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CAMIT Profile: `Shooting Back'

Steve Mann, a graduate student in Media Arts and Sciences, has made a name for himself in both the fashion and technological worlds by sporting wearable video cameras and computers and broadcasting the images he sees on the World Wide Web.

With the help of a grant from the Council for the Arts at MIT, he embarked on a five-month project titled "Shooting Back," in which he and a team of fellow "cyborgs" transmitted real-life images which were displayed and updated regularly on Mr. Mann's Web pages. It was his concern about society's increasing use of surveillance cameras that led Mr. Mann to turn the tables-and his cameras-on the world.

The project, which is now drawing to a close, is an "exploration of self as much as of surveillance," Mr. Mann said. "Unlike surveillance, I'm turned inside out, revealing all. Because the material is available on the World Wide Web, as opposed to surveillance cameras whose output is hidden away, the process is open to public debate and peer review."

In addition to the readily apparent technological and cultural implications, Mr. Mann incorporated an artistic element into the project. As social commentator and performance artist, he said his underlying art form includes more than just the photographic images. "The real artistic motivation is more at a conceptual level," he said. "By becoming `surveillance' we in some sense defeat it-by all becoming `panoptical' we defeat panopticon."

The Council for the Arts at MIT recognized this artistic element and contributed funding for "Shooting Back" through its Grants Program. "I was pleasantly surprised at the committee's depth in the arts," Mr. Mann, said, noting in particular its ability to "see beyond the `gee whiz' aspect of the technology."

The Web address for "Shooting Back" is .

MIT students, staff and faculty are all eligible to apply to the Council's Grants program, which provides financial support for arts projects in all disciplines. Friday, Sept. 20 is the first deadline for 1996-97 proposals. Applications are evaluated on the quality and innovation of the project with a particular emphasis on the potential for participation by MIT students. Grant awards may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

The Council, a volunteer organization of MIT alumni and friends who are committed to the advocacy and support of cultural programs for the Institute community, has awarded over $1 million through its Grants Program since 1974 to more than 1,000 arts projects.

Guidelines and application forms are available in Rm E15-205. Guidelines are also available on the Web at . For more information, call x3-4005 or e-mail .

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 18, 1996.

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