Boundary Landscapes – Mountains With Eyes

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

One of my major reasons for attempting the Boundary Landscape/Surveillance project is my interest in the simultaneous sense of isolation and observation that one feels while in the landscape of a boundary area like that found in Arizona.  I wanted to transport the landscape back to the time of Timothy O’Sullivan’s western survey images, dragging along 21st Century surveillance with it.

The terrain can be common, lacking the dramatic geological features often found in the desert southwest, but it is in this terrain with its low vegetation and visually elusive  sense of scale that observation happens at great distances.  In the image above a sophisticated mobile sensor system sits perched high on a ridge, silhouetted against the eastern sky.  Looking from the south, the direction of the international boundary, the equipment it a bit more shielded visually by higher terrain to the north.  It is hard to see in the plate, just has it is hard to detect upon casual observation at the site.  This is what I was looking for, a “where is Waldo” type of thing….mountains with eyes.

Here is an extreme close-up of the surveillance system which is made up of two trucks, one with a telescoping tower to raise the visual and radar systems above the terrain.  It cant be determined by the detail in this image, but the giant FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) and visible light cameras were pointed in my direction as I worked to make this image. With the ability to detect moving targets at a very great range, it was obvious that the smallest details of my face could, and probably were being recorded by this system. Often I would find myself in remote areas and feel that I was truly alone to only catch a glint of light reflected off of something on the high ground.  Upon closer inspection with my binoculars  one of these systems would appear.  Over time I would feel that I was becoming paranoid, always wondering from what direction and by what means I was being observed.

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

Some of the eyes in the desert don’t try to hide, they want to be seen, a visual deterrent to funnel foot traffic into virtual corrals of detention, or the vastness of more remote desert less friendly to human survival.  These yellowish towers rise powerfully above the landscape, sometimes strangely close to private homes, like this one, with no regard to anyone who may wander into the 360 degree views.  The images from these towers are fed via the microwave link to a central control room, sometimes many miles away where agents dispatch responses to detected activity.  This operation is much like that used with UAVs.

Here is a close-up of the tower which has just turned one of its cameras off of me and is slowly swinging back to the south.  I often waved at these cameras when they were turned on me, informing the agent at the distant end that I knew they were watching me watch them.  When beginning work in a new area it would not take long for a ground patrol to investigate my activities, but after a day the control room workers were familiar with my vehicle and red tent and the questioning would greatly decrease.  This image was made just east of Naco Arizona where many of these towers can be found within the town limits surrounded by homes and the town golf course.

©2012 Phillip D. Nesmith

In more remote areas surveillance is conduced by a combination of electronic sensors to detects seismic vibrations caused my walking and vehicle movement,  UAV, helicopter, and ground patrols.  The image above was made overlooking a stretch of international boundary seen at the left.  In the upper right two Border Patrol trucks are on their way to check me out after having been spotted via optical sensors a few miles away.

Here is a close-up of the trucks, blurred by the lack of mechanical shutter in my vintage plate camera.   If they had been moving faster, their likeness would never have registered on the plate.  It is fitting really, for something to be both present and not simultaneously when exploring the space between two “others”.

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~ by Phil Nesmith on October 20, 2012.

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