The Abstract Art of Police Surveillance

Thursday December 05, 2019 Written by James

Take a look at the photos opposite. What do they look like? Alien planets? Infectious diseases? They’re actually spyholes from political prisons and interrogation rooms, once used by feared organisations like the KGB, the Gestapo and the Stasi. Each one is like a tiny picture window into a world of shadowy political oppression.

The series is the work of a young Ukrainian photographer, Valentyn Odnoviun. Valentyn travelled around former Soviet Bloc countries like Ukraine, Latvia and East Germany, visiting old prisons and interrogation cells and taking pictures through so-called ‘spy holes’ in the cell doors.

Valentyn says these pictures are both documentary and subjective at the same time. “They embody real traces of events, objects and memories, but they also serve as platforms for imagining these events, objects and memories in a more interpretative form,” he says over on LensCulture. “With an ‘abstract’ photograph the viewer plays a bigger role in the reaction to, and thus the creation, of the image.”

Translation: by deciphering the picture, by peering through the spy hole, you become part of its meaning, and (in a very convoluted, theoretical sort of way) complicit in the original interrogation.

If that sounds too highfalutin, you can just call them abstract art.