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The anticipated image

August 28, 2012 Comments off

An Al Jazeera English news clip from August 27th, 2012 bearing the headline Syria military helicopter crashes in Damascus reports on the claims of Free Syrian Army shooting down the helicopter. The standard narrative which includes both the rebels and the official sides of the story is heard over images of a burning rotorcraft spiraling down the sky. A text bar that appears on the upper left corner of the footage reads “YOUTUBE.COM/ACTIVIST VIDEO,” i.e. Al Jazeera’s correspondents have not produces the videos. The 1:26 minute clip is a collage of ten indigenous videos shot by civilians or activists and uploaded on youtube. The crash is captured from all sides and angles; long shots from a far, from underneath, a shot from the building right behind which it crashed, long shots of smoke rising over the neighborhood. A collection of footage that is close to the dream of any news broadcast corporation a few years ago as such thorough visual coverage of an event would require ten cameramen on stand-by in ten different locations in the city, a financially and logistically impossible task especially in combat conditions.

Syria military helicopter crashes in Damascus, Al Jazeera, still frame from http://www.aljazeera.com

But this all-encompassing coverage of the event by civilian cameras is not particularly new, and especially not in Syria where the documentation of the conflict was from the outset an integral part of the protest-turned-civil-war. But following the stream of Syrian videos online, one of the recent recurring tropes was videos of aircrafts flying in the sky, usually to document the use of overhead shelling of cities by the regime forces. The videos, as discussed before, were for the most part isolated images of helicopters or airplanes flying against the blue sky, and it was only the supporting Arabic voice over that contextualized them within the Syrian conflict and were contingent upon their placement within the larger online archive of the conflict. But the videos signified a shift in attention, an expansion of vision or rather the dimension of the war, which now included the sky. In addition to documentation of the events and evidence on the ground, the videographers now pointed their cameras to flying objects in the sky in anticipation. The direction of the camera lenses preceded the event and captured the imminent falling of the aircraft before being shot down by the FSA artillery.

Syria military helicopter crashes in Damascus, Al Jazeera, still frame from http://www.aljazeera.com

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March 20, 2012 Comments off

[cont]

Today, with the development of digital technologies of representation, the gap between the production and reception of the image has shortened, and image production has become an instantaneous act. Not a “having-been-there,”[1] (as Barthes puts it) but a “being here,” an assurance and reassurance of being present in time. The camera is no longer only a device that would freeze a moment in time for the future, but a device that freezes every passing moment into fragments of now. It is as if we are living and experiencing life with a short delay and the instant image is a visual echo of the present. From dinner tables to mass demonstrations, through this visual echo of the livestreaming of life, we instantaneously review the living moments, or we live through the instantaneous broadcasting of life. While before the kind of absence that the mechanically produced image represented was more similar to that of the text, this livestreaming of life has given the image some of the properties of speech. This is a fleeting moment, and then becomes the “having-been-there”again, but this momentary cohabitation of the image and the image-image maker, as they share a temporal and spatial coordinates between “being-here”and “having-been-there,” opens a new performative space. As such the relationships between participation and spectatorship are redefined as they become parts of a single entity constituting a subject that is the product of the real-time streaming of the event that the very same subject is participating in. It is the product of a new form of self-consciousness constituted by the real-time representation of the self within the event via the means of instantaneous image-making provided by digital technologies. While Roland Barthes talks about the “spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority of the photograph,” today—even if for a brief passing moment—the instantaneity of image making has brought together the space and time of the image with space and time of life.

But it is in response to this acceleration of data transmission and this instantaneous televisual connectivity, that Paul Virilio warns us from the visual crash. The dawn of a planetary panopticon that has put on display “even our most private activities”, and a new “market of vision” that renders visible whatever is “happening in the world in the present instant.” It is along the same lines that he declares the end of politics at the scale of speed of light, where there is no room for reflection. But has this supposedly global tele-surveillance abolished the historical primacy of local time in favor of a global temporality as Virilio claims? If in the age of live television, the event was transmitted to receivers across the planet to supposedly passive observers, now the circle of spectatorship is finally complete, as the subject is also the recipient of the same image. The subject is participating, documenting, transmitting, and watching at the same time, while previously s/he was a subject to a process of mediation and representation, and left out from the circle of live spectators. As such, the global time is now re-synchronized with the local time. In February 2011, in Tahrir Square in Cairo, the protestors set up a screen and watched the projection of Al Jazeera’s live coverage of the Egyptian revolution. The images were broadcasted in real-time from the square to the square and the participants could see themselves as they formed the revolutionary crowd.

Between a global televisual panopticon and an agora of spectators, there seems to be a window, or a revolving door, for the practice of visual parrhesia in the age of planetary live broadcast.


[1] The type of consciousness the photograph involves is indeed truly unprecedented, since it establishes not a consciousness of the being-there of the thing (which any copy could provoke) but an awareness of its having-been-there. What we have is a new space-time category: spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority, the photograph being an illogical conjunction between the here-now and the there-then. (Barthes, Rhetoric of the Image)

February 6, 2012 Comments off

***

The technical image,[1] that from its advent became an obsession with the time bygone, the time of the past, has now become an obsession with the present. It is a form of documentation of now, the documentation of the present for the present. Not a “having-been-there,”[2] but a “being here,” an assurance and reassurance of being present in time. The development of digital technologies of representation has shortened the gap between the production and reception of the image, and image production has become an instantaneous act. The camera is no longer only a device that would freeze a moment in time for the future, but a device that freezes every passing moment into fragments of now; it is almost as if time stands still. It is as if we are living and experiencing life with a short delay, the instant image is a visual echo of the present, of our presence. From dinner tables to mass demonstrations, through this visual echo of the livestreaming of life, we instantaneously review the living moments, or we live through the instantaneous broadcasting of life.[3]

This livestreaming of life has given the image some of the properties of speech. While before the kind of absence that the mechanically produced image represented was more similar to that of the text (that is if we only consider temporal categories of presence as absence and the formal properties that arise). The image that had already complicated the temporal relationships has now further complicated our relation to time, to being present in time. It could be said that we are becoming spectators of our presence as we live and watch simultaneously and constantly, as we document our togetherness and consume it at the moment, even though it sets a record for the future, a future that we continuously postpone as we are becoming more obsessed with now.


[1] I am not differentiating between still and moving images in this essay, instead the focus is on the incentive to make a record in any possible way.

[2] The type of consciousness the photograph involves is indeed truly unprecedented, since it establishes not a consciousness of the being-there of the thing (which any copy could provoke) but an awareness of its having-been-there. What we have is a new space-time category: spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority, the photograph being an illogical conjunction between the here-now and the there-then. (Roland Barthes, Rhetoric of the Image)

[3] In February 2011, in Tahrir Square in Cairo, the protestors set up a screen and watched the projection of Al Jazeera’s live coverage of the Egyptian revolution. The images were broadcasted in real-time from the square to the square and the participants could see themselves as they formed the crowd.