"WATCHING THE WORLD, The Encyclopedia Of the Now" is an art, a photography, an exhibition, an AI, a Big Data, an online project and uses only Open Data sources for this purpose. It photographs around the clock and around the globe the world in live mode by means of publicly accessible network cameras, presents the images simultaneously on the website in different modes and, with the help of AI, develops a new way of seeing, a new kind of photography.
"WATCHING THE WORLD" can be viewed as a standalone and giant online camera. Using features, the simultaneous views of the world can be curated by the viewers and used in their own way. New features are continuously being developed and integrated into the camera resp. the website.
The network cameras look at public as well as at private spheres. The fact that different cultures value privacy differently is just one of the insights we may gain. What is seen in the pictures, determines the world and at the same time is in the eye of the beholder. This can be provocative.

The world is being photographed now, this very moment.

Network cameras (webcams, surveillance and IP cameras) are constantly photographing what is happening and feeding the images live into the web. The web is a camera, an incredibly huge camera. The world puts itself in the picture; perhaps entirely in the sense of the established practices of self-observation for purposes of self-optimisation. However, net cameras are not only the eyes of the web; they work as extensions of our bodies. Because by means of the cameras, we look through the web, back at the real world, at ourselves.

This enormous image machine photographs live and simultaneously around the globe. Publicly accessible, these images show up somewhere on the net, photographed automatically, without the scrutinizing eye of an author. If we understand the web as a single personal camera system, the network cameras work as lenses. The screen becomes the viewfinder and the mouse the shutter release.

But if we let technology work by itself, an algorithm pushes the button. But does an algorithm take the place of the photographer, the author? Does it claim image rights? Is it responsible for the content? Or is it the operators, or perhaps even the technicians who installed the cameras and thus selected the image section? A new mode of authorship is emerging.

In the now, the world is photographically available. The theorem of the decisive moment, which is constitutive of classical photographic history and is always bound to a place, is taken ad absurdum here: If this huge camera constantly photographs everything, this one decisive moment no longer exists. Rather, this moment extends spatially around the entire globe, it takes place simultaneously.

If we photograph thousands of these moments simultaneously and make them immediately visible online, we create an encyclopaedia of the now. Or in other words: we see everything thus assuming an almost God-like position. (And by the way: The Gods have been the greatest data collectors so far. They use their data under the pretence of altruism primarily for purposes of advertising themselves).

This project is also about manifesting this spatially extended global moment. For this purpose, technology is required; because as humans, we are trapped in space and time.

Kurt Caviezel and the ZHAW, Zurich University of Applied Science, have developed a black box that makes this possible.

Thousands of netcams are recorded in our system, new ones are added every day. The algorithms download approximately half a million images from the web per day. The images are analyzed by an AI (Artificial Intelligence) and archived in our memories for 48 hours before they will be overwritten by the following ones.

The main page shows randomly selected nine live images at a time.
They are refreshed every nine seconds.

>Click a pic.

The archive of this cam is displayed here. The photographs taken in the last few hours are stitched together and displayed as a block of images.
>Click a pic.
++Right Click a pic.

The image is enlarged and displayed individually.
Now 9 images classified by the AI as "similar" - in relation to the image selected earlier - are displayed. If you click again, the corresponding cam archive (>PAST HOURS) will be called again.

With these buttons the images can be assigned to the appropriate categories. The AI analyzes and selects (including interesting errors). If you click again, the corresponding cam archive (>PAST HOURS) will be called again.

The game can be restarted by clicking on the "LIVE" button.

Best experience on a big screen!

A few thoughts on some categories.

The cam archives are displayed in the browser and depending on the device as a block, with no space between the individual pictures. These clusters of individual images develop their own dynamics, strange patterns, image clouds, colour orgies, ornaments, etc. arise. Before our eyes, the individual images begin to merge, they change their structure, alter their semantics, develop a life of their own a matrix of the present. Each time they are called up, the clusters reveal themselves in a different form, the newly added live images blend in and change the appearance of the whole.

The live images are, technically speaking, data. And data as we learn not only from computer science refer to data. At the same time, we know not only from philosophy that nothing is in technology that was not previously in magic. The data themselves do not contain any information. Information only arises through the intentions of viewers. From the same data set/heap of images a street scene, for example information can be gained about traffic volume, weather, forensic purposes, the clothing style of passers-by, the effect of cameras in public spaces, and so on.

