Category Archives: Afghanistan

Big Eye Kabul. Surveillance blimps over Afghanistan

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Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

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Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

Every single day and every single night, rain or shine, the movements of people living in Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan, are watched over by huge surveillance balloons. The U.S. army calls them aerostat or Persistent Threat Detection System. From the ground you can almost forget they exist. Equipped with computers as well as infrared and color video cameras, the dirigibles are part of a network of drones and CCTV cameras that allow the U.S. to keep a close watch on the populations and even zoom in on specific locations to detect an suspicious individual or behaviour.

But officials value them for more than just surveillance. A 2012 Army “After Action Reportrecommends to fly the balloons “as much as possible, even if the camera systems/feed is broken. Work IO [Information Operation] messages that re-enforce the perception that [they] can see everything.”


In Kirsten Johnson’s The Above a U.S. military surveillance balloon floats on a tether above Kabul, Afghanistan

Antonio Ottomanelli: Kabul + Baghdad, an exhibition that opened last month in Turin’s new photography space Camera, shows a selection of blimp ‘portraits’ that photo reporter Ottomanelli took in Afghanistan.

Curator and researcher Joseph Grima writes: “In Kandahar City alone there are eight, and at least as many in the rest of the province; they say the insurgents call them frogs because their large eyes never stop staring. In Herat, they call them shameless because they peer indiscriminately at everything and everyone, men and women alike. In Helmand Province they’re often nicknamed Milk Fish: they languidly swim the skies propelled by small fins, and their milk skin stands out brightly against the blue of the sky. In Herat, during the torrid nights of the summer, couples no longer have sex on the rooftops under the stars.”

Check out the show if you’re in Turin in the coming weeks. The main exhibition at Camera at the moment is Bruden of Proof (which i previously saw in London and reviewed over here) but you’ll find the Kabul Big Eye photos in what the exhibition blurb calls ‘the Center’s monumental hallway’ which is basically the main corridor.

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Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

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Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

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Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

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Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

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Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

Joseph Grima and Antonio Ottomanelli will be giving a talk on 10 March, 2016 at Camera: Kabul+Baghdad. Fotografare l’attualità: politica, progetto, rappresentazione.

Antonio Ottomanelli: Kabul + Baghdad is at Camera in Turin until 13 March 2016.