Artist Uses AI Surveillance Cameras to Identify Influencers Posing for Instagram

Dries Depoorter's "The Follower" project combines AI, open access cameras, and influencers to show behind the scenes of viral shots—without them knowing.
​Screenshot via YouTube
Screenshot via YouTube

If you’ve ever had to walk through an elaborate photo shoot set up by someone trying to find the right peace sign to throw up in front of a Times Square billboard, a new project using open access cameras and Instagram influencers will seem too real. 

Dries Depoorter, the Belgium-based public speaker and artist behind the Die With Me chat app experiment, launched his latest project, The Follower, combining open access cameras and Instagram influencers.

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Depoorter recorded weeks of footage from open access cameras, which observe public spaces, and which frequently have livestreams available online for anyone to access, that were trained on famous landmarks, including the Temple Bar in Dublin, Times Square, and the big sign at the entrance of Wrigley Field. 

“The idea popped in my head when I watched an open camera and someone was taking pictures for like 30 minutes,” Depoorter told me in an email. He wondered if he’d be able to find that person on Instagram.

After collecting the recordings, Depoorter trained software to scan through the footage and find influencers with more than 100,000 followers, and match them with the photo they took in front of the landmark, according to a video launched Monday for the project’s first results.

The side-by-side comparisons between the casual-seeming photos the Instagram influencers chose to upload, and the footage of them laboring over the perfect way to hold a coffee, sling a jacket over their shoulder or kiss their date reveal how much work goes into a single photo for them—and how inauthentic the entire process really is behind the scenes. 

“If you check out all my work you can see I show the dangers of new technology,” Depoorter said. “I hope to reach a lot of people of making it really simple. I really don’t like difficult art. I like to keep it really simple. I think I’m part of a new generation of artists that work with technology.”

Capturing people in this way, unsuspecting yet fully public, feels like witnessing something intimate but also shameless. It’s also a reminder that everywhere we go in the modern world, we’re being watched, even when we think we can curate and control what the world sees of us.

Updated 9/12 2:23 p.m. EST with comment from Depoorter.