The Icon becomes an Icon by declaring it an Icon

IconicIcon

I find it interesting, that it takes media today just a couple of hours to declare an image of a terrible event “iconic” and then to discuss the iconic nature of said image. The attacks on Brussels took place March 22nd and the first version of this article ran the same day. Normally one would say, that “only time can tell”, but here things seem different. Maybe this would be another example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since by declaring an image “iconic” it becomes iconic – especially if this is done by important media outlets like Time.

It might be that this was one of the first readily available images of this event – and maybe one of the first of a decent quality. As the story is told, it was taken with a phone by a Georgian news reporter who just happened to be at the airport, when the attack took place. But to then declare this image the defining image of the whole event – that leaves a slightly weird sensation with me. I get it, that the news cycle get shorter and shorter, and once you produce a news article today, there is an urgent need for images. But by declaring one of the first images you get your hands on to be definite, you almost declare the story to be fully told. There is nothing else to be seen, so lets all move on.

This image here does not really strike me that much. That is personal taste and maybe this IS the image that captures the event best. But once a site like Time declares it iconic, everyone seems to want to use it as well and that leaves less room for other images to show. And less room for us as a group to find the defining image that describes this event, the way it felt to us.

ISIS reacts to ISIS

Father

I came across this recently uploaded ISIS video. Its style is part documentary, part storytelling. It tells the story of a young by, 12 years maybe, who blows himself up in a car bomb attack. As If this were not brutal enough, he is assisted by a guy who seems to be his father.

There is one quite interesting piece of footage towards the end of the video. It shows father and son riding in a car on the way to the battlefield – i.e. the rigged car the boy is going to kill with. The father, sitting in the passenger seat with a laptop on his lap is watching another ISIS propaganda video, apparently as part of the preparation for the coming attack. Maybe as justification as well. The boy watches the video over the fathers shoulder. So when a propaganda video serves as evidence or justification for another propaganda attack, that is a circle I think is strange.

Often this self-reference can be seen in other videos as well, but most of the time it is done by using footage from other – apparently well known videos – inside the new video. Very often this footage is in black and white or altered in other ways to give it the appearance of a flashback. Sometimes, you can see groups of people watching other recent propaganda films and being interviewed for the new video afterwards.

But in this case, the video seems to trigger a direct and violent reaction. Of course it is staged, but the way this is done is quite interesting. It is as if the person who created this video wants to convince the audience – and maybe himself too – about the power these videos can have. Videos like the one the viewer is watching at the moment this statement is made.

Computer

Another interesting example would be this still from another video. It starts with this scene shown here. A young man at a computer looking at Islamist social media sites. The next scene shows a group of soldiers arriving in what looks like the land occupied by the Islamic State. There they are happily greeted by guys carrying weapons. Later the fighters who just arrived are trained and then you see them fight – one unfortunate soul has to blow himself up with a car.

But again, the video in a way references to itself by showing some of the material the audience is encountering while watching the video. But the first video, the one with the young suicide bomber, goes even one step further. After the attack, the father figure, is back in the car, back on the computer. Just this time it appears as if he is using the computer to feed the events that just have happened back into the propaganda machine. So the endless circle of self referencing continues.

Car Computer

 

 

Invisible Images as Documents

BBC Mexico

Media has a very strange relationship with images. On one hand there seems to be a general distrust in them, but on the other side, there is no way really to avoid them. I found this image in a short BBC video about kidnapings in Mexico. The guy shown is supposed to be a kidnapper. So what does this image actually show? Well nothing really. It shows a guy who apparently does not want his face to be seen and so he represents someone who does not want to have his face seen. Every actor on the planet could function as a stand-in for this guy. Oddly, even though the image only shows itself in that way, it seems to be necessary to make the video more trustworthy.

I am in no way saying that the BBC is faking anything, but this image pretty much represents the state we are in, if it comes to image use. We need images to tell stories, even if the image does not show anything. It serves as a placeholder. But even an empty image seems to have the power of authenticity. The image here can easily be read as a photographic image – I know, it is a video still, but to me that is the same – and therefore it is the placeholder for the photographic document it could be. So we look at this image, and the person shown could in theory reveal himself at any moment, and that seems to give the image some basis. It remains absurd though.

