Conflict Version 3

A running documentation of my BFA Design and Technology thesis project.

Iltimas Doha
7 min readJan 31, 2019

// current prototype

Quick Note: I have my prototypes, research, and presentations on my site and all the source for prototypes, as well as project planning on Github!

// process

My previous works and interests lie in police surveillance and how citizens can navigate around it. In my work I am exploring what it means to be under surveillance. Often I look to “flip the script” of surveillance, turning tools of surveillance back onto surveilers, in order to create moments of reflection and critique.

For my first thesis prototype, I wanted to start understanding what the perception of the NYPD is. I designed this drawing packet to see both the literal and more abstract perception.

The packet starts with literal perception. What does the NYPD logo look like? What does an officer look like? Users were asked not to look up references.

See all responses here

It then goes into more abstract concepts like Justice and Safety and ends with Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect, values displayed on the side of NYPD vehicles.

See all responses here

I quite like this process. For one, I think it gave some agency to the user and allowed them to be as serious or playful with this subject. I often feel bad for having to put a lot of emotional labor to users, and I think this may have helped lighten the load. I hope to continue this practice through out the project. Its been some of the most fruitful user research that I have gathered in a long time, especially compared to an interview.

This second prototype for this thesis looks at existing methods that citizens are using to circumvent the NYPD. This website aims to crowdsource these methods and display them.

At this point my thesis was still up in the air, and of many routes that I was thinking of taking, one was to make a survival manual to navigating around the NYPD in NYC. In this light I definitely think a lot about @lifewinning ‘s field guide to network infrastructures.

Like my previous prototype I’m still interested in what the public consciousness around understanding NYPD is. Are they aware of the physical and intangible infrastructure and systems. If the first is IDing parts of the network, this would be IDing hacks and interventions.

These prototypes reflect my interest in looking into police surveillance and what citizens can do to combat their surveillance. A lot of what I'm currently thinking about is framed by the Stephen Graham book, "Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism". In the book, Graham shows how the new military doctrine takes cities in the Global South as a prototyping grounds for systems of surveillance oppression to then bring back to the cities of the Global North. With the idea that enemies of the state are using cities as areas of anonymity, the state must heavily surveil cities as though they are active battlegrounds. This new 4th generation of war is what drives my work: What are the tools of counter surveillance when citizens of cities have been escalated, against their will, to the status of combatants? I am interested in further exploring how guerilla warfare and insurgency plays a role in Global North conflicts. Another aspect, I'm interested, particularly around US policing, is flipping the script of surveilling citizens to find/combat terrorists to surveilling police to find/combat "the bad apples".

With the intention to flip the script in mind, I started to look at the different ways that the state had policed historically. I found that modern policing and surveillance have turned away from how crimes of the past might be solved and into the Philip K Dick notion of “precrime”, or how to understand who might commit a crime in the future. This is a distinct departure from the legal philosophy of criminality, namely needing both the guilty act and guilty mind. In precrime, the act clearly does not happen, but unlike in scenarios like conspiracy to commit a crime, precrime precludes the guilty mind from a suspect. At its core precrime looks to find criminality as something one is perhaps born into, something reminiscent of the phrenological approach of criminology.

Policing has historically used anthropological systems to classify, justify, and unify criminality. This was pioneered in 1879 by the French criminologist, Alphonse Bertillon. Interested in the idea that individuals had unique combinations of measurements and were thus uniquely identifiable, Bertillon started the practice of measuring the body, head, and face as way of describing individuals. Some of these anthropological approaches have persisted today, such as fingerprinting and mugshots.

The contemporary implementation of precrime extends the prenological approach. This connection is clear in the recent paper from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, “Automated Inference on Criminality Using Face Images”, where machine learning algorithms analyzed physical differences of facial features between criminal and non-criminal Chinese citizens. This evolved rogues gallery presents ethical dilemmas that could be used to screen individuals as potential criminals at a scale as large as any institution’s photo ID repository.

This research started to form what would be the ultimate direction of my thesis. I aim to create a taxonomy of the posture of police officers when idle, and engage with the bodily form of surveillance. It will be done though photographing officers and running the photos through pose estimation algorithms.

This archive of postures and gestures is in response to a lack of data and information surrounding the NYPD. As an artist working in technology, data, and specifically open data, have served a source of inspiration and exploration. When creating work on governments or public programs in NYC, I look towards Open Data NY and NYC Open Data. While the NYPD has submitted data about crime and traffic, the NYPD and NYC has no open (meta)data about the NYPD themselves. Aside from journalists, researchers, and leaks, understanding the NYPD through data means acquiring data myself.

I am taking film photographs of police at rest and running them through pose estimation algorithms. Pose estimations find the key joints in a photo in order to extrapolate a pose, illustrated with a diagrammatic, skeletal figure. With these images I am creating a taxonomy of the posture of police officers when idle, a taxonomy of states of rest that are still, states of surveillance. These positions will help me trace the relationship between the body and surveillance and to critique the phrenological approach to citizens we have found in systems like the Bertillon method — and more recently in efforts to ascertain criminality through processing photos and portraits via machine learning, and using neural nets to perceive furtive movements and predict hostile intent. With police using furtive movements as a basis for killing unarmed citizens, at what point is it appropriate to use these AI systems to predict “the bad apples” of the police force?

I am taking the photos on film because I am interested in the physicality of film. Its agitated quality and relationship to portraiture and relative preciousness softens the statistical approach I am mimicking. The film, an algorithm itself that historically skewed favorable to light skin, creates a tangible relationship to the data. The film photos will then be used in an installation, displaying the film with a slide projector and, at the same time, a digital projector projecting the poses over the film projection. The slide projector projects through physical negatives, becoming metonymic for a law enforcement officer’s physical body in space, and the digital projector a representation of the equally persistent surveillance of data. By photographing the police through film photography the archive will begin as a physical one. The photos will then be scanned into a digital archive. Once scanned, pose data will be extracted into another serialized data archive. In this project, I’m interested how I can bring materiality and a relationship to data, datasets, and databases, which I hope to do through film.



Iltimas Doha

EYEBEAM Resident ‘14-’15 ⁠ Parsons’ Design+Technology BFA ‘15-’19 ⁠ Eid and Chill 🕋