Media Brothers

A very short Blog entry.

I found this image in one of the most recent terror videos I was watching.

ISIS Battle

In a way, it shows some of the strange aspects of these videos in one frame combined. For once, the guy in the center went into battle with a GoPro camera on his head. Actually I am wondering how many of these cameras were sold to the different fractions of the war in Syria and Iraq, because everyone seems to use them. There is even a channel, that until a year ago, uploaded quite a number of videos to Youtube, where cameras had been attached to the barrels of Syrian Army tanks, showing the destruction of whole neighborhoods. Oddly, all the videos where named “ Tank with GoPro™” + the location where the video was shot … why the “™”-symbol? Are they afraid of getting sued? It would be a funny development, when it turned out, that the Syrian government is more afraid of getting sued for violating a trademark, than for committing crimes against humanity. Well, in the end, the punishment might be harsher indeed.

Tanks with GoPro

But action cameras – GoPro or others – can be found in many videos. Some of the execution scenes are even shot by a whole barrage of them, from multiple viewpoints. It might be, that they are able to withstand the harsh environment better than regular cameras, but I believe that it has a lot to do with a certain look these videos have. And this look is the thing these propaganda producers are aiming for. Placed on the ground, it might look like a scene from a music video, strapped to your head, you get the appearance of ego shooters. Again, I believe the main audience for these videos are young men, who know this kind of aesthetics all too well.

The other thing that strikes me with the first image, is the appearance of the dead soldier on the right. Even though I should be used to that right now, what still gets me, is the way his body is censored. It is not his head wound, that is deemed insensitive – sure, that is quite hard to see in this frame anyway, but believe me, there are other shots in this video, that present closeups of his utterly destroyed face – what is censored instead, is his naked back. It is like the ISIS equivalent of a nipple slip. There are parallels to be drawn between the moral standards of fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims, at least if you are looking at their treatment of images. In the United States, I have encountered quite a few vans by Christian anti-abortionists that were completely covered with images of aborted fetuses. But imagine their reaction to an image of nude breasts. Censorship is weird, and it keeps getting weirder, the more images we use.

And then there is this still from the same video. It shows two different guys. This time, both have GoPros on their heads, to document the suicide there are heading for. In fact, both are going to be killed. So in the midst of battle, in this shot alone, there are at least three cameras filming.

ISIS Gopro

Plus, am I the only one, who thinks the term “Media Brother” is very strange.

Censorship as a story telling device

The excuse for censorship is normally, that there is a need to follow certain moral or cultural guidelines. Information or images are thought to be dangerous and therefore access has to be limited. Of course different groups or organizations follow different, and sometime opposing, sets of rules. Censorship has become an important aspect in todays power struggles.

In its most extreme form, censorship should be invisible. Since what is shown (I am focusing on images here) is deemed dangerous, the most consequent way to deal with it, would be just not to mention it at all. A damnatio memoriae for images or thoughts. And a lot of censorship today is actually invisible. Watching most ISIS videos, one could get the impression that women do not exist. Or most airstrikes by the US military leave no visual trace that is accessible to the public. But why not all of them? Sure, sometimes censorship isn’t perfect, so some information dodging the filter seems unavoidable, but I am talking about instances, where, otherwise avoided material, is published through the regular channels.

Of course, ISIS isn’t just releasing a video that shows a group of women without being veiled. That would be too obvious – and from their perspective too extreme. Things are rather more subtle and definitely more complex. Take this image “depicting” Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton

Sure, her face and even her hands are blurred and therefore censored. But this I would call pseudo censorship. Real censorship would avoid her image all together. Here, even though it is not quite obvious that this is Hillary Clinton, the fact that the image is depicting a women and therefore something prohibited becomes even more visible through blurring it. So on one side, the ISIS censor could claim that he did not show a woman and therefore hasn’t been breaking the rules. But by clearly pointing at the fact that a women is shown in the original image, a women is in fact made the topic of the image. And this might be the core statement ISIS wants the audience to understand.

Tunisia

Another example would be this one, from the Tunisian parliament. The thing you wish to present, but are not allowed to show, can be made even more visible by censoring it.

