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  • An Actor of the Street: Events, Agencies, and Gatherings
  • Jordan Crandall (bio)

Video Analytics and the Event

Beginning with the mid-century rise of computing, the practice of tracking has relied on observational experts installed in the control rooms of military and intelligence operations—specialists skilled in the detection and interpretation of the movements of the world, arrayed before them on images or maps. Propelled by the efficiency demands of the new cultures of security, these observation-based procedures have now ceded, at least in part, to algorithmic ones, in ways that challenge the centrality of human agency.

In the science of video analytics, the detection and analysis of movement is automated, but still represented visually for human observers. The software takes input from existing security cameras, recognizes and identifies the objects in each frame to learn what activity normally takes place within the area under observation, and then analyzes the movements of those objects. Most of what this software “sees” is subsumed within the domain of the ordinary: the spatial and temporal norm of a given environment. As with all observing technology, video analytics helps constitute this norm through the categorization and standardization of information. Objects are classified according to pre-programmed definitions and specifications. Rules are established, tailored to these objects within the observed scene.

As it helps constitute the norm, video analytics aims to detect activity that might deviate from it, before such unusual activity can gather as an incident—an event that has suddenly become a matter of concern. In order to allow this aberrant activity to be inferred, algorithms screen out non-critical movement activity in ways that strive to minimize distraction and maximize the attention span of human operators. “Dwell time” or “counter flow” analytics alert operators to vehicles and people moving in the wrong direction or loitering excessively. Abandoned object detection analytics alert them to unattended objects left stationary for too long. Congestion detection analytics trigger alerts at the onset of abnormal densities of humans or cars: aberrant degrees of intimacy, closeness, and imminent touch. [End Page 49]

Such deviant activity is often referred to as “suspicious.” Yet the event is not only a matter of concern but one of fascination. When used for marketing purposes, analytics applications such as “dwell time” are useful not in gauging danger so much as desire: to identify whether customers stop at product displays and how long they remain there, absorbing the seductive messages conveyed therein. Here the event is not something to be prevented so much as courted: the object left stationary too long none other than the spellbound shopper, dwelling in the image of his perfection.

It is here, where movement runs counter to the norm of a given place and pace, that an event is conjured. The event is constituted as an aberrance, yet also an amplification, rooted in the figure of a renegade dweller—the spellbound shopper—now dwelled upon. This man on the street is positioned here as a historical person, character, and symbol. He is not, however, positioned as a subject: he is lingered upon as and in an act of analysis and narration, observation and literary concern. Depending on the expectations that settle into these disciplinary and rhetorical domains, this lingering figure either impedes the flow or enhances it. To dwell upon him—to dwell with him—takes time, occupies space, and in so doing, it reveals details that obstruct or facilitate understanding, as it fluctuates within the arenas of attention and desire. It involves the cultivation of forms of awareness that are not just about possessive knowing, but intimate residing, based on immersion as much as reflection, touch as much as visuality. These are dimensions of affective and rhythmic experience that at times align with thoughts and representations but are not entirely driven or contained by them, and which dispute the concepts of self-containment upon which linguistic and cognitive analyses are based.

Avoiding a primary focus on the visual-representational and its mechanisms of distinction, we no longer depart from a foundational condition of spectatorship, voyeuristic separation, and difference. Actuality is intertwined with analysis, objectivity with intimacy. A nonlinguistic, nonreflective sense of agency emerges whereby, rather than simply...


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pp. 49-66
Launched on MUSE
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