There is an even more extreme form of image use I stumble upon from time to time. I might have mentioned this here before, but I think it is crucial. Media outlets often handle highly sensitive images and most of the time, the label “sensitive” has to do with violence. Images they would like to use, but their own guidelines prevents them from doing so. So from time to time you can hear a newscaster stating something like: “the images in question are available to our staff, but after a long discussion, we have come to the conclusion that we can not show them to you, due to their violent nature.”. I find that amazing. Even a news program that does not use images, needs them as a reference point to become more authentic. That is really the one part of the nature of images in the 21st century, that fascinates me the most. Images are needed, even though they remain invisible.

Osama

And then there are images outside the reach of visual field of society, but not outside the public perception. These are images we talk about and take them into consideration during arguments, but that are just not visually present. A good example here would be the set of images (apparently) taken during the killing of Osama bin Laden. We, as a society, think these images exist, or we are made to believe that these images exist, but they themselves remain hidden. They become part of the debate, and even part of our visual history, since we all have access to other images of the same nature that can serve as placeholders. This made it quite easy to put together fakes, which popped up online within hours after the news broke. It does not really matter, what the picture looks like, since there seems to be agreement on what it is supposed to look like.

Sure, the non accessibility of this image, these images, seems to fuel conspiracy theories, but even if they were to be presented, the troubling nature of images would leave enough room for conspiracy theories anyway.

The best censorship remains invisible

I had a strange experience today. I did a quick layout for a small booklet I wanted to print, with parts of my works on terror. Nothing special, in fact I am not good in layout work and that is something I do not really enjoy. But I need some printed material with this new stuff, to apply to some things in the future. So I uploaded the PDF yesterday in the evening and this morning I received an email telling me, that my order has been canceled. The email stated, that my content did not comply with the philosophy of the company. Call it what you want, but I think someone thought that this work should be censored.

Even though it does not really show on the surface of society, there seems to be something present underneath, that almost resembles mass hysteria, when it comes to anything terror related – or maybe even Islam related, since too many people have a hard time to distinguish the two.

If we look at the works in question, we might definitely not be able to agree on the quality or even if the work is interesting at all, but I think that it is certainly not braking any laws. Does it brake moral codes? Maybe. But should that be an issue?

I am certain that the person who had to check this PDF saw something Islamic and that did raise the red flag. But lets be clear, I ordered merely 10 copies of the publication, since that is all I need, and that would be a very shitty propaganda operation. Its like dropping five leaflets on North Korea.

OK, in the end I wrote them an email and some hours later, someone left a voicemail message, stating that they thought about it and would print my booklet. So no censorship in the end. But what if I did not write an email? My material would not have been printed of course. And maybe next time, I would have thought more thoroughly about the content I want to print. That would be the beginning of self-censorship. Even now, I have the feeling, that I would look at my layout differently next time. Sad.

Since I am doing a lot research on this kind of material, I watch and collect a lot of it. When I became interested, at first, I wondered where this material could be found. And how should I go about accessing it? I started researching TOR and other forms of surfing the Internet anonymously. Should I purchase a VPN or not? But the more I thought about it, the more I became angry with myself and the situation. As far as I know, it is not illegal to research these things. I am not involved in the making of these videos nor in the distribution of the material itself. What I am doing is research work. Many people might consider what I am doing bad taste, but I think it is important.

So I decided not to hide my tracks and not to use anonymous services. If I end up on some kind of government watch list, this would proof that the system currently is broken.

Why is society so afraid of propaganda? Propaganda is not too different from advertising and we all would agree that watching an advert does not really make you buy a certain car. Otherwise people in debt could always sue car companies for making them purchase cars, they could never afford.

By prohibiting access to this material, it is not going to go away, it just becomes far more tempting for some people. But the more damaging part is that by removing this material from the common consciousness, you remove it from public debate. And that lets people freak out once they encounter a small glimpse. Most of the ISIS material online is boring or unimportant. And then there is some brutal material and maybe a tiny fraction could be considered dangerous. But by blocking all access to all material, everything is labeled the same way … and it becomes far frightening.

