Privacy Advisor

Privacy on Exhibit

April 1, 2008

As an artist, Wendy Richmond works toward a minimal aesthetic. As a writer, cultural criticism. In her recent show at the IAPP's Privacy Summit in Washington, D.C., she merged the two into a simple yet stimulating showcase.

For Public Privacy: Wendy Richmond's Surreptitious Cellphone, Richmond rolled out the visual results of three years of people watching, and videotaping, to the delight, vexation, and provocation of conference-goers.

Moving Pictures
The exhibit showcases short video clips pieced together into moving depictions of real people in public places doing everyday things. One vignette shows a woman on the subway. In another, a man paces while talking on his cell phone. Richmond collected the footage using her cell phone's video camera over the course of three years, then sifted through 1,600 clips to narrow it down to just over a dozen tiny films, framed and hung on a black grid across from the exhibit hall.

"It was an interesting look into the topic of privacy," said conference attendee Jim Campell, Assistant Director of the Network Advertising Initiative. "Especially in the context of the IAPP event."

Richmond says that her work is about how we as citizens of the twenty-first century occupy public space and share it, or don't share it. She had been exploring the subject of privacy in her artwork and writing for the last few years and says that observing people in urban settings, where they feel as if they are in public and private at the same time, intrigues her. When she realized she could watch people while shooting video without them knowing, she began staring, and recording, in airports, train and subway stations, and other public venues. What she found pleased her.

"I was getting beautiful pieces of choreography," Richmond says. "Watching people rush through the airport or pace back and forth, there's beauty in the movement," adds Richmond, who has a background in dance. The beauty, she found, was everywhere—a Madison Avenue window dressing, a museum visitor looking at a beautiful print, a man working on his laptop in a café.

The opportunity to show the work at a conference for privacy professionals, "in the heart of the place where people are constantly thinking about these issues" was amazing, she said.

The Reaction
Conference-goers, it seems, were similarly wowed.

"I think it's tremendously cool to add an artist to a business conference," wrote Adam Shostack on the Emergent Chaos blog. "Too often we find ourselves focused entirely on questions such as cost of compliance, or forthcoming regulation bringing in new and different perspectives helps us remember the people for whom we're doing this work."
"I loved it!" said Noelle Grattan. "It was an unusual and innovative way to look at and think about privacy." Grattan added that the exhibit was a great reminder of how issues of privacy affect everyone.

Others were more squeamish in their reactions. "Some people were saying 'I don't know how I feel about you doing that,'" said Richmond. But that's part of the point, she said. "If I wasn't pushing some edge, what would my work be saying? The point is to get where you're a little uncomfortable or embarrassed, or touching an area that's a little raw."

For more information visit www.wrichmond.com.