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Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

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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No one looks the same

August 24, 2012 Comments off

A recent testimonial released as part of the Human Rights Watch’s “Torture in Archipelago” dossier includes transcripts of an interviews with defected soldiers. In one of these interviews published in the September 2012 issue of Harper’s magazine, a former soldier after recounting the case of a captured rebel who was beaten to death with batons noted how his face was completely different before he was taken away. “No one looks the same after we have arrested them.”

To look differently implies an implicit change in one’s personality, even in the colloquial use of the term, it is a symptom of a shift, however insignificant or ephemeral. We are used to deduce from the way one looks if s/he is tired, happy, excited, sad, anxious etc. Ultimately, the changes in the dead body and its gradual disintegration into nature is the final transformation of the human figure: it becomes non-human.

Non-Human Simulation, by Trauma FX

Torture, divorced from its religious and spiritual functions, is the attempt to dehumanize the subject by use of force, turning him/her into something else that does not have the same features and thus the same rights as a human being. This is achieved by disfiguring the subjects and in its extreme iteration, annihilating them. Once the subject looks visually different before the torturer, s/he becomes unrecognizable as a member of the same species. The transformation of the physical features of a person takes place in the surface of the image, it is there that violence visualizes itself, as Nancy suggests. Torture is thus used to proclaim the enemy non-human and as such exempt it from humane treatment as it “looks totally different,” according to the defected soldier.

A plea for aestheticization

August 16, 2012 Comments off

Ever since Capa allegedly captured the fall of a loyalist militiaman at the moment of death in 1936, photojournalism has been accused of beautifying violence, of turning it into a subject of aesthetic pleasure, commodifying it for the news media, sacrificing the evidential proof for sentimental effect. Photographers have been charged with apathy, giving up basic humanitarian values to capture the most definitive image of the event. These allegations for the most part remain cogent, as questioning politics of representation, ethics of photojournalism and the position of the photographer vis-à-vis the event remain essential questions of the discipline, one that every professional in the field has to inexorably raise. The advent of affordable digital technologies of representation and their global omnipresence promised a new possibility of visual justice, one that is unchained from the restrains of professional photojournalism and its only premise is truth telling, no rants and slants. There is no doubt that the landscape of photojournalism has drastically changed since the digital turn.

However, (as a recent example) following the civil-protest-turned-civil-war that is Syria, where videos of half burned torsos of children stacked side by side are hoarded on web archives, updated daily, one wonders how the so-called professional photographer would have treated the subject. Moral questions of professional journalism aside, the repletion of the web with images of dismembered human beings, brutally tortured and killed or blown into pieces by mortars calls for a broader question of representational ethics. Here, the decapitated human bodies decomposing on sidewalk, equal to the ruble before the lens, is reduced into evidence. They call for aestheticization.

Collecting isolated clips of the sky

August 8, 2012 Comments off

The video is of a helicopter flying through the blue sky. If looked closely, one could assume that it is a military helicopter, that is it is in apparent army green, but to what army it belongs, and in what sky it is flying remains on clear. At first we see merely a dark spot, it becomes larger, it comes in and out of focus, it jumps in and out of the frame before the video stops. We hear noises, maybe of people talking, but it remains incomprehensible, we hear a sound of gunfire, but we do not know where it comes from – was it the helicopter shooting at a target, or was it the target of a shooting, or the sound was of some other random shelling?

Godard’s Passion opens with a jet plane contrail traced in the partially cloudy blue sky. Interspersed between are a woman pulling a stack of metal boxes in a factory, later a woman bicycling by a car driven by a man, later a woman getting dressed (probably before a mirror) while a man walks into a the bathroom door behind her. An image of a jet plane flying in the sky, is nothing but an image of a jet plane flying in the sky, and so is a helicopter only a helicopter.

Regime Military Helicopter in Sky for Continued Destruction, youtube still

Yet as the youtube title explains “Regime Military Helicopter in Sky for Continued Destruction,” the footage is from 08/12/2012 the sky is the sky above Al-Ashrafiya, Aleppo. The youtube channel is SyrianDaysOfRage, so the footage belongs to the Syrian conflict, the helicopter belongs to the ruling army. Now we can edit in correlatively in our mind: helicopter flying/crying woman/helicopter flying/dead bodies on the floor/helicopter flying/rebels defecting the military/helicopter flying. We put the video in our visual repository of the Syrian conflict and attach meaning to it.

This video and many more are all scattered around the internet, either as part of the online iteration of the Syrian conflict, or from other places, from variety of different contexts. However, isolated footage like this is related to the technologies that capture and present these images; the digital camera, the internet. But the viewer’s ability to attach meaning to them, to categorize them and to edit them subjectively in her/his mind, is the legacy of the history of cinema. Godard’s method of nonsynchronicity show the filmic narrative’s contingency on the conditions of viewership, what precedes the cinematic event and what follows it.

