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The Evolution of the Image

This volume addresses the evolution of the visual in digital communities, offering
a multidisciplinary discussion of the ways in which images are circulated in digital
communities, the meanings that are attached to them and the implications they have
for notions of identity, memory, gender, cultural belonging and political action.
Contributors focus on the political efficacy of the image in digital communities, as well
as the representation of the digital self in order to offer a fresh perspective on the role of
digital images in the creation and promotion of new forms of resistance, agency and
identity within visual cultures.

Marco Bohr is the Postgraduate Programme Director for the Arts at Loughborough
University, UK. Marco has contributed to a number of edited volumes such as The
Contemporary Visual Studies Reader, Frontiers of Screen History, On Perfection and
Films on Ice: Cinemas of the Arctic, as well as the book series Directory of World Cinema
and the book series World Film Locations.

Basia Sliwinska is a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Historical Studies at the University
of the Arts London, UK. Her research is situated within feminist art history and critical
theory and focuses on concepts of the body, activism, gender and citizenship within
contemporary women’s art practice. Recent publications include: the book The Female
Body in the Looking-Glass: Contemporary Art, Aesthetics and Genderland (I.B. Tauris,
2016); the co-edited (with Dr Marco Bohr) chapter ‘Edge Effect: New Image Formations
and Politics of Identity’ (in Mediated Intimacies, Routledge, 2017); and the co-edited
special issue of Third Text: ‘Trans-figurations: Transnational Perspectives on Domestic
Spaces’ (2016).
Routledge Advances in Art and Visual Studies

This series is our home for innovative research in the fields of art and visual studies. It
includes monographs and targeted edited collections that provide new insights into
visual culture and art practice, theory, and research.

For a full list of titles in this series, please visit

The Concept of the Animal and Modern Theories of Art

Roni Gren

The Aesthetics of Scientific Data Representation

More than Pretty Pictures
Edited by Lotte Philipsen and Rikke Schmidt Kjærgaard

Art: Process: Change

Inside a Socially Situated Practice
Loraine Leeson

Visualizing War
Emotions, Technologies, Communities
Edited by Anders Engberg-Pedersen and Kathrin Maurer

Perception and Agency in Shared Spaces of Contemporary Art

Edited by Cristina Albu and Dawna Schuld

Contemporary British Ceramics and the Influence of Sculpture

Iconoclasm, Monument, and Multiples
Laura Gray

Contemporary Citizenship, Art, and Visual Culture

Making and Being Made
Edited by Corey Dzenko and Theresa Avila

The Evolution of the Image

Political Action and the Digital Self
Edited by Marco Bohr and Basia Sliwinska
The Evolution of the Image
Political Action and the Digital Self

Edited by Marco Bohr

and Basia Sliwinska

Taylor & Francis Group
First published 2018
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List of Figures vii

