Insofar as it’s “A photobook about numbers stations, covert transmissions between intelligence agencies and their undercover operatives,” Lewis Bush‘s Shadows of the State is one of the more interesting photobooks in my collection. It’s a one-stop shop for information on all the current and former numbers stations—radio transmissions thought to be used by spies and counterintelligence agencies—around the world: a short history of the station and description of its typical broadcasts; google earth screen grabs of the likely/known broadcasting locations; links and barcodes that point to online recordings of the broadcasts; and even spectrograms Bush made from some bits of transmission from them.
Is it really a photobook, even? Given that Bush didn’t really wield the image-making device? Well… I could argue either side, really, but would probably end up convincing myself it was a photobook after all… But the amount of work, researching and cataloguing and recording and building up the website for it, is really impressive, and on a topic of which I was only dimly aware.
So. Numbers Stations. Cold War spies needed to be able to communicate across long distances, receive instructions, pass intelligence, and all that, and shortwave radio is a reasonably good method, given the general availability of shortwave radios. You can pick one up at Fry’s pretty cheap, even now (April, 2018). Many of the stations in the book went off the air at some point in the past, but many continue to broadcast even now, and there’s a whole network of amateur radio monitors out there, listening and trying to identify the origin and purpose.
Ah, the things we humans get into. All kinds of things.
I’ve found the recordings particularly interesting… kinda makes me want to pick up a shortwave radio and see what’s what… kinda.
There’s a recording of “The Gong,” perhaps an East German station, or the possibly Polish “The Swedish Rhapsody,” or South Korean “V24,” or American “Cynthia,” or hundreds of others, all operating outside of publicly sanctioned radio, much like pirate radio stations, but without any interference from state licensing agencies (like the FCC). For Bush, these form Shadows of the State, hints of all the things governments do behind the scenes, and
Despite knowing that the umbra of these dark forms will almost always remain out of view, we must still strain for glimpses of what occurs within. To refuse to look, and to allow these activities to go largely unscrutinized is to drift further into a dark inversion of the democratic ideal: a nightmare realm where state secrecy becomes the end rather than the means, where democracy contorts into authoritarianism, and where the shadow state at democracy’s back breaks free.
Overall, I’d give this interesting book 4.5 stars.
Bush is great about putting his projects up online, and Shadows of the State is no different. You can read about the project and view some images, peruse the book, or order up a copy. I received this copy—along with copies of A Treatise on the Camera Obscured, A Model Continent, City of Dust, and Metropole—as a reward for Kickstartering the book, and due to an error with shipping, Bush sent along a flexidisc of “Woodford,” an original composition by Graham Massey, which you can hear at the end of the video above.
I hope you enjoyed this impromptu Lewis Bush appreciation week. I doubt I’ll do anything like this again, because I doubt I’ll open another box with 5 books from the same photographer again… but who knows. It could happen!
Bush’s excellent Disphotic site is largely abandoned, now, but he’s working on some new stuff, and I look forward to seeing what forms his critique of advanced capitalist economies and governments takes in the future!