PopeBut it also possible to make things appear to be repulsive, by censoring them, even though the image itself wouldn’t be an issue. Take for instance this image sowing Pope Francis and Benjamin Netanyahu. Obviously the two women next to them had to be blurred, but the painting in the background is treated the same way. My first thought was that this painting might show women and was therefore blurred. Christian paintings are quite often seen in such videos before they are being destroyed, so the painting itself should otherwise be of no concern.

Perugino Resurrection

It was interesting to find that the painting in fact does not depict any women in the foreground – there are two angels of undefined gender, but not in the part shown in the still image used by ISIS. So censoring something where there is no need to censor, has the power to alter the perceived content of an image.

But not only ISIS uses censorship as a way tochange the content of images. In fact the more I look for that, the more it seems that this is part of contemporary image usage. I briefly tried to deal with this issue in my project “Reporting the Pain of Others”. But I might have to put some more effort in this topic – right now I am not that happy with the result.

Reporting

From top to bottom, ABC News, Al Jazeera and TMZ.com.

In 2010 a short video became public that showed US soldiers urinating on Taliban fighters they have just killed. The video went viral and every important news website had to feature it. Since the whole story was based on one very short video taken with a mobile phone, all the news outlets had access to, was the same shitty footage everyone else was using. Since everyone was reporting on the same story, using the same footage, the pictures presented on the websites should have been indistinguishable from one another. But was not what happened. Most sites felt obliged to censor these images, but the way they were censored varied widely. Keep in mind, that the footage was so bad, that in fact no penis could be seen. Even the identity of the perpetrators or the victims isn’t that clearly visible, I would say. Still, everyone used these images and the way they were censored tells quite a story. Some news sites thought it is their duty to protect the identity of the victims, or hide the bloody corpses from view. Others apparently wanted to protect the identity of the killers and left the bruised bodies uncensored. And others still – and that I find interesting – are censoring penises that are actually not visible in the available footage. Some even mark the sport with “Explicit Content”, which I think is very similar to the strategy in the ISIS videos described above. Something that is actually not visible in an image can be made very visible, by pretending censorship was needed. All with the excuse so not to enrage the audience. But the black bar covering something that is not there, or the label “explicit content” first create the platform for this specific anger. Censorship, used in this way, can alter the perceived content of an image in exactly the direction, that it seems as if censorship was necessary. Censorship can create the content it pretends to eliminate.

Upon closer inspection, one can find other examples, where pseudo censorship is used to alter the content the way it is supposed to be taken by the audience. Take these two images from the website of the British Daily Mirror.

Daily Mail

A similar story is told, one about executions of foreign hostages by Mohammed Emwazi (nicknamed Jihadi John). In one case, the identity of the two hostages was protected in the other case the identity of the single hostage wasn’t. It is quite obvious that no real moral considerations did come to play here, otherwise both images would have been treated equally. So the decision to blur or not to blur must have had more to do with the narrative the journalists were aiming for.

Even more obvious and perverted is this example of another British news site express.co.uk . Here in two different articles, the same victim is shown. Once “protected”, the other time his face to be seen. Just as you need it to tell your story.

Express

A guide to Pseudo-Events

Why is Daniel J. Boorstins book “The Image” not more often talked about?

Daniel_Boorstin“In this new world, where almost anything can be true, the socially rewarded art is that of making things seem true. It is the art not of discovery, but of invention.”

“The difficulty of curing us of our ever exaggerating expectations comes from the very fact that not truth, but credibility, the modern test.”

It is quite amazing that Boorstins book was first published in 1962. He died in 2004 and spend his career as a historian in Chicago and as the Librarian of Congress in Washington DC. Even though his book is 50something years old by now, it remains extremely relevant. The subtitle reads “A Guide to Pseudo-events in America.” and this is what the main focus of the book is about. Pseudo-events. Events talked about, because they are talked about. One of his examples for such a event would be a press conference every is reporting on, because since everyone is reporting on it, this seems to have a high significance. Today is full of pseudo-events. Maybe most of the stuff in the news would fall under this category. Or why else would a respected website like Der Spiegel constantly report on certain casting shows?

He also points out that even persons can be human pseudo-events. And that might be true for most celebrities today. Maybe his book has never been as relevant today. The news circle is much faster than ever before. And content needs to be created every second – apparently, since the news outlet you are working for might fail otherwise. Irrelevant things are being hyped and become part of our culture. And maybe the art world might be one of the most outspoken culprit. What makes good art? Being presented as such.

