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.

The lack of terrorist mouse droppings

“You can not prove a negative”

For quite some time I thought the sentence above was a widely used English saying. More recently I looked into it and found that it actually is a quote by James Randi, the American magician and skeptic. Very brilliant guy. So I might have to tone down my appreciation for the English speaking world and raise the one I am feeling towards James Randi. The sentence sounds very trivial and Randi is certainly not the first one to understand the concept – Russels Teapot points to the same conclusion -, but I find this idea to be absolutely crucial for many of the problems we are facing today.

The idea of the sentence above, is that to prove that something does not exist you could never find a positive evidence. The absence of something leaves naturally no trace. So if there is a mouse in your attic, you might find mouse droppings and these could be counted as evidence. But a non-existing mouse would leave no droppings. But the thing is that the absence of droppings could never be considered evidence for the absence of the mouse. Maybe the mouse is too clever and shits somewhere else. The absence of evidence is not the evidence for absence.

But I am not so much interest in mouse poop, but rather this – quite simple – concept might explain a lot. Or better, the problems people are having coping with this concept explains a lot. Why is terrorism so scary? Why does society freak out when a pig somewhere sneezes and dies of the flu?And why do surveillance operations keep growing? Maybe many of our fears come from our inability to deal with the concept on non-existence.

Terrorism is scary, because we are made to believe that terrorists are hiding within our society – and since we could not prove otherwise, the only valid response seems fear.

While working on my Stasi project, I came to the conclusion that surveillance systems actually like this fear created through absence – you can never be sure that big brother is not looking in your direction and therefore you better control you own behavior.

But the same mechanisms might have helped to destroy the system. The Stasi was a massive undertaking. 80something thousand full-time agents and tens of thousands of informers. And this operation kept growing over time. In fact it peaked a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. This decline was due to the economic troubles in the GDR and not due to a voluntary decision to take things easier. But why did the Stasi grow? There was not much of a demographic grow – quite the contrary, the population was in constant decline due to low birth rates and emigration towards West Germany. The Stasi grew because of paranoia.

Systems like this one – I would argue – lack the power to question its own existence. You can easily question everything, but questioning your own being and your role within you part of society is hard, the same is true for large scale organizations. So, since the Stasi would not or could not question its own existence, it seemed clear that there must be a threat to society – that was basically the premise for the whole Stasi operation. The idea was that, the West was constantly trying to undermine the system and topple the regime. So all the Stasi needed to do was to find evidence for that.

But as matter of fact, it turned out that most politicians in West Germany and Western Europe were too afraid of instability on their eastern borders and the incalculable risks this instability might bring. Therefore West Germany prolonged the life of East Germany by giving loans and paying ransom for political prisoners. As far as we know now, West Germany never actively tried to topple the regime. Sure, there was support for dissidents, but that was not like funding an underground army. But since the absence of a plan to bring down the regime could never be proven by a surveillance apparatus, the Stasi could never come to the conclusion that the threat they felt was not real.

Poor Stasi guys. How could they have reacted? Once they did not uncover “The Big Plot” for ten years, who would have gotten up to tell his colleagues “Guys, listen! We have been searching for ten years and we did not find any evidence. So lets all go home.”? Of course no one does that, since the guy who desperately wants a promotion, would answer that the enemy is just too clever and therefore the threat is just very hard to uncover. But one day, for certain, evidence will be found, all that is needed is just one thousand new agents. Maybe it is just me, but to me that sounds very contemporary.

It is the same dilemma the NSA, CIA, BND and all the others are facing. Once you come to the conclusion the threat you are facing might be invisible you have already lost. There is no way to find any evidence that gets rid of the fear that you have just created. Maybe the fear becomes weaker, or it is covered by more powerful fears, but it is here to stay.

 

“the horse”, Sir Winston Churchill, 36p

Copyright is badly broken. I guess that is not news. But I am not arguing that the way copyright is implemented might be broken, rather it is the entire concept of copyrighting something that is just wrong.

Some time ago, I did read the short text “I, Pencil” by Leonard E. Read and recently I was reminded by it, when listening to a podcast. The text from 1958 is about the idea that today so many people are involved in the production of such a simple item like a pencil, that one could argue that there is no one in the world who could make one by himself. From cutting down the trees, to mixing the paint, to mining the graphite for the lead – in the end maybe millions of people are involved in the making of one. Most of them without being aware of their participation in the making of a pencil.

I do see many parallels to the idea of copyright. Image the last person in line of the production declaring that the pencil is his and his alone. There should never be another pencil beside it, since even the idea of pencil is his.

Sure, the text “I, Pecil” is about market and money, but so is copyright. In some ways I am considered a creator. And lets just forget about the projects for which I used found footage but focus on those works who might be considered truly mine. I have an idea, I take my camera, I do my shots, I process the files and in the end the result might represent my idea. But do I really believe that I am the sole creator of a work? I am not talking about the production process – here I am moving away from the “I, Pencil” text. So I am not talking about the manufacture of the camera or the processing by the lab. Or the company who produced the components of my computer. I am talking about the intellectual part of my creation. I am a creature, but I could not fool myself into believing that the ideas I have come purely form inside of me. No. I am fully aware of the things that influenced me and even though sometimes the details are slightly blurry, quite often I know most of the impulses by the outside world that brought me to the creation of one work or the other. Like the pencil, an idea is just the end result of a cooperation of a huge number of people who have no idea they were cooperating.

