Earlier this week I uploaded this short clip of a train pulling in to Farringdon Station, as filmed by the eight platform cameras and piped to the array of monitors near the top of the platform.
I often wander up to stand by this bank of screens. I love the moment when the train pulls in, appearing on just one, then two, then three of the screens. Since trains must inevitably travel in only one direction, one dimension through space along the line, the eight camera points represent not only differences in space but in time. If our stand at the far end of the platform, you can look at the monitors and see the face of the driver as his train enters the station, the same site you will see for real a few moments later.
The innocence of the other passengers on screen is also compelling. They only half remember they are under surveillance.
The advanced equipment on display here is also interesting, as it seems superfluous compared to older technologies. Only recently have the more modern stations received these colour LCD monitors. Other stations still have only black and white, and some of the less salubrious stations in the suburbs still have what appear to be big CRT monitors. Moorgate has a big mirror. At peak times, most stopping points still have one or more station guards, with whistles and a white paddle to signal to the driver that all is well.
There is something Warholian (or do we say Warholesque?) or something of Marshal McLuhan in these screen arrays. Whenever I see them I am reminded of a panopticon and remember that living in a city means that your form always exists in duplicate. Reflections in shop windows and train doors; in the CCTV on train stations and in department stores; in the background of other people’s photographs. To find a reflection of yourself in rural areas you need to find a still lake, or a puddle.
To finish, let us not forget that exchange in ‘No-one Sees The Video’ by Martin Crimp, which I have quoted before:
Sally: I really like – when you’re on the tube – I really like going down the end of the platform where you can see yourself in the camera.
Liz: OK. Good. Perhaps we could / get back to…
Sally: Y’know, because there’s a camera down there for the driver and you can see yourself in it on the screen only its yellow. That’s a real laugh. And by the way if this is a survey what I want to know is why whenever you put any money in a chocolate machine you don’t get any chocolate out – will you ask them that?