By @SimonCocking

An encounter with Hasan Elahi, featured speaker at the Science Gallery Life Logging exhibition, running till April 17th. For more details of other events taking place see here.


Hasan Elahi @hasanmelahi is a US citizen. He moved then when he was 7, with his family from Bangladesh. Since then he has led a life epitomising the classic emigrants tale. He is now an internationally renowned artist, invited to speak all over the world, at events including TedX and the Tate Modern. However despite this growing international reputation, in 2002, on returning to the US he was detained by the FBI as a potential terrorist threat.


From here life got complicated. Things began badly by having an FBI operative screaming at him in Arabic, a language he did not speak. Hasan quietly said that if he would just speak to him in English he would do whatever he could to assist them, and convince them that he was not a terrorist threat to the United States. Eventually a second FBI operative waved him through to another interrogation room, having concluded that the screaming in Arabic method was not yielding the desired results.


At the Science Gallery Hasan Elahi spoke passionately and entertainingly about his experience. While clearly displaying a clear wish to not ever experience it again. For the next 13 years he has enthusiastically and frequently shared the daily details of his life. Initially just to his FBI handler, and then, via his website to the wider world.

Elahi commented on several key trends. We are externalising our memory more and more. We remember far fewer phone numbers these days, as there is no need to. Storage has become so cheap we no longer even need to delete or even really manage our inboxes. We know it’s in there, names, phone numbers, passwords even. He felt that this raises questions about privacy with so much of our lives now in the public domain we need a new definition of privacy. It’s highly unlikely we will go back to what we had before.

He said that despite there being no description on any of the images, they all still trigger memories.


Hiding in plain sight

Over the course of the 12 year plus project, Hasan said he has tried to regain privacy by being open. By over sharing, he is ‘giving information but not interpretation’. Therefore hiding in plain view from the authorities and the rest of the world. His pictures have no people in them, at least not as focus of the image, incidental. The images are a series of images of food eaten, toilets, beds slept in, airports, buildings, and anywhere else that marked a transition in his location.


We took Hasan to the ‘Dead Zoo’ to make sure some suitably photogenic Dublin images made it into the collection

Hasan asked the audience to look at their iphone privacy settings, “settings, privacy, location searches, system searches, frequency searches”. To show, that unless you uncheck this option, you are constantly broadcasting a location update update to whoever chooses to look / hack into your phone’s data.

It was a good talk, a full house too. The audience seemed captivated, engaged, keenly listening, with good questions at the end. Including the classically Kafkaesque,

“How do we know that any of this really actually happened to you!?”

Hasan’s reply,

“I wish that it hadn’t, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else either”

Watch his TedX talk here

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