6 questions with...Adam Harvey
PopTech’s new series, 6 questions with… gives us a chance to get into the heads of social innovators, technologists, artists, designers, and scientists to see what makes them tick.
We’re kicking off the series with Adam Harvey, a designer whose work focuses on computational design, human-computer interactions and dreaming up new ways to utilize technology. Harvey went through NYU’s ITP program where his thesis project, CV Dazzle, “a camouflage from computer vision,” uncovers ways to design make-up and style hair to defeat facial recognition software. Named after a type of camouflage used in WWI, CV Dazzle can interfere with technologies on Facebook, Flickr, and Google’s Picassa that may compromise one’s privacy – while simultaneously providing an outlet to experiment with some fantastical hair and make-up styles.
If I'd been a fly on the wall of your office/studio yesterday, what would I have seen you doing?
Hopefully this fly on the wall is not spying on me because counter-surveillance is one of my areas of research. Though, for the past few months I’ve been working on a non-related project. It’s a stethoscope paired with sound recognition, kind of like Shazaam for your heart. If you were here, you probably would have seen me coding Java and drinking Bustello at my studio in the Navy Yard.
What’s the mark you’re hoping to leave on the world? Why is your work relevant at this point in time?
One of my major influences is Susan Sontag’s book, On Photography. I own three copies. Not on purpose though. Two of them were gifts. In her work she dissects our relationship with photography and cameras. It’s an interesting topic that becomes more relevant with every camera sold. Photography has changed a lot since she wrote the book in 1977. Now, over 85% of millennials (age 18-29) own at least one digital camera. I own 14. London has over 500,000 within their ring of steel. As these numbers climb, we will need to learn how to adapt and understand this phenomenon. I like to think of my work as a continuation of what she started several decades ago, an emerging critical discourse about photography and cameras.
What do you wish you had known when you began working on this project?
It would have been easier to work on this project had I known more about machine learning and face detection algorithms. That’s a topic I hope to spend more time researching this year.
What was the pathway that brought you to this work?
There were two things that inspired me to work on this. One of them was my friend’s Halloween costume from the Uniform Project, which was deceiving to humans but not machines. And the other was a drawing of a face that was deceiving to machines, but not humans. I have always been critical and uncomfortable with surveillance in public and seeing these two forms of deception led me to the idea of creating something that was deceiving to machines but not to humans. I was also really inspired by the Boombox party scene in London and friends who wear lot of makeup. Camouflage has to look good otherwise no one is going to wear it.
Who or what has most influenced your life and work?
When I first moved to New York City in 2004, I began looking for work as a photographer. I tried photo assisting but found it unrewarding. To supplement my income I started creating websites. And to hone my skills as a photographer I would shoot parties at night, mostly for free. Developing websites taught me programming and shooting parties taught me a lot of about social behavior around cameras. Out of all this, I decided I was more interested in the culture of photography than in trying to sell my photos. This is the decision that has influenced most of my work in the past few years.
One of my takeaways from party photography was that the photographer always had the upper hand. This led to one of my first photo-centric projects at ITP, Camoflash: The Anti-Paparazzi Clutch. It’s a device that gives the subject the power to say “no, thanks” with a blinding pulse of light that overexposes the photo. In a similar vein, CV Dazzle is about opting out of the paparazzi in the sky, surveillance.
What book is on your nightstand right now?
I’m reading: Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs and Functional Aesthetics.
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