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June 14, 2012 Comments off

There is a series of photographs on AmnestySE Flickr page showing smiling middle class, pretty people holding a sign that simply reads Syria. These pictures are taken in various locations, from streets to offices to bedrooms, some digitally modified, a few show couples, some are more artistic than others, but all share the simple sign-plus-portrait setting. One assumes that what these photographs mean is that these people unite over the Syrian cause (whatever that is), they know that something is happening there which is not “right,” they are conscious about it. The pictures could also imply that the person in the picture is a supporter of Syria. These pictures are also quite similar to mug shots, so they could also imply that the person in the picture is Syria. The pictures could also imply that “we,” people holding the sign that reads Syria, are complicit and acknowledge that we are responsible for what is happening in Syria, it is our lifestyle or our elected government, or the politics that we benefit from, etc, is somehow by some degree responsible for the mass murder of civilians in Syria.

In an inverted way, these images bring to mind a photo collages by artist Martha Rosler that put together interiors of American middle class houses with images from Vietnam war (in the first series) and the war in Iraq in the 2004 series. These images imply that the lifestyle of the American middle class is maintained by a machinery of war and imperial interventions that pave the way for the circulation of goods and resources that support and sustain that given way of life. The images are collected from lifestyle magazines and the war images are inserted into windows and TV screens, juxtaposing these two seemingly unrelated pictures in a single image. But what do these images say and who are they intended for. These so-called “subversive” strategies take existing imagery, usually mass-produced and insert into them a different and often contradictory images and/or messages with the aim to detourn these images/messages and deliver them to their original receivers. But to paraphrase Rancière’s discussion of these kind of strategies, the problem lies in the fact that the intended message is only received by those who already in agreement with the sender, and those who are not conscious of the interrelated nature of the juxtaposed seeming opposition e.g. the reliance of a certain lifestyle on expansionist politics, will miss the message all together. Thus, what these kind of works at best achieve is the affirmative chuckle of the gallery goer and what these gestures lack is a degree of self-reflexivity that acknowledges the position of the producer within the conditions of production and not vis-à-vis such conditions. These images are immediately consumed by those portrayed in the AmnsetySE’s Flickr page, but unlike the work of a distant supporter of a cause, the work of the artist, in the words of Adorno pay “tribute to a hideous affirmation.”

Looking through the window

June 8, 2012 Comments off

There is a genre of videos coming out of Syria that could be called “looking through the window” video, where people pull the curtains and record what is happening right outside of their window. There have been similar videos from other recent uprisings, showing the treatment of the protestors by the police in quiet streets and alleyways etc. In Syria, tanks are roaming through the streets, massacres are happening right across the sidewalk. In the tradition of news reportage, most of these videos provide a voice over that aims to contextualize the image. In Areeha | Idlib | FSA Destroys Regime Tank, a recent post on SyrianDaysOfRage’s youtube channel we can see the explosion of a tank captured on the camera of a citizen reporter. First we see the street through the window, a tank enters the frame from the right side and is hit by a missile. It immediately catches fire and accelerates, while the civilian reporter stops the narration and repeatedly chants allahu akbar.

Areeha | Idlib | FSA Destroys Regime Tank, youtube stil frame

The tank goes behind a tree and explodes right outside of the window, over-exposes, pixelates and wipes out the image briefly at the moment of explosion. Shattered pieces of the tank scatter over the rooftops, and fall right outside the window, the camera [man] is moved by the shockwaves and the video ends with the image of red drapes at the corner of the window, while the man still chants allahu akbar. This is one of the most dramatic and intense videos of this kind, showing a city turned into a war zone. This form of newscast, unmediated by the figure of the reporter in front of the camera, with his/her back to the event, has become an accepted format in journalism. Now there is nothing between the journalist and the event, and all Syrian buildings and interiors have become news headquarters, and all civilians war correspondences. Syrian windows have become screens opening to a theatre of destruction.

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Done to be seen

May 30, 2012 Comments off

A photograph posted by @SyriaTweet on Twitpic.com shows a group of people, from various age groups, one hand flashing victory signs, the other holding a drawing. The drawing is of a UN Observer taking a photograph of a woman under rubble, with a word cloud above his head reading “say cheese.” The UN soldier is documenting instead of saving the victim, thus the drawing implies that camera signifies inaction. Another drawing shows Assad holding a blood stained axe shaking hands with Kofi Annan on a pile of bodies, while posing in front of UN observers cameras. Elsewhere, there is a photograph of group of protestors holding a sign that reads: “UN is killing us.” While the first image suggests that the UN is watching and not doing, the rest imply that not only UN is not “doing” anything, but rather it is responsible for the continued violence in Syria.

The situation recalls the war in Kosovo, where people were killed in numbers in the presence of peacekeeping forces and journalists. It is not that the UN forces are there on the front line marching with Assad forces, but it could be that the drawings suggest that the recent horrific massacre in Houla would not take place in the absence of UN forces. It is the Observers’ media paraphernalia that invites the forces of destruction, it is the camera that visualizes violence, that in words of Jean-Luc Nancy, [violence] wants to leave a mark, wants to erupt into the field of vision and reveal itself in form of an image. While people are murdered in darkness no doubt, but as Virilio notes, there is no war without representation. The massacre in Houla was committed to be mediated, distributed and watched. It is a message to the global community, to the opposition groups and to the regimes allies. It is done to show the extent to which the regime is willing to go to guard its power. (thanks to TK)

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