Vintage Cameras Focus on the Surveillance of Modern Life in Jeff Bartels’s Uncanny Paintings

“Surveillance Speed Graphic” (2021), oil on linen, 30 x 30 inches. All images © Jeff Bartels, shared with permission

“I’m not sure it’s possible to walk down a city street these days and not be caught on a camera somewhere, either by choice or not even knowing about it.” This idea grounds Surveillance, a series of uncanny paintings in oil by Canadian artist Jeff Bartels. Situated in urban settings with a distinctly retro flair, the works nestle vintage cameras among architecture and infrastructural elements. Oversized lenses, knobs, and levers echo the shapes of windows and doorways with branding imitating signs for shops and restaurants.

Sandwiching the devices between cafes and storefronts or subway stairs, Bartels explores the ubiquity of cameras and how they’re embedded into modern life. “If you look at the people in the paintings, none of them are doing anything particularly noteworthy or interesting. They are all just living their lives in front of a camera, some by choice, some oblivious to that fact,” he shares, noting that the surreal scenes aren’t intended to be altogether sinister. Privacy concerns aside, the paintings also speak to the increased prevalence of photographs and the ability to document and share even the most mundane moments on social media.

In addition to the cameras that feature heavily in Surveillance, the Toronto-based artist has placed other technologies like cassette tapes and stereos among his street-side scenes. See some of those works below, and find more on Instagram.

 

Vintage Cameras Focus on the Surveillance of Modern Life in Jeff Bartels’s Uncanny Paintings

“Surveillance Target Six-16” (2021), oil on linen, 22 x 14 inches

Vintage Cameras Focus on the Surveillance of Modern Life in Jeff Bartels’s Uncanny Paintings

“Surveillance Yashica” (2021), oil on linen, 24 x 20 inches

Vintage Cameras Focus on the Surveillance of Modern Life in Jeff Bartels’s Uncanny Paintings

“Surveillance Rolleiflex” (2021), oil on linen, 24 x 30 inches

Vintage Cameras Focus on the Surveillance of Modern Life in Jeff Bartels’s Uncanny Paintings

“Surveillance Electric Eye” (2021), oil on linen, 30 x 20 inches

Vintage Cameras Focus on the Surveillance of Modern Life in Jeff Bartels’s Uncanny Paintings

“Surveillance C16” (2022), oil on linen, 24 x 20 inches

Vintage Cameras Focus on the Surveillance of Modern Life in Jeff Bartels’s Uncanny Paintings

In reference to the song “Grace, Too” by The Tragically Hip

Vintage Cameras Focus on the Surveillance of Modern Life in Jeff Bartels’s Uncanny Paintings

“Post and Truth” (2021), oil on linen, 30 x 40 inches

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