You can’t see me

Pub date June 19, 2013

SURVEILLANCE It’s all a mess: the government is suddenly (to those of us waking from our Twinkie nap) spying on us. Mulder and Scully were right, trust is for the foolish and undisturbed sleep is for the ignorant.

All the more reason to go out. Authoritarian regime is no excuse for poor style, says New York high tech fashion designer Adam Harvey. And armed with his projects, drone-defeating tactics can look damn good.

Even before Edward Snowden’s heroic leak of documents laid bare the NSA’s wide-ranging surveillance of American citizens, Harvey was busying himself merging privacy rights with fashion. Witness his LED-aided clutches that deflected the flash of cameras — the ultimate accessory for A-list independents (“Camoflash”, 2009).

But perhaps you are more of the sporty type? Harvey’s newest collection, “Stealth Wear” includes a half-hoodie that deflects thermal imaging surveillance. Heat-seeking systems won’t be able to see you, but that babe in the club sure will. His designs have an anti-colonial gaze: two “Stealth Wear” garments take the form of burqa and hijab. He’s also developed “CV Dazzle”, a series of makeup looks that foil facial recognition software and “OFF Pocket”, a sleek envelope that blocks one’s cell phone from sending or receiving signals.

We caught up with him through an insecure email account.

SFBG “CV Dazzle”‘s look seems very of-the-moment when it comes to the avant-garde fashion you see in clubs. What’s the inspiration? 

Adam Harvey The first look, with the black-and-white makeup, developed from my fascination with the Boombox scene in London. I studied party photographs as well as tribal face painting, especially from Pacific Islands. What I found was that only one of these styles worked, club fashion. Tribal body decoration does more to enhance key facial features which make a face easier to detect. The bold, ambiguous looks of the club scene were more algorithmically resistant. From there, I worked with Pia Vivas, a hair stylist to create the first look. And then collaborated with DIS Magazine to create the second and third looks.

SFBG How have the recent NSA revelations informed your work? 

AH The news struck while my collaborator and I were planning production for the “OFF Pocket.” It’s the first time I’m taking an art project and turning it into a marketable product. A lot of my work in privacy arts is speculative and provocative, but I think some concepts can be even more provocative when they’re accessible to more people. What happens when countersurveillance goes mainstream? That’s a discussion we need to have because if the government doesn’t respect privacy, then I think we should have the right to countersurveillance.

SFBG Where is “OFF Pocket” at in the production process? Have you sent one to Edward Snowden? 

AH It’s very close. I’ve gone through a lot of prototyping and testing to ensure that the product works well. Once a phone is inside and the case is properly closed, you really can’t access any part of it. If I knew where Edward Snowden was, I would send him a thankful dozen.