Articles

New Project to Help Citizens Document Themselves on Satellites

by An Xiao on March 13, 2012

As satellites pass over Los Angeles, they photograph our environment. Be My Satellite's "missions" help us document ourselves in the process too. Image via bemysatellite.net.

As satellites pass over Los Angeles, they photograph our environment. Be My Satellite's "missions" help us document ourselves in the process too. Image via bemysatellite.net.

LOS ANGELES — They fly over us everyday, photographing and documenting us with startling regularity. We’ve seen  our homes and some of us have spotted our cars, but only rarely are we able to get enough detail that we can see ourselves.

Tomatoes designed by Bora Shin are the size of pixels photographed by satellites as they pass overhead. Image courtesy the artist.

Tomatoes designed by Bora Shin are the size of pixels photographed by satellites as they pass overhead. Image courtesy the artist.

Bemysatellite.net, a new initiative from Los Angeles artist and designer Bora Shin, aims to tap into these satellites and create a living document of the people it photographs so regularly, starting with LA’s 10 million residents. The project works with sun-synchronous satellites, which pass over the same point on Earth at the same time of day.

The website explains the project’s mission very clearly:

BeMySatellite is an initiative that aims to allowevery individual on Planet Earth to be uniquely documented by satellites.

The ultimate goal of this project is for everybody to appear at least once in a publicly accessible satellite image (such as on Google, Yahoo and Bing).

At appointed times and locations, Shin and participants unveil custom designed squares that are the size of a pixel in the satellites’ views. Her “missions” read something like this:

  • Fill in 1 pixel (26” x 26”) for both, Quickbird and Worldview-1 with anything in red.
  • Fill in 1 pixel (26” x 26”) for both, Quickbird and Worldview-1 with anything in red.
  • Fill in 1 pixel (26” x 26”) for both, Quickbird and Worldview-1 with anything in red.

“The project uses open-source satellite tracking data from sites like Heavens-Above,” Shin explained to me over email. “Each passing satellite time is integrated into the daily missions in order to emphasize the aspect of time.”

After extensively studying mapping systems like Google Earth and OpenStreetMap, as well as satellite technology, Shin found an engaging way to help people learn how they work.

An eyeball for documentation. Image courtesy the artist.

An eyeball for documentation. Image courtesy the artist.

“I want to create a project that will allow people from all ages to partake in,” she told me over email. “Despite the fact that satellite technology has such a long history, the way that we perceive and interact with these images on a daily basis is unfortunately paranoid or indifferent.”

Indeed, the project adds a bit of whimsy to this ubiquitous project, but also a sense of control over the perpetual photography and documentation of our living environment. Even just knowing when a satellite passes over — as she charts out for Los Angeles residents — is a step.

“I think that building our knowledge in order to understand the satelliteʼs system, and interacting with it, will allow the chance for people to create their own meaning behind it, therefore allowing more room for it to be redefined,” Shin says.

You can follow and join Be My Satellite’s missions on Twitter and on their website.

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