In fact there should be public screenings of this material, combined with public debate. Once you inspect this material closely, it quickly starts loosing its aura and reveals things it is not meant to reveal.

So where exactly are all the stupid people?

Yesterday I went to another event that involved Bazon Brock. Since the event took place in the office he is running, he was the host, but officially not the main feature of the evening. Nevertheless, he apparently has a lot to say. So he was pointing out who he thought is stupid. Person here, person there, all stupid. This group of people. This idea, everything stupid. Once I kind of answered his philosophers mating call by giving him a short reply, even I became part of this illustrious group of stupidity.

It is extremely tempting to say that a person or a group of people is stupid. But I would argue that this is almost never true. It would make things so easy, but unfortunately there are not that many stupid people around And those who are don’t leave a big imprint into human society or history of thought. Being stupid lets you loose access most forms of communication beyond your personal sphere.

And Mr. Brock was definitely not talking about this kind of stupid people. Rather he was talking about certain thinkers, scientists and ideas in general.

Ever since I stumbled about the word antinomy in my youth, this word and its meaning are definitely amongst my favorite. Antinomy refers to two or more opposing ideas, that taken just for themselves can be understood as true. But they oppose each other and when clashing, it is impossible that both are true at the same time. So could we call one of the ideas stupid? I would say no.

I think ideas can be wrong, shortsighted or flat out dangerous, but upon closer inspection, very few turn out to be just stupid. I think what Mr. Brock is really referring to would be ideas that just would not fit into his own thought cosmos. By calling such ideas stupid, he outed himself as lazy at best, ignorant at worst. He shouldn’t agree to every idea he encounters, but the people who came up with these ideas might not be too different from Mr. Brock himself.

I realized how important this is, while doing a lot of research on the concept of relics. Not so much in a contemporary sense, but really the medieval stuff. Dead bones, fabric and stuff. At first the way the people back then treated these objects could look naïve. What’s the point of worshiping some random of collection of bones – especially when most of it is definitely fake? But once you realize that the people back then were not that different from you. The situation they lived in differed, but their mental capabilities were not that different from yours. So if there was no element of stupidity, that has disappeared since. What is different then? Now it gets interesting, since now you might be able to realize that almost nothing is different. Sure, most of us don’t go to church. And even of those who do go, most do not really worship the bones presented in some catholic churches. But we do worship the brand of clothing we wear, the smartphone we carry or the brand of car we are driving.

So in this example, the quick conclusion “that is stupid” could have easily been drawn, but not drawing this conclusion actually helps us to better understand our own behavior. Sure, you are not always going to find clear similarities to your own thinking, when inspecting others thoughts and sometimes looking at the thought processes of other can even be painful. I don’t get it when people are racist or misogynist and looking at these people and their logic is definitely not fun, but being ignorant about them does not help either.

Unfortunately even Hitler was not stupid, nor was my grandfather, whom I never met and who was apparently a very proud Nazi. And no, his ideas weren’t stupid either. I’d love to say they were. They were wrong, everything about them was wrong – they were dangerous, and terrible and hateful and everything else. But they were not stupid.

I don’t understand lyric poetry

That might be a terrible outing, but I just can not read modern and contemporary lyric poetry. I just don’t get it. I gave up on the whole genre, but I tried in the past. So I read the first line, then I needed some time to think about what this might mean. Then I read the second line, getting more confused, but I somehow manage to connect line one and line two. But the third line gets me, since the whole things stops making any sense to me. I guess I am a creative person and normally I am perfectly capable to follow the weirdest thoughts, but again, lyric poetry defeats me.

I know, that is definitely over simplified, but the point I want to make here is another. I, like many other people, have a hard time understanding this kind of literature, since I am not trained in understanding this form of language. I am choosing literature as an example here, since literature is all about language and the problem might be most obvious, but today, almost all professional or scientific fields develop their own subset of language.

I am fully aware, that me talking about art with other people in the art world, could be hard to grasp for someone who’s lets say a butcher. That might have been always the case, but I think that the accelerating diversification of the professional field might bring an accelerated diversification in language with it. Some years ago it would have been relatively easy to grasp the language used within another scientific field, but take philosophy for instance and we are almost at a point, where certain sub fields within philosophy have a hard time finding a common basis for communication.

