These pictures present the Presidio Modelo (model prison) on Isla de la Juventud, Cuba, as I saw it in March 2019.
Jeremy Bentham, a 19th-century English philosopher and social theorist, who coined the term “panopticon”, described it as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example”. Michel Foucault, who developed the social theory of panopticonism, said, “The Panopticon is a marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces homogeneous effects of power.”
I became interested in the Presidio Modelo because I see it as a metaphor for how I live in an era of ever-expanding data-gathering surveillance technology. I have begun to explore this concern by documenting this analogue – this 19th-century surveillance technology – as I consider the worldwide deployment of over 250 million CCTV surveillance cameras that are always watching us.
A panopticon is usually associated with the architecture of a circular prison with cells arranged around the perimeter and an “inspection tower” in the center. From this tower, a single guard can observe all the inmates, but of course not at the same time. But, since inmates don’t know when they are watched, they are motivated to behave as if they are being observed, at all times. It is hence a tool to control behavior.
A more detailed discussion of this building complex and the theory of panopticonism can be found on my website.