Photography Award: PDD Reimagining Democracy competition

In October, I entered myself into the Political Studies Association PDD’s ‘Reimagining Democracy‘ ECR Picture contest. The other day I found out that I had absolute honour to have won! You can find all about it here: https://deliberativehub.wordpress.com/2020/12/11/pdd-picture-contest-winners/

The competition was to submit an image representing a vision of democracy, whether global, national, local, in the community, or in the family. The image had to be accompanied by a short commentary of up to 200 words explaining how the image represents democracy and contributes to its reimagination.

These prizes were be awarded according to the following assessment criteria:

  • Originality*
  • Creativity and innovative thinking
  • Overall artistic impression
  • Adherence/Appropriateness to theme
  • Well written and insightful commentary

My submission

‘Now you see me, now you don’t’: Reimagining Control in The Digital Age

This photo represents the stark change in our response to a simple question that has plagued political philosophers for thousands of years: what does it mean to be controlled? This November, 31-years exactly since the fall of the Berlin wall, when we thought the Cold-War was won, and no longer would there by any barriers to participation, democrats now posit if we’ve torn down one wall, but sleep-walked into another more obscure.

In 31-years of relentless technological change, we’ve gone from initial cyber-optimism, with hopes that platforms would deliver unbridled waves of new forms of participation, democracy, and representation, to despair. With misinformation and Cambridge Analytica, state surveillance creep and new forms of net-facilitated authoritarianism, alongside questions over data ownership all coming to the fore. The power dynamics have shifted. Not with who has guns, but with who has your data. Political parties now win or lose elections with it. States can more easily track you, not just with CCTV, but from what you willingly give on social media.

In this time, we’ve discovered the threat to democracy still comes from barriers. But barriers less transparent than a wall, more scalable than concrete, yet can be found in everyone’s pocket.

Photograph details:
Date: 12/04/2019
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Nikon D5600, Nikon AF-P DX 18-55mm (at 26mm), f/10, 1/320 sec, ISO 400
© Liam McLoughlin, 2019.

Jury statement

The jury was fascinated by Liam McLoughlin’s image entitled “Now you see me, now you don’t — Reimagining Control in the Digital Age” because of its ability to illustrate the simultaneity and the interactions between ‘old’ and ‘new’ mechanisms of control. The image shows a fragment of the Berlin Wall — once the unambiguous symbol for barriers and political/ideological divides – next to a CCTV camera. The jury found this image particularly important as it highlights the changed and ever-changing boundary conditions for democratic political action. It shows that a reimagination of democracy requires vigilance particularly towards mechanisms of (state) control that are less apparent than large walls — and dangerous precisely because of their invisibility.”

The Prize

While the award was more than enough in my own opinion, I’ll also have my photograph published on the PDD website, made part of the first online democracy art gallery, and be featured on the PSA News website! To be sure to check out both of them, and sign up to be a member of the PSA if you’re not already. I’ve also gotten myself £150 in book vouchers, and I have I’ve certainly had my eye on a few titles I can now get my hands on!

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