Data Collection (2009)

Produced for the Sorting Daemons: Art, Surveillance Regimes and Social Control exhibition at the Agnes Etherington Arts Centre, the Data Collection project involved photographing the identification cards (driver’s licenses, student cards, bank cards, credit cards, etc.) carried by approximately 100 individuals. Each participant’s collection of cards was photographed as a single image and the entire collection of images is presented on the gallery wall as a large grid, printed at a 1:1 scale such that all personal information on the cards (e.g. home addresses, credit cards numbers) is legible to gallery viewers.

The goal of the project is to challenge the typical notion of privacy – to keep personal information secret and hidden away. By doing the exact opposite I hope to destabilize the viewer, initiate a questioning of their beliefs and draw attention to the larger systems behind the cards.

In The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age (Solove, 2004) Daniel Solove explains that the secretive approach to privacy doesn’t really work because participation in society demands that one reveals personal information on a regular basis for even the most mundane of activities like shopping or driving a car. Additionally, much of this personal information is held in large databases which are far beyond an individual’s control. In many cases this data is traded between organizations and is often revealed without one’s knowledge or consent. The cards themselves can be traced, generating even more personal data related to purchasing preferences, driving infractions, etc. All of this stored data can be aggregated and extrapolated to produce digital profiles of individuals which are “unauthorized ... only partially true and very reductive. ... the complete contents of which we often do not get to see.” (Solove, 2004. p. 46), yet these profiles increasingly form the basis by which we are judged in situations such as job interviews, insurance applications and criminal investigations.

Solove advocates a different approach to privacy where the focus is on the individual retaining control over what data is collected, how it is used and who is given access – and I incorporate this approach into my photography process. Participants are made fully aware of what information is collected and how it will be used. They sign a document indicating their consent and may choose to withhold any pieces of identification they are not comfortable displaying in a public context. Withheld items will be replaced in the photograph by specially designed black placeholder cards (conforming to the ISO 7810 ID-1 identification card standard) with the text “withheld” on the front. These cards also serve as a signed and editioned artist multiple which will be given to participants as a thank you for their involvement in the project.


Dave Kemp, 2009




Solove, D. (2004). The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age. New York: New York University Press.