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visible darkness

February 22, 2012

“broadcast yourself” was youtube’s offering to the world. There was suddenly no need for a television mediator, but rather, anyone, from anywhere in the world with an internet connection and a simple video camera could potentially be viewed by anyone in any corner of the world with an internet connection. You can become a cooking channel, a porn star, an idler, a hunter, a documentarist, a voyeur, a detective, a bird watcher, a cat watcher, a TV impersonator, an artist, anything on youtube. But whatever it is that you put on youtube, it is a video file i.e. image cast in time. Curiously it is not only videos that ended up on youtube: youtube also became a listening station and a photo album. Photographs had to stretch out into time and sounds had to visualize, they had to become a video file. JPEG’s into MOV, GIF’s into MPEG’s, MP3’s and WAVE files had to be converted into movie files to be viewed on youtube. On youtube the traditional boundaries between disciplines are transcended all in favor of video, of a particular group of file extensions. In cinema photographs were shown as photographs, music was heard as music, on youtube all become a video file. But other than the appropriation of video format by sound and image, on youtube darkness makes itself visible.

An example of this is the videos of night protests in the aftermath of the Iranian presidential elections of 2009. Every night at 10pm protestors went to their rooftops and shouted Allahu Akbar. The darkness of the night camouflaged the protestors so that they would not be spotted by the security forces. It was the eerie sound of the rooftop chorus in the absence of image that was particular to these nightcaps. But the documents of these actions were not sound clips, but rather they were videos up loaded on youtube. It was the image of the absence of image that documented these actions. What we see in these videos is the sound of darkness. Most of these videos are identical, a few lit windows, headlights, the general image of a city in the dark, but not much more. They are devoid of all detail. They do not represent the picture of the city at night, as most of them do not have a dramatic view from top of a tower. It is in these videos that darkness performs for the camera. Here the image maker is not documenting the event that cannot be seen, but rather s/he is documenting his/her presence in the event. The videos aim to document an experience, not an image. In a letter dating to 599, Gregory the Great wrote of a similar concern: we do not harm in wishing to show the invisible by means of visible.

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