It might not be the best written book, but for me it is certainly one of the most important.

And there is another very deep insight in this book. One that the two quotes at the beginning of this text point at. Especially the second one. “…not truth, but credibility (is) the modern test”. This, I think, is something that is just a hint at the moment, but of which we are going to feel to full impact only the years to come. Please stay with me for a second.

When I started my studies in 2002, there was a huge debate, that the medium of photography might be dying. Something called “digital revolution” was on the horizon and with it, it was thought, came the demise of this medium. The digital process it was said, could alter every image without leaving any trace and therefore would destroy the medium itself. Photography was thought to be somehow connected to reality and this connection would come to an end. Papers were written, if photography could still be used in court, since it was going to loose its value as evidence.

Oddly enough, someone seems to have canceled this revolution. Or maybe it has taken place already, but it looked very unexpected. How else could we explain the fact that images play a much bigger role within society than ever? Remember the 80s? TV news (in Germany at least) could easily go along without the use of images at all. There was a news anchor who just read the news. Occasionally he was interrupted by a film clip. But that was it. Today even the most mundane news needs accompanying images. The most telling thing here are examples we all have encountered. When there is terrible news, like an accident, children starving or or car bomb, from time to time we hear something on the line of “Our news team has access to the images in question, but due to the brutal nature, we decided not to show them”. This is amazing, even when you are not able to show certain images, you still have to reference to them, to make your news more trustworthy.

So it seems like images did not go trough a transvaluation of values – to amateurishly reference Nietzsche. What then might have happend? Well, Boorstin wrote his book in the 60s and he already saw the shift from truth to credibility. So I am not going to claim that this is somehow new. I think this process is accelerating. And this process has struck the medium of photography extremely hard. With the digital revolution, photography did not loose its value as a medium – maybe that has something to do with the fact that our collective perception has shifted. Away from truth, more and more towards credibility as “the modern test”. Having a trusted news anchor declare that he himself has seen the image, well that certainly makes it credible, even though the image remains invisible. And since the Internet makes us believe, that we are in fact in charge of our newsfeed, more and more of the things we are consuming this way might seem credible to us. But we can expect our newsfeed already to be different from the one our neighbor consumes. Thanks to the power of Google and Facebook, who work hard on keeping stuff hidden from us, we might not be interested in.

Again, that is not new, but the scope is different. What is going to happen, when more and more of our time is spent in a virtual environment? That is not neccesarily having a VR headset on your head, but rather a direct and personalized media feed through different sources. The shift, I guess, keeps going in the direction away from the real towards the credible. In a way things only have to appear real enough to be almost indistinguishible from reality. And who cares about the real real anyway?

Weird Role Models

Reporter

I have this image. Well it is part of one of my current projects and as you can see it consists of two parts. I called my project Islamist Role Models, but maybe I should change that to just Role Models.

While watching a whole bunch of propaganda videos by islamist groups, it struck me that even though they are fighting the West and threaten our lifestyle, these videos are full of gestures and poses all too well known from our own media environment. At first I was astonished by this finding, but the more I think about it, the more natural it seems. Of course these people grew up with a similar media imprint to ours – watching Bruce Lee movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. Hollywood and the media played an important role in their upbringing, even though they might have grown up in a different culture, with a different set of moral rules and guidelines. And in fact, many of the people involved in the production of these videos did in fact grow up in the West.

It is just somewhat strange, when you encounter statements by these groups that truly hate the West and everything that originates there and you see them posing in a Hollywood style. Or you see them killing accused “polytheists” and on the other hand practicing martial arts – I am not a Muslim cleric, but karate is most certainly not halal. Channeling energy and chi points and shit, well there is certainly no mention of that in the Quran.

Some of the poses just look ridiculous when performed by islamist fighters. Like jumping through burning hoops, parkour jumps or creating human pyramids with someone waving a flag on top. Strange ideas of masculine gestures. Or these weird huddles, where a huge group of men come together in circle to swear loyalty to a common cause. Something more often seen in sports, with a slight touch of homo-eroticism, but which seems to be part of the typical gestures of the US military as well.