Similar Pictures:
Here is vividly how AI works. Looking for similarities can be tricky. At what level do we want to start, what should be compared and according to what criteria? If we focus on one point, we neglect others and vice versa. If we try to formalize the process, all questions have to be answered. Our way is to let AI work for itself. We formulate a few criteria and then let the machines continue to learn themselves. Learning by doing.
Similarities are radically sought and found; levels, forms and criteria are reformulated in a provocative way and constantly redeveloped by means of internal training routines. The AI works out references and systems that amaze and ask the viewer questions about his or her own practices of seeing.

Dead Cams:
If a network camera does not send any new images, then the last image transmitted is saved by us and displayed in this rubric - provided with the corresponding date.

Of course, we can only speculate about the "causes of death" of these cams. Some cameras are only active in summer, others only in winter. Others are defective, have been struck by lightning, are stolen, are forgotten, etc.

In some cases, the operator switches to a placeholder image, meaning an image with a text message. It might say "NO DATA", "NO IMAGE" or "IMAGE OUT OF ORDER" and is supposed to rudimentarily explain why there is nothing to see at the moment. If one prints such a text image and hangs it on the wall of a museum, these messages suddenly turn into statements about the nature of images themselves. If you stand in front of a picture on which you can read "no picture", you immediately start asking yourself a lot of questions.

Other dead-cam images also make you ask yourself certain questions, perhaps of an investigative nature. One tries to fathom in the pictures why the transmission was stopped and thus surrenders to our constitutive compulsion to find an explanation for everything, to have to attach a meaning to everything.

Black Spots:
Constitutive for this series are the small black spots that appear on certain cameras when looking directly into the sun.

Technically speaking, this is how it works: When some CMOS image sensors have too much light coming in, it can cause an increase in the reference level (called "blooming" on CCDs). This in turn causes the subtraction of signal and reference to produce negative values that appear as "black spots" in the bright areas.

Perhaps one thinks of these black spots in terms of the theorem of the "punctum", which is important in the history of photography and which was developed by the philosopher Roland Barthes in his essay "Camera Lucida" in Paris in 1980. The "punctum" is described there as the element that "shoots out of the pictorial context like an arrow to pierce the viewer." So it is less a question here of a message of a picture in general, but more essentially of the sensual effect on the viewer, the hardly or not sayable, also the unconscious.

And indeed, these "Black Spots" jump at the viewer "to pierce us". Almost paradigmatically, the theorem is demonstrated in these pictures - and at the same time extended by a new axis. For the "Black Spots" also pierce the pictures themselves, burn through them and at the same time shoot in the other direction, through the picture. Black hole, breach, way out, leak, opening, cave, space could be associated. Thus they point to the other and to the completely different. Whether threatening or well-meaning, that is for the viewer to decide.

A small technical inadequacy thus pierces all levels of perception here and leads us directly to the big and ultimate questions.


The work of AMERICAN SELFIES is, in the proper sense, a big report about the USA - photographed by means of publicly accessible surveillance cameras via the internet, taken at my place of work in Zurich. Billboards line the path along the American highways. Advertising is displayed as well as local, regional and national information. The cameras I access for this work have the purpose of monitoring the functionality of the billboards. For this they were fixed on long iron poles, which are mounted to the billboards, in order to allow a view from the distance of a few meters. In the pictures you can see the billboards but also the sceneries, landscapes, cities surrounding them.

A current image of the USA, perhaps reminiscent of a road movie in the sequence of pictures. The cameras, mounted on the tips of the iron poles, are looking at the USA from an elevated position. The iron poles are included in the picture and reminiscent of our selfie-sticks. The title AMERICAN SELFIES is almost obligatory in this habitus or arrangement. The country depicts itself in this way, producing selfies automatically and continuously.

If you want to understand a country, you have to look at its advertising. It reflects the demands and offers, current longings and needs, the psychology, the constituent common archetypes. Relationships between state and citizens, social structures, self-understandings and taboos as well as communication practices are manifested. In short: The current state of the USA can be seen in this report.

Add your cam:
If you would like to participate, please send us the link to your netcam.

Kurt Caviezel, info@kurtcaviezel.ch
ZHAW, Zurich University of Applied Sciences
Project-team: Fitim Abdullahu, Helmut Grabner