But in the end someone claims authorship. “Now the idea is mine. And it is going to be mine until many years after my death.” That, to me, feels wrong, unfortunately I myself am participating in this claim-making business, since I have to try to make ends meet.

Take for instance the estate of Winston Churchill. I am not entirely sure, what the legal situation is right now, but at least their website says, that they license those works they hold the copyright to for commercial use. They state that: “The fee will vary depending on the scale and importance of the publication involved, but a rough guideline is £175 per 1000 words.”. I find that ridiculous. I am not so much taking offense by the fact that maybe the speeches of a publicly elected official have to be paid for. It is more the concept of such a license that offends me. For some time, I am playing with the idea of approaching them to purchase a “the” by Sir Winston Churchill. Just one word. I should be able to afford it, since it should be just 18 pence. That is a bargain. I might even buy “the horse” for 36 pence. Yeah, the whole thing is ridiculous. What does one pay for actually? Words? Churchill definitely did not invent those? Well then it must be ideas. But how many original ideas does a Churchill speech contain? How often can we be sure, that it was actually his idea and he has not been influenced by something he read or someone he spoke to? We could never be certain. And I guess that almost every sentence Churchill spoke in his life, was spoken before.

So it might be that we are not actually paying for words or ideas, but for the right to use a brand name such as Churchill. Copyright is broken and it always will be.

Watch out! The Internet is heading your way!

The Internet is a strange place. Never before has it been possible being ignored on such a global scale. Hype normally does not change that too much. I have had my small share of hype in the past. Not the Gangnam Style kind, much smaller, but still I would call it hype.

The first time something like that happened to me was shortly after I have finished university, when an (apparently) important Dutch blog wrote about one of my projects and linked to my site. Sure enough, the server that hosted this site went down and availability was quite shaky for a couple of days. Looking at the statistics I realized that over the course of a weekend something like 40.000 visitors from the Netherlands still managed to see the work on my site. Wow! I thought that was it. I finally had my breakthrough as an artist. I was happy and waited for all the feedback that was certain to come. How much feedback did I end up getting? None. Not a single email. Why? Because when was the last time you have seen something on the Internet and you did not just repost it, but rather you contacted the person who created the original material to tell him or her how awesome you find what you have seen? See, I don’t do that either.

After telling my girlfriend about that, at the time, she felt sad and started to actually tell people, if she found something interesting the had done online. The feedback she received for that was very nice, but I think she stopped doing that soon after. It is just nothing most people normally do.

Now once or twice a year, the server my site is running on struggles to keep up with the amount of traffic it gets. Mostly that has to do either with my work on the Stasi or my project on snipers. And mostly it is because some site writes about something someone else has written about my work. That is another strange thing – attention on the Internet is mostly layer upon layer of copies. Most people do not bother asking to use material, others do. Sometimes I have my fun moment answering some of these requests, when someone wants material based on copies of copies of copies. Most people do not even bother asking a single question, but rather take everything just as it is.

I get it somehow. I wouldn’t want to be in the position of an editor of a website that has to keep pace with all the other sites around. You couldn’t possibly come up with the amount of original material necessary to fill your site. So copying it is.

Dealing with these things, I learn a lot and I am quite grateful for that. For instance earlier this year I found out that a huge US site was using an article from a smaller blog about my sniper project. Seeing that I thought: “that is odd, when did I give permission to sharing the content in this way?”. Turns out, I did not. Interesting about this was the fact that this site boasts with the clicks their articles get. According to their site, over the past twelve months they did run the same article (which was not theirs in the first place) four times. The first three times the article was clicked on 500.000 times each. The last time, this number went all the way up to 3.5 million. That was at least until I forced them to pull the plug. The interesting thing was that I did not really notice the first three times. Even though they had a link to my website, the amount of traffic this generated was quite low. Every couple of days I check the traffic on my server and that is normally how I notice that someone is linking to my site. The last time was the thing that gave them away. Maybe twenty thousand viewers this time actually clicked this link. That was something I did notice.

Twenty thousand out of 3.5 million, that is nothing. Especially, once you take into consideration that actually no one does anything to you besides spending three or four minutes on your site. Nevertheless, I receive quite many requests for material by huge sites that ask for free stuff, since “attention” is the currency they are going to pay me in. I don’t know if any one of them actually believes this bullshit. I am afraid some actually do.

Normally these blips of hype come unexpected. Someone writes something or copies something – and there is the peak of traffic on my site. And still, the whole thing can be tempting, I have gone through this quite a few times by now, but deep inside of me I am always strangely hopeful. In a way I feel like an old fisherman, who tries to keep his vessel in working condition, just in case he has to go through a storm. So I keep my site up to date. Check from time to time if the links are still working. If it would be a boat, it would get fresh layers of paint once in a while. And then storms come and go. And they leave hardly any trace behind. Can be frustrating.