That bothers me somewhat and I think this presents some real challenges to the concept of interdisciplinary work. Most of the time one does not notice the fact that the language in different fields seems to further drift apart, since by definition it is the remoteness of all these fields from one another, that lets this happen. But from time to time I stumble upon it.

Again to philosophy, which could be a fine example. When reading a philosophic text sometimes I get sucked in and find the ideas presented very convincing. But once I look up and look outside the window, I find myself wondering how much the whole thing has to do with the real world. I never got through much of Kant, but how much of him is to be found in me crossing the street? I don’t want to sound arrogant and to be honest, my art and the stuff I am saying about it, suffer from exactly the same dilemma. What I am trying to say with my art, might be absolutely valid within the context created by art. And what Kant is saying in his philosophy might be valid within the field of philosophy.

I did read Vilém Flusser’s short text on photography a few years ago and I did not really think about it much afterwards. It just did not interest me that much. I am invited to participate in an event later this year, that seems to take some influence from this text, so I forced myself to reread it. And while doing so, I stumbled upon a short paragraph, that brought me to writing this text.

“Black-and-white does not exist in the world “out there,” which is a pity. If they existed, the world could be analysed logically. If we could see the world in blacks and whites, then everything in it would be either black, or white, or a mixture of the two. The drawback, obviously, is that such a world would not result in color, but in gray. Gray is the color of theory; after having theoretically analysed the world, it is impossible to resynthesize it. Black/white photographs display this fact: they are gray; they are images of theories.“

Maybe I don’t get it, but right now all I can think of is “what a pile of crap”. The problem here is that the whole text might make complete sense in its own subset of language and therefore in its own subset of perception. But to me, as someone who lives within another subset-system, the whole thing makes no sense whatsoever. In my world, “Gray” is not the color of theory … I didn’t even know that theory needed a color. And in my world being color blind does not necessarily help in logically analyzing the world around.

It might be the case, that I would get, what he is talking about, if I would try to read as much Flusser as possible and therefore manage to dive into his language and thought cosmos. But this is precisely the problem I am emphasizing here.

I think the world is not that difficult on a human level. The world around us, the society we are living in, that should all be somewhat possible to grasp. And when talking about images and photography, it should be possible to express things in a way that could be (almost) universally understood. Maybe. But I might be wrong.

Why some drones make a buzzing sound

While I was watching a documentary about drone strikes in Afghanistan, I noticed that some of the drones shown made buzzing sounds. The sound they make is comparable to the noise of a lawnmower – in fact, when I looked into it, it turned out that some drones use motors that have similarities to the ones used in lawnmowers. At first I did not really notice but then I though, well that is odd, wouldn’t it be much better to have them as silent as possible? Well, they are somewhat advertised as the silent killers that could strike anywhere. Plus it shouldn’t be too difficult to make them silent.

But the more I think about it, the more do I come to the conclusion that the buzzing sound is not due to an accident or due to some technical limitations, rather that this sound is part of the way this weapon system is supposed to work. The noise serves as a constant reminder that the threat created by these drones is real and might strike you at any time. In a way I can see parallels to the footage produced by terror groups that show successful suicide attacks. Uploading a video to Youtube does not make your next suicide attack more successful, but by using this kind of PR channels, you are causing terror beyond the actual reach of your suicide attackers.

This is the aspect that fascinates me a lot, while thinking about how contemporary conflicts are fought. Many of the most prolific weapons used today try to be invisible – like suicide bombers, drones, IEDs, computer viruses -, but their reach is always limited. Therefore there seems the need for them to be as widely publicized as possible. That way they manage to enter our perception. The threat becomes omnipresent.

I think I mentioned this in an earlier blog post, but big brother might be happy if you think he is watching. He could never watch everyone, but once you feel his gaze, you might control yourself.


I wonder if sound designers are involved in the production of these drone engines. Do they ask people to respond to different kinds of pitches? Or do they consider, which wavelength might work best and could be heard farthest? Toying with peoples perception is as brutal as aiming weapons in their general direction.