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Red foliage

January 19, 2015

Courtesy of Amnesty International, a pair of images has been published in various news platforms depicting the recent Boko Haram atrocities in two Nigerian towns. Amnesty website notes “provide indisputable and shocking evidence of the scale of last week’s attack on the towns of Baga and Doron Baga by Boko Haram militants.”

These images support the news story of large-scale destruction and slaughter of up to 2000 civilians according to various sources including the BBC, Guardian, NPR, etc, however Nigerian government disputes this figure. What is more or less agreed upon, is significant destruction and death and images (paired with witness/survivor testimony) that support this claim.

Doro Gowon Satellite view on 2 Jan 2015 and 7 Jan 2015

What is striking about these images, is a spread of red tinted spots of various sizes that cover the images. Due to the images’ context, one can immediately make associations between the color of the spots and blood of the victims. One can imagine that red spots in fact represent the position of the victims and their size represent the number of casualties at each different site, which could be houses in the village, etc.

A closer look at the caption however tells us that in fact the red spots do not represent carnage, but rather show the vegetation courtesy of the infrared technology used to produce the images. It is the claim to indexicality of a scientific image used as evidence in a news report that renders the foliage of the destroyed villages the color of bloodshed. Researchers, including Guy Deutscher note how the development of language affects our perception of the world, by looking at the Homeric eye and the ancient Greek’s inability to see the color of the sky before naming it. It was the medium of language that painted the sky blue. This is similar to how theorists such as Kittler relate the development of media to human’s understanding of the world. Similarly these images show how our eyes are being transformed by the technologies of seeing and conditions of visibility. Such images complicate the relationship between language and image where the word green could signify the color red and red could be described as green. How long before we look at an image of red foliage and see trees?

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