I found myself in the fisherman-mood over the last few days. I realized some new projects and wanted to send out a newsletter – that is different from the storms above, since that creates just a fraction of the traffic. But still, the website needed, if not fresh paint, so some polishing. And today I was briefly interviewed by two very big sites, who are going to feature my new sniper images early next week. For once that is a storm I see coming and once again this strange feeling of hope sets in. But one has to learn to fight that, since the weekend after, everything should be over and things should return to being ignored entirely by the whole world.

PS – I still think that the Internet is important as a way for people to access ones work and I like having a website. It is a general problem that art almost never gets the amount of attention the artist would like for it to get. A normal opening of a small gallery show here in Berlin might draw fifty to a hundred people and if you are lucky you are having a nice time. Still the amount of real feedback could be somewhat compared to what you get online. So the Internet makes things accessible to other groups of people, but I guess we might have to agree on the one thing, that most people don’t give shit about most of the stuff they are encountering. It just becomes more obvious once you are working in the creative field.

Filming Aniconism

I might repeat myself, when I briefly point out the two following images, but since I find this whole topic extremely fascinating, I might as well do. In the first picture you can see five ISIS fighters during a staged exercise, all wearing action cameras on their heads. The whole video is mostly shot for the camera and part of the normal propaganda one can expect from these sources. But still, you see quite a lot of battle footage that is obviously shot with similar cameras. It just looks somewhat absurd. And the more so, if you compare this with another still from another recent ISIS video. Here you see some guys painting over advertising portraits. The fact that the face of the lady on the left is censored seems almost like the normal thing one can expect in this setting. But the fact that the two other faces (both male) are censored as well, shows that this censorship goes beyond the “regular” misogynistic prohibition of the female image and more towards the aniconistic tradition of some radical versions of Islam. Aniconism, or the religious prohibition of depicting sentient beings, has definitely followers amongst islamists, but filming the act of enforcing this god given rule on video, makes the whole thing appear very strange. Keep in mind that the Taliban were killing photographers for breaking this interpretation of the law. Today, they might still kill people for the same reason, but I guess that this would be filmed and the result would end up on Youtube. It is really about a power struggle and not so much about religious believes. Filming aniconism…. well that is definitely something.

Five Gopros

Aniconism

Poor Man’s Cruise Missile

The changes in media representation of war and the changes in propaganda, altered the presentation of these suicide attacks. With the widespread availability of mobile phones, it seems as if no one blows himself up anymore without several cameras filming. And the increasing video quality of modern smartphones, increases the quality of these videos as well. But in recent months more and more videos appeared that went beyond hand held cameras and towards the use of small, remote controlled drones to document these attacks.

You don’t see the car or truck driving away anymore and some time later an explosion somewhere in the distance, but rather these drones are following the vehicle on its course through the landscape until its point of detonation. Very often one can see small explosions left and right of the vehicle – apparently attempts of stopping the attack -, or soldiers running away from the coming carnage. The image below is from one of these videos. In the center is the compound that is been attacked. To left of it, highlighted by me, is the truck with explosives on board. In the end, the truck is going to reach its target, blowing up the whole compound.

Poor Man's Cruise Missle

It might be, because the aesthetics of these videos is quite new, but it appears to me the the strangeness of this material goes beyond their mere newness. Whoever takes these videos and publishes them, tries to emulate the idea of a striking airplane. This becomes even more obvious, when video-game-like markings are added to these videos, as seen below. Of course these markings have nothing to do with the real avionics of the drone, the video was shot with, rather it try to make the footage easier decipherable. The audience of these videos has learned through computer games, media representation and movies, what the footage from a attack plane or drone is supposed to look like.

Poor Man's Cruise Missile 2

It interesting though, when you compare these videos with the ones released by the US military to document their “successful” air strikes. For some reason, the quality is much worse. That might be because the planes and drones are flying at a much higher altitude, but I guess the main reason might be censorship. The quality is made crap on purpose and even the flight informations, the ones ISIS form time to time adds to its videos to appear more authentic are hidden. These videos by the US military are not supposed to show anything, rather they are meant to just represent themselves. We have grown accustomed to the way such videos are supposed to look and therefore they can look the way they do. These videos are meant as mere illustration of the things, the PR department tells us they do show. It would be difficult anyway to confirm that the claim that is “proven” by these videos is true or false. This might be why, these videos can so easily be recycled on the Internet. The same video can be used to show a drone strike in Afghanistan or a plane attack in Yemen. It does not really matter. These drone strike videos function as a blank canvas for whatever story you wish to tell. But even this blank canvas makes things appear more authentic.

Drone Strike

Of course the ISIS videos of wish-to-be drone strikes do not reveal too much. But I think that the quality of these videos does make a difference. Even though the ISIS videos might be as censorship-laden as the videos released by the Americans, the censorship in the high quality, posh videos is far less visible and so they appear to be more honest. Plus their sexiness is definitely much higher to the audience they are aiming for.