No Man's Land: Views from a Surveillance State
10 X 8 Inch
Published by Daylight
From the artist:
No Man’s Land is a beguiling collection of sepia-toned natural landscapes pulled from security camera feeds. Marcus DeSieno has sifted through hours of footage from various CCTV cameras to create images that remind us that we are never truly alone.
Grab a copy of the book here
Book review by Tim Hodge |
No Man’s Land is both a simple book filled with beautiful photographs and a complex, stylized investigation of a surveillance state’s landscapes. Marcus Desieno blends processes from photography’s history, both analog and digital, while moving past that binary. A paper-over-board book, No Man’s Land is rich and understated. Like the lushly printed images within, the cover’s image and text are deceptively simple, black on white with subtle debossing.
It is a small but not diminutive object. An intimate exploration that invites you to hold each image in your view, No Man’s Land is not a book to be spread out across a coffee table for many to view but is best handed from one person to the next for a solo journey.
No Man’s Land opens on a lonesome road rife with mystery and flavored with despair setting the tone for what follows. Its images confuse the line between a charcoal gesture, washes, etchings and heliographs. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, it is easy to think these are a treasure trove of Niépce’s works.
The antique feel of DeSieno’s work is no accident. The photographs are made from stills taken surveillance cameras, brought to the artist via the internet. They are captured on handmade negatives in a large format camera. This handmade quality takes the images out of time. Even though they are security camera stills they feel more connected to the physicality of early Impossible Project peel-apart photographs and salt prints. Both high-tech internet constructions and low-tech craft, these are the products of cameras looking at the products of cameras guided by the artist’s hands.
One of the ironies of this work is that often a photographer works with large format cameras to increase sharpness, depth, and resolution, but DeSieno turns this norm on its head. These images could not be made without a large format camera’s unique ability to control depth of field and focal plane alignment, or the vastness of its negative. Because of the razor thin focus and high contrast some images are almost impossible to suss out. Even the more obvious landscapes feel so alien and cold they could be of Mars.
One of the most surprising aspects of these photographs is their simultaneous individuality and ubiquity. It is easy to get lost imagining a story for any one image, leaving your eyes resting on the page and lingering across every detail. But as you continue to explore the book the similar composition, tonality and mystery, begins to overwhelm any one image. It isn’t that they are repetitive but more akin to watching a bank of security monitors in a very beautiful place. While each image is its own, they are clearly part of a world that feels not of ours.
When exploring this book one painting kept coming to mind, Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer above a Sea of Fog.” It features a hiker high above a fog bank looking down into a swirling mystery. These images feel as if we’re looking though that wander’s eyes deep into the unknown. By taking these images and feeds, very much of our time, and viewing them through this wanderer’s eye, DeSieno seems to ask us to reconsider what is normal. Should even the loneliest places be under constant watch? Who is there to see these things? What power does it project and for who?
No Man’s Land by Marcus DeSieno is a beautiful book that belongs in any collection. Its landscapes haunt my thoughts long after I put it down. I invite you to explore our world through his lens.
Grab a copy of the book here