Other scenes are almost impossible to distinguish from those in the media. For instance fighters training swat team like operations. Or snipers hiding in the bushes, apparently waiting for the kill. But this I find slightly more complex. Since Hollywood or TV studios create an appearance of how they think a swat team operation has to look, or what a sniper does while waiting and that then is reproduced by actual swat teams or snipers – at least this is what I believe. The whole thing is a circle of trying to act in a way that looks right, repeated by everyone involved.

So back to the image above. Oddly, both guys, the ESPN guy and the ISIS guy, are in fact acting in a way they think a reporter is supposed to act. Both are following the same role model. I find the detail fascinating, that someone made a small cube with an ISIS logo and some scotch tape that went on the microphone – because apparently that is what you need to be a true journalist on TV. Exactly the way children would play being on TV. The whole thing then brakes apart and becomes very evil, once you realize that the people the ISIS journalist interviews are burned alive afterwards. Cameras still recording. But still, his appearance has to look like the appearance of a journalist on CNN.

Mid January 2016, a suicide bomber hit a TV station in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing seven staff members. A day later a group within the Taliban claimed responsibility by publishing a press release. This press release did look exactly like any other and was meant to be published by the same category of media that was targeted by the blast. So if you want to be a terrorist, you have to blow up media outlets, but on the other side, you also have to act like a PR department would do.

One thing I noticed with propaganda videos coming out of Afghanistan is that they in fact do look somewhat different. Since these groups are now fighting for years in remote mountainous areas and access to media was always seen as something suspicious, the people creating these videos might actually not share our set media role models. At least that would be my theory. Many of these videos just show bearded guys sitting on the ground, talking. The whole interaction with the camera is just not right. And when you do see some training scenes or fighting and you see them trying to act out some of the masculine poses, it looks odd. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that the struggle for attention by western media and western youth is actually won by ISIS over al-Quaeda. ISIS videos have by far more connection to our visual language and are therefore much more potent as propaganda.

Every man is a brain surgeon

Once more I came across this cursed quote by Joseph Beuys that supposedly every man is an artist. That is cursed, because in fact Beuys was not talking about this, the way this is normally taken as an excuse to have every moron claim to be an artist. In a similar claim, one could state that everyone is a brain surgeon – which is technically true as well, since everyone could try his best to operate on a living brain. Even though I would definitely advice against that. I am just very happy that with brain surgeons, only the most talented are allowed to work in that field. Something we can certainly not claim to be true in the arts.

It might be true that opening the art world to as many people as possible was done with the best of intentions, but I would argue, that in the long run, this has damaged the reputation of art quite badly – maybe beyond repair. This has created a very strange form of political correctness that seems to prohibit one to question the quality of art in general – even though, sucking at art should not be considered protection worthy. But, “there is no accounting for taste” … well fuck, another of that cursed quotes. And another one that is almost always misunderstood. Just because there is a stupid quote, everyone misunderstands, does not mean that something becomes true. There should definitely be accountability for the quality and content (or lack thereof) of ones art. But is there? Not really. There is certainly no way of getting fired from claiming to be an artist.

Sure, we could could say that two different things might unfortunately share one label. That would mean that there is the thing called art professional artists do and the other thing called art that is practiced in elementary school or by hobbyists. This way, calling the stuff pupils do in school art, would have no influence on the professional art world. But unfortunately this is somehow not the way this is understood. Artists do art and hobbyists as well. There is no real difference, other than that one happens to be expensive or happens to be hanging in museums and the other thing is just misunderstood by the people deciding to put up museum shows. But that is bullshit. Again, technically that is valid. You could, in theory, hang every image in every museum, but for that then, there would be no need for museums anymore. Since by arguing this way, you could also classify every space as a museum. And thinking about it, I am quite sure, that this claim has already been made.

So, yeah, I really get it, that people don’t understand art.

Making art as if its still 1980

If anything would be taught at a university level, the way art is, these institutions would be shut down in a matter of days. I am not talking about the role of art – maybe this is somewhat touched by the stuff I am discussing here -, but I would like to address some serious issues I have with art academia.

I get it: people have this weird idea of art being a weird thing, where everything is allowed. What strikes me though, is if this understood in a way that everything is equally valid. If you boil it down to a question of personal freedom, sure you can do whatever you want, but I seriously question that art schools have to follow that non-existing set of guidelines. Sure enough many of them do.

