Conceptual and Regulatory Challenges
Edited by Tjerk Timan, Bryce C. Newell and Bert-Jaap Koops
Chapter 5: Visually distant and virtually close: public and private spaces in the Archives de la Planète (1909–1931) and Life in a Day (2011)
By comparing two paradigmatic attempts to visually capture and preserve everyday life on Earth at the beginning of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Albert Kahn’s Archives de la Planète (1909–1931) and Kevin Macdonald’s Life in a Day (2011), this chapter seeks to illuminate a shift in the visual, narrative and metaphorical mediation of public and private spaces. Theoretically, this qualitative analysis draws on the works of McLuhan and Virilio and their approaches to ‘public’ and ‘private’ as evolving concepts shaped by communication technologies. The exploration of the projects’ contents and contexts reveals that Kahn’s cinematographic footage is mostly concerned with anonymous public life filmed from respectful distances, visually demarcating and constructing ‘privacy bubbles’ in public spaces. This principle is strongly contrasted, if not dismissed, in its crowd-sourced successor emphasizing individual private, even intimate spheres recorded from utmost physical and psychological proximities in video-aesthetics. In lieu of a privatization of the public world by Kahn, Life in a Day prompted a collective production and publication of private worlds openly accessible on YouTube. The seemingly elitist, colonial surveillance in Kahn’s oeuvre shifts towards a proliferating digital self-surveillance roughly a century later. The inquiry helps reflect on the respective communication technology’s role in the culturally framed capture and formation of public and private spaces as expressed in these projects. Consequently, the chapter seeks to conceptualize the presence of privacy bubbles in public spaces from a media-historical lens.
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