Marcus DeSieno records the No Man’s Land of surveillance cameras worldwide

Hacking into the live feed of a CCTV camera is “shockingly easy” says Marcus DeSieno, whose new book, No Man’s Land, presents a series of landscape photographs captured on surveillance cameras around the world.

He got the idea for the project back in 2013, after seeing a couple of park rangers attach a security camera to a tree in the Everglades National Park, Florida. Even though the cameras were ineffective at night, when most trespassers would plan to break in, the wardens said that the purpose of installing them was to instigate fear, and “act as a symbol of power”.

Intrigued to find out which other unlikely places are scrutinised, DeSieno did a simple Google search, and got the tools needed to hack into pretty much any CCTV camera in the world. Even if a camera is password-protected, he says, the username is usually “guest” and the password “1234”.

Having discovered how easily he could access these images, DeSieno dedicated six-eight hour shifts to cruising through the surveillance streams, sifting through tens of thousands of images in any country where it was daylight. Once he found a view he liked, he would photograph the screen with a large format camera, before using salt paper processing to create a painterly and “timeless” aesthetic.

“Focusing on landscapes shows how far-reaching our surveillance state is,” he explains. “The camera could be high on a mountain, where it takes someone hours to climb to – you would think no one can watch you there.”

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Desieno considers himself the “curator of the surveillance state”, and his book includes images from every continent in the world except Antarctica. The photographs are titled only with each location’s longitude and latitude coordinates, however, in a bid to “dislocate” the image from its context and include it as part of a “larger conversion about surveillance”.

“Much of it is about collapsing the history of photography,” he adds, referencing his other major inspirations for the project – topographic photographers and 19th century landscape paintings. “Combining obsolescent photographic processes with contemporary technology speaks to a larger history of how photography has expanded,” he says, “and changed our understanding of the world”. No Man’s Land: Views from a Surveillance State by Marcus DeSieno is published by Daylight Books, priced $45

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Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is the editor of BJP, returning for a second stint on staff in 2023 - after 15 years on the team until 2019. As a freelancer, she has written for The Guardian, FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, Aperture, FOAM, Aesthetica and Apollo. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy