Neighborhood Watch is a series of India ink drawings by Jessica Rohrer featuring bird’s-eye views of a suburban neighborhood. To make these highly detailed and intimately scaled drawings, the artist referenced video and photographic drone images taken high above her New Jersey backyard. Rohrer shows us private spaces through the lens of the surrounding neighborhood and subtly manipulates our perception of her subject matter. Altering the height and angle of the views, she allows us to travel above and around these spaces, sometimes drawing us closer to observe a swimming pool or patio furniture, at other times pulling us back to emphasize the patterns of rooftops and backyard divisions.
The meticulously rendered images seem to capture every detail of the suburban setting. Familiar or mundane aspects are given equal importance, from the cars that are parked on the street to the individual leaves and roof shingles. The artist’s use of India ink requires precise planning and extraordinary control, as there is no erasing a misplaced mark. While the drawings may resemble generic black-and-white surveillance photos, they also suggest the hand-drawn images often found on historic maps.
Increasingly viewed as tools of aggression in spying and warfare, drones have become a symbol of our collective declining privacy. But they are also a popular leisure activity for both adults and children—people who could easily live in the kind of neighborhood Rohrer presents. The artist’s experimentation with drone cameras is an interesting and provocative strategy, raising questions about what is public and what is private in our growing culture of surveillance. The unspoken question is, “Who is watching us?”