Self-developed live cameras and their image archive, 2007-2023
PALM was initiated during the founding year of U5. When the members of U5 started their collaborative work a camera was installed in their basement studio. The camera surveying the studio space sent a live stream to a webpage which gave each member the opportunity to observe and respond to each other's way of working. The camera accompanied the collective from their first workspace at the Zurich University of the Arts to all their following studios. The project has developed very slowly over the years. Nevertheless, an incredible amount of data has accumulated during this time.
The number of cameras increased. In 2015 the collective went to Singapore, which required mobile cameras that accompany each member of the collective in their daily life. Later around 25 cameras were in use and distributed to various people in various countries. If a camera was not connected to the internet the camera stored the pictures recorded. They were uploaded and streamed at the next occasion when internet access was available. The streams could be accessed via the collective's webpage. PALM has been part of several exhibitions, among others at Helmhaus Zürich, Haus Konstruktiv and Kunstmuseum Bern. PALM was discontinued in 2023. Nevertheless, the 100 million PALM-image archive will be preserved.
The idea behind PALM
Increasingly, we perceive our environment through the detour of digital media. PALM automated this detour without generating clearly usable data. PALM dealt with questions of contemporary photography, everyday documentation, control and chance, surveillance and self-portrayal.
Based on a Raspberry Pi, U5 developed a small portable live camera (PALM camera). The PALM camera had neither viewfinder nor display nor controls. By plugging the camera into a battery-pack it started taking pictures. The camera took a picture independently and uncontrolled every two seconds. With a clip attached to a piece of clothing or a bag, the camera became a constant companion wherever we moved: in the train, in the office, on the mountain, at the airport or in the living room.
The images were automatically transmitted to a server via a wlan connection and were published on our platform. The platform united the streamed images of the cameras and offered possibilities for interaction. All images remained visible to the users (viewers) of the platform in real time, after which they disappeared from the public area. Pictures couldn't be paused. You missed or catched 'the moment' while everyday life unwinded in its normality.
There was the possibility for viewers to highlight individual images by adding a mood designation, a 'MOOD', to the images. The viewer selected the stream of a PALM camera and clicked on the 'MOODS' option. A preset selection of moods appeared above the camera stream. If the viewer selected a MOOD (such as 'sleepy' or 'angry'), this word appeared as a subtitle on the image that was current at the time of selection. The image including subtitle was stored in the public archive.
The PALM camera had neither viewfinder nor display nor controls. Camera and shutter release were spatially separated from each other. The narration was created in the projection between transmitter and receiver. On the PALM platform, it seemed as if one could look through viewfinders of cameras that do not belong to one, from which one cannot influence the location and the image selection. The camera owner could concentrate more on reality again, since the camera took over the job of photographing.
The viewer or photographer on the screen could discover something unexpected every second in the viewfinder. But nothing significant could happen for a long time and everyday life passed away in its banality, in the rhythm of the stakkato pictures. PALM was not a platform on which selected highlights were published and unlike surveillance cameras, you did not get clear information about the location or movement of the cameras. Another decisive difference to other portable cameras and social media platforms was that the images were uploaded to the net constantly, unprocessed and uncurated. We deliberately refused the tracking function because the context of PALM was supposed to be ambiguous.
The mass of data that PALM generated is only resistant at second glance. All of us are constantly collecting data, even if we are not online. 'The only way not to go completely into the net of total surveillance and paranoia is to deal extensively with the technologies. The more useless or unambiguously usable data we all send, the greater the blur effect and the obfuscation in the positive, i.e. protective sense.' (paraphrased after Armen Avenassian). After this pointed statement, we asked ourselves: Is it even possible to produce unusable data?
PALM processed images in the order of several hundred thousands per day. If enough cameras were in operation, a kind of fragmentary, poetic puzzle emerged. Such a data collection could also be used scientifically with suitable means. Through image processing, information from individual images could be brought into context. For example, it could be possible to reconstruct places for anthropological or forensic purposes, to create maps or trace a process. All images streamed were archived. This non-public archive contains more than 100 millions of images.