In the institution, where I studied, the joke was that you can not fail your exam. And while I was there almost no one did. One guy, for instance, fixed a chair to a wall, chest high, stripped himself naked, stuck a power cord in his butt, sat on the chair and insulted the professors for twenty minutes. Sure enough he passed his exam. There was discussion amongst the younger students afterwards, if they let him pass just not to spend another year in his presence; but my guess would be, that at least some of the professors found the thing he did important enough for him to be granted the title. That might be just one story, but for me it feels quite revealing. Neither was it intelligent what this guy did, nor important, nor in any way brave. One might say: But you still remember his performance, so it must have left a deep impression on you. True, and once I was walking by a posh restaurant in Berlin, late at night, and a guy vomited out of the entrance door, missing me by a mere inch. Just remembering something does not qualify it as good art.

It is quite sad, that even raising the question of the role art schools ought to play within society would be considered sacrilegious by many. You are not supposed to raise this question; art schools are for artists and they are doing whatever they want to do. And that is that. But I think it would be very important to distinguish between the art world and things that are taught and worked on in an academic environment.

The truth is, that almost all artist are forced to try to compete on the art market after they have finished their studies; but still the role of art schools as institutions of higher education should not be to fulfill the needs and wishes of the art market. I think that this would be completely the wrong focus. An academic environment is one of research and development and why should that be different for art schools? Art should be research as well – it certainly has the potential to do so. And when did we stop looking for progress and development as a key feature of young art?

If you find yourself in a class, where the bulk of students paints black squares on canvas, and you are one of them, there is something wrong with your situation. That might have to do with your professor, but you might have to take your share of the responsibility for the whole situation. Painting black squares was a huge step in the development of art and it raised and solved multiple issues and questions society was struggling with. But these questions were not your questions and the issues were not those of the world that surrounds you.

Doing what other artist did before you, is a very simple way to work as an artist. Doing similar things to what you professor is doing, might even grant you instant gratification. You are doing what he is doing? Well he certainly understands your “intentions” – since these are basically his own – and therefore he has a lot to say about your work. But that is a very strange understanding of the role an artist should play.

This is such an amazing time to work as an artist. So much information is available and so many ways to express yourself. The academic art environment should be at the core of many of the central debates. Why, for instance, are the key players in the field of visual science philosophers or social scientists? When did we lose authority over that topic? Shouldn’t artists be the leading figures here? And since artist, for decades, took their inspiration from a gazillion different sources, academic art could play an important role in bringing together different scientific fields, that are struggling with an interdisciplinary approach.

And every unnecessary black square that is been painted by an art student, not only hurts the reputation of art schools as a place of learning and research. But it also hinders the progress art could make.

Perception and Conflict

Maybe this should have been the title and the issue for the very first entry on this blog, since this is my core topic at the moment. That does not mean that it is all I am thinking about, rather it sits in the background of a lot of the stuff I am working on recently.

In some grant applications, I wrote in the past few months, and papers for different events, I used the phrase that perception has become a battleground and fear might be the most important weapon. With this I am talking about the tendency for conflicts to more and more take place in the virtual world of our brains. Drone strikes, suicide bombers, car bombs, sleeper cells, mass surveillance, all try to creep into our minds to become somewhat omnipresent. A drone strike might kill a suspect, but once you made it public that drone strikes are possible, you can take entire populations hostage by creating an uncertain feeling of fear. It doesn’t really matter anymore, if drones are actually flying or not, part of their goal is already achieved.

So in todays conflicts, images are used to authenticate the claim of invisibility. No suicide bomber blows himself up, without several cameras or phones recording the act. And the US military from time to time “leaks” some of their drone strike videos, to show how unexpected these were to those people targeted. That creates this strange dichotomy that on one side the threat has to be invisible to be suitable for todays battlefield, but on the other side it needs a PR department to be fully functional.

With this in mind, I think that the NSA was actually not all sad about the leaks by Edward Snowden, this rather served as a presentation of the potential their technology might have. Something they normally would have had no way to make public themselves. Now people are afraid of these capabilities, that still remain invisible and unfathomable.

Fear has us limit ourselves, check every bag on the train, be scared of using certain programs on our phones. Things these players could have never forced us to do, if they were out in the open. And I am quite sure they know that as well.

