In most public spaces, photographing any face is free game. Say you’re caught picking your nose at an inopportune time. Too bad. You may be on tomorrow’s New York Post cover.
Pixel Currency, a project by artist-designer Sures Kumar, is a sci-fi proposal for an alternative future—one in which everyone owns his or her image at all times. (Sorry, NSA.) All those faces in the background of your photo are automatically blurred until you pay to unlock them. (Each person assigns a dollar figure to his or her image.) No cash on hand? No problem. Just include an advertising billboard in your published image to earn cash from the advertiser for embedding their image in your photo.
"Being a designer, I take the role of imagining possible future scenarios by extrapolating current concepts and technologies. My work explores both the dystopic and the utopic, leaving the audience to make their own judgement," Kumar tells Co.Design. "I believe this encourages more constructive dialogue and debate around the issue, rather than just me enforcing my opinions through my work."
In other words, Kumar wants to provoke us. His past projects certainly do just that. But Pixel Currency is especially resonant because it’s so hauntingly feasible. Facebook can already tag the faces in virtually every image you upload. Cross that technology with our own social discomfort (Who likes it when a stranger takes his or her photo?) and the free market (Who doesn’t want to make a buck?) and we all get our privacy, at the literal cost of everyone else having their privacy, too. Kumar's project also takes seriously the issue of commodification in our culture. In his alternative world, people would no longer would be free (of charge).
Pixel Currency is on display at Show RCA 2014 from June 18 to 29.