Contributors ix
Acknowledgements xii

Introduction 1

1 Camera Phones and Mobile Intimacies 14


2 Creepshots and Power: Covert Sexualised Photography,

Online Communities and the Maintenance of Gender Inequality 27

3 Interview with Rasha Kahil: May 5th, 2017 41


4 Imagening Discontent: Political Images and Civic Protest 51


5 Mobile Places and the ‘Cyborg Body’: Feminine Embodied

Net-community of #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest 62

6 Appearance Unbound: Articulations of Co-Presence in

#BlackLivesMatter 76

7 Photography, Politics and Digital Networks in a ‘Post-Truth’ Era 89


8 Posthuman Photography 100

vi Contents
9 Smart [Phone] Filmmakers >> Smart [Political] Actions 113

10 Am I Seen? The Reciprocal Nature of Identity as Technology 124


11 The Future Evolution of the Image 134


Index 148

1.1 David Bate, Screenshot (IMG_4363, 2016) 13

1.2 David Bate, Grass (IMG_5180, 2016) 16
1.3 David Bate, Dinner (IMG_6804, 2017) 17
1.4 David Bate, Venice (IMG_0199, 2016) 20
1.5 David Bate, Twigs (IMG_0386, 2016) 22
1.6 David Bate, Lock (IMG_1813, 2016) 23
3.1 ‘Caledonian Road, N7, London’ In Your Home, Rasha Kahil,
2011, c-type print, 900 x 600mm, framed 42
3.2 ‘Kastanienallee, Mitte, Berlin’ In Your Home, Rasha Kahil,
2011, c-type print, 900 x 600mm, framed 42
3.3 ‘Landsdowne Drive, E8, London’ In Your Home, Rasha Kahil,
2011, c-type print, 900 x 600mm, framed 43
3.4 Anatomy of a Scandal, Rasha Kahil, 2016, installation view,
c-type prints 45
3.5 Anatomy of a Scandal, Rasha Kahil, 2016, installation view,
c-type prints 46
3.6 Anatomy of a Scandal, Rasha Kahil, 2016, installation view,
c-type prints, framed emails 48
5.1 Czarny Protest / Black Protest in qódz, Poland, captured on
October 3rd, 2016 63
5.2 Czarny Protest / Black Protest in Wroc1aw, Poland, captured
in 2016 65
5.3 Czarny Protest / Black Protest in Wroc1aw, Poland, Zofia Reznik
getting ready, captured on October 3rd, 2016 66
6.1 St Louis Medical Examiner’s Office. Photograph entered into
evidence in Grand Jury hearings State of Missouri v. Darren Wilson 82
6.2 Still from Vine posted by Antonio French, September 8th, 2014 85
8.1 Photograph: CIVA/Philae/Rosetta/ESA 101
8.2 Mont Blanc Observatory Deck, France, Marco Bohr, 2006 103
8.3 Kenta Cobayashi, Slideshow ‘REM’, 4 min 49 sec., 2016 109
8.4 Daisuke Yokota, Interception, 2009 110
9.1 Reel Health: Tanzania (2012) 116
9.2 Spirit of Rangatahi Mobile Filmmaking Workshop (2014) 117
9.3 In Response We Closed Flinders (2015) 118
10.1 Untitled Digital Compilation of Screenshots,
captured in April, 2011, Chicago IL 129
viii Figures
10.2 Untitled Digital Compilation of Various Twitter and Facebook
Feeds, all digitally captured on April 16th, 2017 130
10.3 Urme Surveillance Identity Prosthetic in 4 Views with Original
Source Material, May, 2014, Chicago IL 131
10.4 Untitled Documentation of URME Surveillance Identity
Prosthetic on Wabash Ave, May, 2014, Chicago IL 131
10.5 Untitled Google ‘Face’ Search Screenshot, captured on
October 9th, 2015 132
10.6 Untitled Documentation of Art Souterrain, February, 2015 132
11.1 Fra Carnevale (attributed), Veduta di città idéale, 1480–1484,
oil and tempera on panel, 77.4 cm 3 220 cm 137
11.2 Trevor Paglen, Canyon Hangars and Unidentified Vehicle;
Tonopah Test Range, NV; Distance approx. 18 miles; 12:45 pm,
2006, C-print, 30 3 36 in 139
11.3 ‘SWARMIX: Drones, Dogs and Humans Cooperating in a Search
and Rescue Operation’, 141
11.4 Color Variations on Mount Sharp, Mars (White Balanced),
November 10th, 2016 142
11.5 ‘The L.A. Riot from Space’ 143

David Bate is Professor of Photography at the University of Westminster, London, UK.