Back to the use of images in that context – the part that interests me the most. In a way it is strange that photography plays a major role in propagating the invisible. The feeling normally would be that this medium makes things visible, rather than helps to retain the invisibility of certain things. And that is precisely the point that fascinates me when working with this medium and it is the point I can not fully cope right now. It seems so simple, but in fact I have the impression that it might be a very complex issue.

Take my project “Camouflage” for instance. I am quite sad that this project draws a huge amount of attention for reasons I just don’t care about. People take this work as a odd “Where is Waldo” for grown-ups. But I am far more interested in the issues mentioned above. It laughable, when people have debates online about the precise location of the snipers in these images. In fact in most of the pictures, absolute no trace of the soldier is imprinted in the negative (since I could not afford a high end digital medium format camera, I still shoot analogue, when I am looking for the best quality available to me). No trace, absolutely none. Not even on the big prints I show in exhibitions. Yet still, people locate the snipers with dots and circles and stuff and are angry at me, or at other commentators that the positions are just not right. Others complain that in some images they see something, while in other they don’t see shit. And the question whether or note these images are authentic comes up regularly.

Yes, the whole thing is in fact authentic. I did photograph snipers. But none of the pictures could be considered real evidence for their presence. They are just not shown in the traditional sense. But still, they can be seen. German has a good word for that, which is “Wahrnehmung”. The Internet translates it as perception, but the German word might be more complex. The parts it consists of translate as “truth” and “taking”, so you take something for the truth through your perception. That way the snipers are in fact perceived in these images, even though the can not be seen or shown. I find that fascinating.

To be honest, after I took the first set of these images, I was highly disappointed by the fact that there is almost nothing to be seen. But the more time I have spent with this project, the more important this aspect has become. It is exactly what a sniper in the landscape is supposed to look like.

My talk at the Chaos Communication Congress 32C3

I was invited to talk about my Stasi project at the 32nd Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg late December last year. It was a wonderful event and a great opportunity for me to interact with a very diverse audience. It definitely worth spending some time watching other videos from the congress. A lot of interesting stuff. Nerdy stuff as well, but most of the talks are quite accessible.

The CCC media library is great and the material there is published under a very generous creative commons license. So check it out and share it!  https://media.ccc.de/b/congress/2015

I would like to share a video of my talk. It is in English and I hope that it is not too boring. By the way, a translated version can be found on the website mentioned above.

Namedropping is bullshit – especially if philosophers do it

I went to a panel discussion with Peter Weibel, Bazon Brock (a philosopher apparently of some importance) and a sad guy, who’s name I do not remember and who seemed somewhat lost in mind. Supposedly Peter Weibel – head of the ZKM in Karlsruhe – was to talk about a series of exhibitions he is organizing. Maybe he did, but who really knows. At least he tried to talk about it – that is something I guess. Somewhere in between I realized, that it would be of little difference if the three of them would be talking simultaneously. In a way the content of the conversation would have been the same and there seemed to be little interaction between them, the audience and the topic anyway.

Once again I realized how damaging namedropping can be to a debate. Namedropping is avoiding to say what you think – because attempting that is hard -, by saying the name of the person you think said the thing you would like to say, at one point in their live. But that is complete and utter bullshit. Even in a perfect world, where everyone read the same book and everyone still remembers the stuff from the book, it would still be the problem that everyone understands things differently. Especially when dealing with philosophy and its hard to decipher language. Namedropping ruins the whole conversation. But you should never out yourself as someone who hasn’t read this particular book, or just can’t remember what the point of it all was supposed to be, that would instantly disqualify you from participating in the conversation. So you are supposed to sit there and listen to all these names being mentioned, and hope that a clue is given of what the actual point of the speaker could be. That is a waste of time and quite sad. Maybe if you want to make a point then try to make it and do not refer to the person you think made that point a long time ago.

It is funny, that this resembles a lot how very religious people tend to communicated. “As it is written in the Gospel of Mark two bla bla” or “As the Quran says (and then comes something in Arabic)”. When mentioning iconic texts, it is hard to point the conversation into a new direction. The difference between religion and philosophy is that philosophy has far more iconic texts.

