Body Worn Images: The New Aesthetics of Policing

Carolyn McKay1, Murray Lee1
Sydney Institute of Criminology. Sydney Law School. University of Sydney NSW

This paper adopts a visual criminological approach to examining the images generated by police body-worn (BWC) camera. While there is growing scholarship regarding the use of the technology in crime prevention and detection, as well as its evidential efficacy, transparency, behavioural impacts on both police and citizens, and surveillance/privacy/civil rights concerns (Gannoni, Willis, Taylor and Lee 2017; Lee and McGovern 2014), and some work on viewer perspective (yu and Bogin 2017), there is little academic engagement with what this form of technology actually produces aesthetically, other than to comment on its often poor and grainy image. Here we treat BWC as image making devices linked to techniques and technologies of power, which construct and frame police encounters.  These encounters become coded in specific ways, and we suggest that the aesthetics of the image contribute greatly to the truth-value their images acquire. We adopt a forensic aesthetic approach, informed by a visual arts context, to analyse the images made by these new vision machines (McKay 2018).


Dr Carolyn McKay is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Sydney Law School where she teaches Criminal Law and Civil & Criminal Procedure. Carolyn is Deputy Director of the Sydney Institute of Criminology and a member of the Sydney Law School Social Justice Committee. She is recognised for her empirical research into prisoners’ experiences of accessing justice from a custodial situation. Her qualitative study based on one-to-one interviews with prisoners provided evidence for her recently published research monograph, The Pixelated Prisoner: Prison video links, court ‘appearance’ and the justice matrix. She is also a visual artist and curator.



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