A practising international photo artist and theorist, his exhibitions include Zone,
Bungled Memories and Perfect Harmony, alongside his book publications, which
include Art Photography (Tate Publications, 2015), Photography: Key Concepts
(Bloomsbury, 2016) and Photography and Surrealism (IB Taurus, 2004).
Marco Bohr is the Postgraduate Programme Director for the Arts at Loughborough
University, UK. Marco has contributed to a number of edited volumes, such as The
Contemporary Visual Studies Reader, Frontiers of Screen History, On Perfection and
Films on Ice: Cinemas of the Arctic, as well as the book series Directory of World
Cinema and the book series World Film Locations. Marco has also contributed to the
Dandelion Journal, the exhibition catalogue for Modernity Stripped Bare held at the
University of Maryland and the artist book Kim Jong Il Looking at Things, published
by Jean Boı̂te Éditions.
Anne Burns is a researcher with the Visual Social Media Lab, at the University of
Sheffield. Her research focuses on social media discourses relating to photography
and she has studied a range of topics including the perception of selfies, the
depiction of refugees and the discussion of revenge pornography. Anne has also
conducted research on social media for the Food Standards Agency and for First
Draft News.
Edgar Gómez Cruz is a Senior Lecturer in Media (Digital Cultures) at the UNSW in
Sydney. He has published widely on a number of topics relating to digital culture,
digital ethnography and digital photography. His recent publications include: From
Kodak Culture to Networked Image: An Ethnography of Digital Photography
Practices (2012) and the edited volumes Refiguring Techniques in Visual Digital
Research (2017, with Shanti Sumartojo and Sarah Pink) and Digital Photography and
Everyday Life: Empirical Studies in Material Visual Practices (2016, with Asko
Lehmuskallio). Current research investigates digital inequalities, the city as a visual
interface and street photography.
Gemma San Cornelio is Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Information and Communi-
cation Studies at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), Barcelona, Spain. She has
published a number of papers related to creative practices, digital culture and identity.
Her publications include the volume Art and Identity on the Internet (2008). She is
currently leading the project ‘Selfiestories and personal data’ on selfies and personal
x Contributors
Ingrid Hoelzl is an image theorist and performance artist currently working as Assistant
Professor at the School of Creative Media. Her book Softimage: Towards a New
Theory of the Digital Image, co-authored with independent writer Remi Marie and
published in 2015 with Intellect, has won critical acclaim in journals such as
Leonardo, Social Media + Society and the Journal of Visual Culture. With Remi
Marie she is currently working on a new book titled Postimage: The New Ecology
of Vision, which proposes an alternative understanding of the image drawing on
posthumanism, new materialism and ecophenomenology.
Nicholas Mirzoeff is Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York
University. His book The Appearance of Black Lives Matter (Name Publications,
2017) is available for free download at
Rasha Kahil (b.1980) is a visual artist living and working in London, originally from
Lebanon. Her projects take the form of photography, text, video and installation.
She has exhibited solo and in group shows internationally, including in London, Paris,
Istanbul, Zurich, Taipei and Beirut.
Remi Marie is an independent writer, poet and author of JE (2010). His texts exploring
the desires, politics and economics of postmodern city nomadism have appeared in
French, Canadian and Austrian reviews. Following the Nuit Debout events in Paris,
2016 he has co-founded the platform Art-Debout with the aim of questioning the
revolutionary possibilities of art: During the last
ten years, he has collaborated with Ingrid Hoelzl, leading to the co-publication of
several articles and the book Softimage (2015). He is also collaborating on the book
Postimage: The New Ecology of Vision.
Daniel Rubinstein is a Reader in Philosophy and the Image at Central Saint Martins,
University of the Arts, London. He has written extensively on contemporary visual
culture, photography and digital art. His current work investigates the radically
fractal nature of images with a specific link to desire and memory. He is the editor of
the journal Philosophy of Photography, co-director of the Centre for the Research of
the Networked Image (CRNI) and Course Leader of MA Photography at Central
Saint Martins.
Max R. C. Schleser is a Senior Lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology. Max
explores smartphones and mobile media for creative transformation and media pro-
duction. His portfolio ( includes various mobile, smartphone and
pocket camera films, which are screened at film festivals, in galleries and museums
internationally. He co-founded MINA, the Mobile Innovation Network Australasia
[], and curates the annual International Mobile Innovation Screening.
Leo Selvaggio is an interdisciplinary artist whose work examines the intersection
of identity and technology. He has shown work internationally in France, Canada,
Amsterdam and Switzerland, as well as exhibiting broadly in the United States.
Selvaggio’s academic work has been published in the International Journal for Per-
formance Arts and Digital Media and as part of Behind the Smart World – Saving,
Deleting and Resurfacing Data published by LAFKON. He holds a BFA from Rutgers
University and an MFA from Columbia College’s Interdisciplinary Arts program.
For more information visit
Contributors xi
Basia Sliwinska is a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Historical Studies at the University
of the Arts London, UK. Her research is situated within feminist art history and
critical theory and focuses on concepts of the body, activism, gender and citizenship
within contemporary women’s art practice. Recent publications include: the book
The Female Body in the Looking-Glass. Contemporary Art, Aesthetics and Gen-
derland (I.B. Tauris, 2016); the co-edited (with Dr Marco Bohr) chapter ‘Edge Effect:
New Image Formations and Politics of Identity’ (Mediated Intimacies, Routledge,
2017); and the co-edited special issue of Third Text: ‘Trans-figurations: Transnational
Perspectives on Domestic Spaces’ (2016).