I get it, when scholars don’t want to always start a conversation at the very beginning and therefore refer to other scholars or certain texts. But that makes sense only in a very tightly knit environment. Where you are certain, that, since you discussed the basics earlier, everyone shares a common idea, of what the thought actually is, namedropping can speed up the conversation. That would be an academic setting, where for instance a group of students works together for the second semester in a row. But the event yesterday did certainly not qualify in that respect. The audience and the panel was much to diverse.

Maybe every panel should include a kindergarten teacher or a butcher to set the framework for the conversation somewhat differently. Or people should just try to avoid namedropping. I guess I am guilty myself. And sometimes avoiding it is hard.

Context as a form of censorship

Sometimes a catchy title can really guide me along, working on a certain topic. The title “Bildverbot – eine Handlungsanweisung”, would be such a title, but unfortunately it doesn’t really work in English. A rough translation would be “Iconoclasm – A Operator’s Manual” , but that is not a perfect translation. Nevertheless, I am currently spending a lot of time thinking about the topic of images that are taboo within certain parts of our culture.

I find it quite fascinating that our society might appear to be far more liberal than anything before – at least that is the western idea of western societies – but upon closer inspection, social norms and rules limit the use of certain types of images more and more. Sure, religious prohibitions might be part of it, but I find other aspects far more interesting. What images of race and gender can be shown or created? Nudity – especially nudity of children? Violence? Privacy? Right in one’s own image? State and corporate secrets? How to deal with the colonial acquisition of images and objects? And what about the weird world of copyrights and trademarks? All these things should be considered, when discussing iconoclasms today.

Looking at copyrights and trademarks for instance makes the issue very strange. On one hand, international brands want to become a key part of our daily environment. Press releases by them are supposed to be treated like news. Logos become quasi-iconic objects and should be visible everywhere. But if you dare to present them in a way, the company does seem fit, the wrath of being sued might come upon you. The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion, that branding is just another way to create icons and therefore closely related to religious urges. One strange aspect is The News – at least here in Germany. On weekends the news programs talks a lot about the football results. Quite often for a third of the time. But once these programs are uploaded to the Internet, the part mentioning football is cut out. So on one hand, football is supposed to be considered newsworthy, but on the other hand, business interests can interact with the spread of news. I might be idealistic, but once something is “news”, access to it should not be limited.

The way you censor certain images or avoid them, can be very revealing. I did a work on that – well “work” might be a big word. For that piece I collected images from one particular event to look at the different ways this had been censored. The still came from a very short clip showing US soldiers urinating on killed Taliban fighters. The footage was taken with a shitty cellphone camera and is so grainy that it actually shows nothing. No penis can be seen, no flowing urine, and neither the faces of the soldiers nor of those killed are really recognizable. Interesting with this example is that this was considered “breaking news” all over the globe. Almost every news outlet wanted to talk about this event but everyone had only access to the same shitty footage of a few seconds. Still, even though talking about the same event by using the same material to report, the images they have used on their websites differ by quite a lot.

Remember, the footage is so grainy that almost nothing is decipherable. But some folks blur the faces of the soldiers, others those of the Taliban, quite a few times these invisible penises are covered by big black bars. A lot of the stuff becomes only somewhat visible by the use of these methods to hide them. And what does it say that one group of websites tries to hide the identity of the soldiers, while other hide those of the killed. Some even blur the entire image. Which is odd, because then the image isn’t shown, but has to be presented nevertheless. Even an image you can not show, needs to be somehow presented to make your story credible.

In general it is odd, if you use blurred images at all. If you don’t want to show something, than don’t show it. But by blurring, you might make things even more visible. In most other cases, there might have been a thousand different shots you could have presented. So why blurring?

Another strange form of censorship might be context – but that is something I am not fully sure about right now. Let me explain what I mean. Today, many images – and objects – have to be presented in a completely different context than at the moment they were created. That has to be done to be able to present them at all. Take for instance state art from the Third Reich. You couldn’t just present a Hitler portrait, no matter how well it is painted. It needs to be surrounded by a protective layer of context. The same goes for quite a few of the categories mentioned above. Photographs of naked boys from the 19th century by artists like von Gloeden might today be considered immoral and too close to child pornography to be presented in a regular exhibition. I am not arguing that this is good or bad, but my gut feeling is, that this might be somehow related to methods of censorship. You are not hiding the image itself, rather you change it to something that suits your ideas or moral standards.