature, even the viewer is anonymous to the artist, especially when the artist’s work is being displayed through digital publications like this one. The grainy quality of the photos makes each composition all the more intriguing. We are wrapped up in the mystery, in the unknown story of these peoples’ lives. We see them playing in a park, pushing a stroller, and texting, but we do not know them at all. Even further, many of the subjects seem isolated in spite of being around others. Are we all detached through the lens of a camera, or does the convenience of the digital age connect our existence? Hammerand brilliantly gives rise to a slue of challenging questions and tests society’s progression into a super-digital age. Interconnecting technology, privacy issues, and digital culture, Hammerand’s work confronts contemporary politics in authority.