American Surveillance Photographs by Richard Gordon. Forward by Jason Francisco, afterword by Richard Gordon. Published by Chimaera Press, 2009.
American Surveillance is an important, nervous book. In it, photographer Richard Gordon takes a hard look at America, and America, literally and ironically, looks back—in the form of the fixed, vacant, glass-eye stare of video surveillance cameras.
Video cameras, a standard fixture of modern architecture and public spaces, are only the physical manifestation of the "Total Information Awareness" society imagined and implemented by the National Security Administration early in the dark ages of the Bush administration.*
But the instrumentation of social control is not what American Surveillance is about. Rather, the book is about what it feels and looks like to have lived through the nightmare of post 9/11 America. We witness the changes that have taken place in architecture, civic life, and human being in general and in specific. We live the absurdities of our color-coded fear index, the absolute horror of modern life at the margins, and our strange and often strained daily life in between.
The elegant, masterful photographs in this book are clear-eyed, devastating, and occasionally laugh out loud hilarious. There is fascination, beauty, horror, kitsch, pathos, amusement, wit, grace, and intelligence, as well as numerous echoes and references to a wide range of critical realist street photography of the twentieth century. Gordon's four decades of photographing "in the street," his three decades of book making, and his mastery of his craft—the shooting as well as the printing of black and white photography—are apparent. Gordon’s photography is literate and authoritative. I recommend it.
*For more info, see Wikipedia: Total Information Awareness, or earlier versions, TALON, ECHELON.
Alex Sweetman teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he has helped assemble one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of 19th and 20th century photography books in the world. In 1985 he mounted the first comprehensive exhibition of photography books, "Photographic Book to Photobookwork," nearly 400 books and 100 photographs at the California Museum of Photography.