Magnum x Edgelands Geneva

The final destinations of the volunteers’ data, from Geneva to a data center located somewhere else in the word.

Magnum x Edgelands Geneva is the second chapter of a collaborative initiative between Magnum Photos and the Edgelands Institute. In this project, photographer Thomas Dworzak focuses on the digital imprint left by residents of Geneva and explores the impact of digitalization on our sense of security. The project is inspired by  Edgelands’ Diagnostic report on Geneva, which provides insights into the digital landscape of the city.

Dworzak's photographic journey revolves around the concept of "digital watchers" – surveillance cameras and web cookies – and the physical locations where our digital lives are stored. The photographer seeks to shed light on the lack of transparency surrounding data management, leading to a challenging investigation.

Accompanied by seven volunteers, Dworzak documents their daily lives in Geneva, capturing their interactions with various digital technologies that leave behind digital footprints. This includes being filmed by security cameras in public streets, engaging in video calls, sharing content on social media platforms, and using smartphone apps. Each instance involves the collection of personal data by organizations, which then store this data in data centers situated worldwide.

The project's second phase involves the Edgelands team assisting Dworzak in identifying the locations and addresses of selected data centers. Obtaining this information proves difficult due to the non-public nature of data center locations and uncooperative responses from the companies involved. Consequently, the accuracy of the data center locations presented is often an educated guess rather than definitive information.

To capture the essence of each data center, Dworzak utilizes Google Maps and Street View. He captures images of the data centers and their surroundings, sometimes delving into historical searches to document the transformation of the location over time. Additionally, he explores other social media platforms such as Instagram to find geo-referenced content associated with these physical locations, uncovering other social activities occurring in proximity to the data centers.

For instance, Dworzak discovers that some data centers share buildings with gyms or finds evidence of individuals who previously worked at the data centers engaging in new activities such as sailing. By piecing together these visual fragments, he creates a comprehensive narrative surrounding each data center's physical and social context.

Footprints with Hushita: checking dating app with a friend, walking downtown, photographing sites and uploading pictures on cloud. | Data Centers: Bumble Inc.

Footprints with Paul: Paul at the Pacquis neighbourhood, first area to be put under surveillance in 2014; UN library, at home, connected to Amazon; Cold War bunker. | Data Centers: Google Inc., Twitter International Unlimited Co. and Canton of Geneva

Footprints with Nicolas: at the Proton office, digital food supply fridge, Proton server. | Data Centers: Linkedin Ireland

Footprints with Danielle: radio, drawings, cutting drawings on the floor, telling her life's story, only using computer with all the lights turned off, printing out e-mails. | Data Centers: Google Inc.

Footprints with Davide: lectures about the history of Geneva, at the Graduate Institute IHEID, commuting from Nior, videoconferencing. | Data Centers: Cisco Inc.

Footprints with Antoine: checking e-mail, public transport, bus stop near house, recording skateboarding for Instagram reels. | Data Centers: Google Inc. and Meta Inc.

Footprints with Renata: digital sports watch, walking around town, taking public transportation. | Data Centers: Apple Inc. Ireland

As a conclusion to the project, Dworzak sends each research participant a series of postcards featuring captures of different aspects of the data centers. These postcards are sent from the respective countries where the data centers are located, emphasizing the physical distance that separates individuals from their digital data.

Postcards sent to the volunteers involved in the project.

The initial results of the Magnum x Edgelands Geneva project were showcased on February 5th at the event titled  Watching Me, Watching You: When Magnum Photos Photographers Observe What Is Observing Us held at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum.

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