Carnegie Museum of Art Announces New Interdisciplinary Program on Photography, Surveillance, and Artificial Intelligence

Carnegie Museum of Art Announces New Interdisciplinary Program on Photography, Surveillance, and Artificial Intelligence

Taia Pandolfi
Carnegie Museum of Art

Pittsburgh, PA—In January 2020, Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) launches Mirror with a Memory: Photography, Surveillance, and Artificial Intelligence,the third iteration of the Hillman Photography Initiative (HPI) committed to exploring new ideas about photography. The initiative will present an exhibition of work by Trevor Paglen, a scholarly publication, and an interdisciplinary convening that is free and open to the public.

How are images utilized to gather data on our daily activities? With the development and advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), there has been a radical change in the way that surveillance systems capture, categorize, and synthesize photographs. Mirror with a Memory explores the many ways artists probe the intersections of photography, surveillance, and AI—their past, present, and future—to underscore concerns about implicit bias, right to privacy, and police monitoring embedded in corporate, military, and law enforcement applications.

“Photography has been used to surveil and police humans since the second half of the 19th century,” says Dan Leers, curator of photography, who is organizing the initiative. “Today, the vast majority of pictures are made by one machine for another machine to analyze in order to gather data on our movements and actions and determine our likes and dislikes. While there are many useful functions of AI, it also has more nefarious implications.” Mirror with a Memory considers how artists contribute to this ongoing discourse and add essential nuance to debates about the value of AI in our lives.

Museum staff have collaborated with a Creative Team to help shape the theme and programmatic elements of the third iteration of HPI. The team, led by Leers, includes Simone Browne, Associate Professor of African and Diaspora Studies at University of Texas at Austin; Jimena Canales, a historian of science based in Boston; David Danks, L.L. Thurstone Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh; Trevor Paglen, an interdisciplinary artist based in Berlin and New York City; and Ben Wizner, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project in New York City.

Mirror with a Memory is comprised of three programs that offer many opportunities for audiences to contemplate art’s role in questioning photography’s function within AI and surveillance technologies. On the weekend of March 21, 2020, CMOA will host a convening consisting of screenings, performances, and conversations between artists, scholars, technologists, and creative thinkers. Each session will take photography and its relationship to AI and surveillance as the point of departure for discussions of important topics including drones and aerial surveillance, bias and AI, borders and migration, and advocacy and disruption, among others.

Trevor Paglen, Agathla Peak, Hough Transform; Haar, 2018, silver gelatin LE print, 60 x 48 in. © Trevor Paglen. Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco

Opening July 25, 2020, CMOA will present an exhibition of work by Trevor Paglen that will be on view through January 10, 2021. The presentation will include a new site-specific commission as well as existing work that reveals how AI analyzes and labels photographs of people and places. These works will be placed in three areas within the museum, inviting visitors to encounter Paglen’s artistic perspective in different contexts.

“One of the things that I think artists can contribute to the conversation around AI is looking at the relationships between images and labels in terms of how training data is put together,” Paglen remarks. “Artists can question the assumptions that are built into the images that are feeding these systems, the ways in which those images are classified, and what those systems ultimately purport to represent.”

Set for release in December 2020, a new publication will take the form of an illustrated reader. It will contain new scholarship, original translations of historical texts, relevant case law, and commissioned artworks. Topics discussed in the book include the history and present state of biometric, aerial, and behavioral surveillance and how artists have used their work to expose and disrupt these systems.

Mirror with a Memory is organized by Dan Leers, curator of photography, with Taylor Fisch, project curatorial assistant.

To learn more about the program, visit the website.

About the Hillman Photography Initiative

The Hillman Photography Initiative (HPI) connects Carnegie Museum of Art with audiences to exchange new ideas about photography. By collaborating with partners in and beyond the museum, the Initiative is an incubator for new art and ideas rooted in photography and responsive to society at large.

Since its inception in 2013, HPI has produced dynamic new artworks, exhibitions, publications, online experiences, and conversations transforming our relationship to the photographic medium.


General operating support for Carnegie Museum of Art is provided by The Heinz Endowments and Allegheny Regional Asset District. Carnegie Museum of Art receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


Carnegie Museum of Art creates experiences that connect people to art, ideas, and one another. The museum is committed to global engagement and regional advancement. We champion creativity and its importance to society with experiences that welcome, inspire, challenge, and inform. Our core activities—collecting, conserving, presenting, and interpreting works of art—make those experiences possible. Our collection of over 30,000 works emphasizes art, architecture, photography, and design from the 19th century to the present. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art was founded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1895. To learn more, please call 412.622.3131 or visit