First and foremost, we would like to thank the contributors to this book for their ded-
ication, support and feedback. They have shaped this project and the direction it has
taken and for that we are grateful. Without their commitment, enthusiasm and contri-
butions this book would not have been possible. This book is the result of collaboration
between many people and the contributors to the book are at the very heart of it. Thank
you to David Bate, Anne Burns, Edgar Gómez Cruz, Ingrid Hoelzl, Rasha Kahil, Remi
Marie, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Daniel Rubinstein, Gemma San Cornelio, Max Schleser and
Leo Selvaggio.
We would like to thank Routledge for giving us the opportunity to publish with them.
In particular we would like to thank Christina Kowalski for guiding this book into
publication and the anonymous reviewers of our book proposal for pushing us further
with their feedback. We are grateful to everyone who has helped us to get this book off
the ground. We also thank all individuals and institutions that generously provided
images for this book.
I (Marco Bohr) would like to thank Basia Sliwinska for her rigor, enthusiasm, col-
legiality and friendship. What started as a co-presented paper turned into a rather large
project with many different collaborators and likeminded people. The project allowed
me to appreciate the power of collaboration and for that I would like to thank Basia.
A very special thank you goes to my wife Patricia and our three children Cleo, Maxine
and Runa. The majority of this book was completed while we were temporarily based in
Kyoto and we had the most memorable time together (in spite of all its challenges
with three young children). I thank my family for always being there for me. Staff at
Ritsumeikan University, particularly Dr Yumi Takenaka, as well as the good people of
Kyoto, have provided the most welcoming atmosphere. Thanks also go to academic
colleagues at Loughborough University for their support.
I (Basia Sliwinska) started my journey with this book with a shared idea that emerged
during my conversations with Marco Bohr when we co-presented a paper at The Image
Research Network conference at the University of California at Berkeley in 2015.
We then discussed the threshold at which an image opens up a perspective beyond the
visible world towards that which is invisible. This project became more concrete when
our idea materialised into a book proposal and when we carefully selected contributors
to this volume who gave the necessary conceptual ‘meat’ and academic and visual
essence to what was at the beginning only a conversation over coffee when basking in
the Californian sun. First, I would like to thank my dear colleague Marco Bohr for his
enthusiasm, relentless effort to make this book happen, support, generous comments on
the draft of my text and wonderful working relationship based on collaboration and
Acknowledgements xiii
mutual respect and trust. Thank you, Marco. I look forward to our next project. I also
thank women from Poland who joined Black Protests in 2016, and women from other
countries who followed their lead, for mobilisation, collaboration and solidified com-
mitment to active resistance against patriarchal manipulation and muscular politics
inflicted on the female body and neglect of women’s and human rights. Those women
have demonstrated that the ethics of working together, sharing and trust, and female
friendship highlighting politics of difference can bring a change. I thank all supporters,
female and male, for their commitment and perseverance. A number of colleagues
supported this journey and I would like to thank Dr Marion Arnold for being (yet again)
a tireless and close reader of my writing and for her constructive feedback and invaluable
comments. I would also like to thank Dr Sofia Mali for taking the time to read through
my chapter. I am indebted to my friends who provided many photographs taken during
the protests, some of which I haven’t managed to include. Last but not least, I would like
to thank my mother, Helena  Sliwi
nska, whom I love dearly and who taught me how to be
a strong woman and how not to give up on women’s and human rights. Thank you for
being there for me, and thank you for supporting me during my work on this project in
one of the most challenging and demanding years of my life so far, yet one that gave me
further strength. Thank you.
Taylor & Francis
Taylor & Francis Group
Marco Bohr and Basia Sliwinska

