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Panopticam still

‘Watching Jeremy, Watching Me, Watching Jeremy’: Rodrigo Firmino interacts with PanoptiCam, from the Archive of Daily Timelapses.

At the end of the South Cloisters of the main building of UCL stands a wooden cabinet, which has been a source of curiosity and perplexity to visitors. The cabinet contains the preserved skeleton of the philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham, (1748-1832), which dressed in his own clothes, and surmounted by a wax head, looks out onto the cloisters of UCL at passing students, academics, and visitors. One of Bentham’s most enduring ideas is the Panopticon prison, from the Greek παν- (‘all’) and -οπτικος (‘seeing’): a prison designed so that a prison guard could look into all cells at any time, and ensure that prisoners modified their behavior for the better. But what does Jeremy see, day in, day out, from his position of his box? And how will monitoring visitors to his cabinet change their behavior?

UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, UCL Public and Cultural Engagement, and UCL’s Bentham Project are pleased to present the PanoptiCam: an online camera that streams what Bentham sees while sitting in his cabinet at UCL. Seeing Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon can evoke a wide array of emotions from surprise and shock to mirth. PanoptiCam captures people’s reaction using a webcam mounted above the auto-icon, with the camera feed posted to our website in real time, and time lapse photography generating days in the life of Jeremy Bentham’s current, yet eternal, viewpoint.

Raising issues of the surveillance state, online observation, digital scrutiny, and the routine recording of public spaces, the PanoptiCam is a tongue in cheek comment on Bentham’s ideas of his Panopticon “inspection house”. However, this also has a genuine research element, and will be used to test algorithms to count visitor numbers to museum exhibit cases using low cost webcam solutions. Please read more about the team behind PanoptiCam.