The Evolution of the Image: Political Action and the Digital Self
This edited collection of texts, and our previous collaborative research, was inspired by
the following events: in February 2014 Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina of
Pussy Riot – the feminist punk group founded in Russia in 2011 – took photographs from
inside of a police van after being arrested for an alleged theft of a woman’s handbag.
They were in Sochi during the Winter Olympics to perform a song entitled ‘Putin will
teach you to love the motherland’, calling for the freedom of political protesters. Whilst
they were still under arrest, the photographs were uploaded on Twitter and were then
widely shared on social media. This spread the news about the arrest to an ever-growing
audience as the images were re-tweeted, shared, liked or commented on – generating a
dialogue but also enacting participation with an online audience. In our view, this case is
symbolic for a new type of image ecology that straddles the boundaries between the
analogue (e.g. the physical arrest captured in a photograph), and the digital (e.g. the
virtual dissemination of this event online). Ron Burnett called this a ‘middle space’,
‘which combines the virtual and real into an environment of visualization that has the
potential to displace conventional notions of subjectivity.’1 In a previously published
co-written paper we build on this concept, describing the coming together of two
hitherto separate image ecologies as a type of ‘edge effect’. Derived from biology, the
term ‘edge effect’ feeds into a larger discourse and may be applied to explore online
phenomena that are described like microcosms, such as images going ‘viral’, spreading
from one carrier to another.2 The title of this book, The Evolution of the Image, pays
tribute to the evolving nature of the image ecologies in this rapidly changing context.
The Pussy Riot photographs from the police van also point to another common theme
explored in the book: the role of images in relation to political action and the defining of
a digital self. Politics and identity are deeply interlinked and dependent upon each other.
Identity politics concerns a range of political activity and signifies inclusions and
exclusions, and experiences of injustice of particular social groups. In the second half of
the 20th century, arising from the emergence of large-scale political movements such as
second-wave feminism, Black Civil Rights, gay and lesbian liberation, among others,
identity politics emerged as a mode of organizing to challenge ideas about social injustice
and address questions about the nature, origin and future of identities. The ‘identity’ of
the identity politics concerns the experience of the subject and the political dimension of
personal issues. The study and analysis of images and cultural engagement with visual
culture since the mid 1990s has been developing and a greater emphasis has been placed
on sociological aspects and social action.3 Within the last decade there has been a
2 Marco Bohr & Basia Sliwinska
renewed interest in political subjectivity, agency and resistance, and the politics of
images, responding to global concerns and suggesting ways in which issues may be
mobilized and activated. Examples in recent years where images, and the instantaneous
sharing of these images online, had a profound impact on political subjectivity include
the ‘Arab Spring’, Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street.
Our eyes act as agents obtaining visual information and recognizing the world outside.
This information is processed by our brain and filtered by our nervous system. The image is
formed through the eye or, as in the case of photography, through the lens of the eye. In the
case of digital images, this process also includes conversion from analogue to digital and
sampling. Since the Renaissance and the introduction of different intervening technologies
into the visual field, such as camera obscura, the perspective and how we look, what we
look at and how this information is processed, have changed. The camera designates a
further point where both seeing and looking and the spectacle become multidirectional
and often guided by perspectival illusion. It is not the purpose of this volume to question
the ideological effects of perspective and the identification between camera and subject.
However, we emphasize that since the introduction of the camera we access vision dif-
ferently, and this has further changed after the digitalization of images, and, in extension,
vision and seeing. Camera expanded our access to invisible vision and the disembodied. It
became even clearer that vision is an ideological construction, which politicizes consti-
tution of the subject but also its relationship with and to the visible (and invisible) world.
There has been much written about the relationship between the camera and the eye,
and the implications this has for different degrees of looking exemplified by the concept of
the gaze.4 What interests us is the resonance between images, political subjectivity and
the digital self. Nothing processed by the human eye can be taken at face value. It is the
locus of visual perception, appropriation of the image, formation of its relationship with
the ‘self’ and a site where projection occurs. Looking and the image have the oppositional
potential to intervene in the field of vision and this volume explores the latter in relation to
the digital. In other words, we address not only what is there to see by the eye and the
camera/gaze but also how what is seen can be activated in a digital realm and politicized.
Image is a broad and vague term, often understood in a tacit way as it is embedded in
every cultural experience, if not explicitly, then through association. There is no essential
nature or single definition of what an image is. Images are embedded in a complex
network of relations and meanings. Image may be understood as a representation of an
external form, a likeness or a metaphor. It is related to imitation or a reflection in a
mirror. Trying to define a digital image makes things even more problematic. Timothy
Binkley observes that,

‘Digital image’ is an oxymoron. An image is an appearance that is inherently visible;

a number is an invisible abstraction. If a digital image is something one can see (by
experiencing it with one’s eyes), one cannot compute it; but if one can apply
mathematical operations to it, then it has no intrinsic visual manifestation.5

However, Mitchell proposes images to be a family of graphic, optical, perceptual, mental

and verbal forms. This suggests there is no single taxonomy of images and that not all
images necessarily have to be visual. What might be a more appropriate definition and
what we refer to as ‘image’ in the title of this volume is ‘visual manifestations’, which
include metaphors, personal, political and bodily, among others, images that shape our
lives and our understanding of the world around us.
Introduction 3
In recent years it has become increasingly clear that images are not an appendage to
digital communities on social media, micro-blogging sites or other online platforms, but
that they have become central to communication and information-sharing. In this quickly
shifting environment, the academic study and analysis of the visual within the larger
discourse of digital culture is a burgeoning field. Long before the advent of social media,
Martin Lister’s 1995 edited collection The Photographic Image in Digital Culture pro-
vided a forward-looking investigation into how digital technologies are impacting the
photographic image.6 In his analysis Andrew Darley incorporates the digital image into a
larger, more discursive sphere described as ‘visual digital culture’, which includes video
games, digital films, music videos, computer simulations or computer-based art, amongst
others.7 So what exactly is an ‘image’ within the framework of digital ecologies? What
these definitions suggest is that there is no essential nature or single definition. Images are
embedded in a complex network of relations and meanings that mean different things to
different people. As described by Ingrid Hoelzl and Remi Marie in their book Softimage
(2015), this is particularly the case today when digital culture is rapidly changing the
structural integrity of the image as it morphs into a piece of programmable software.8
This edited collection was initiated under the belief that, in this moment of great
change promoted by digital and online technologies, images provide us with an
opportunity to take stock, reflect, define, analyse and debate notions about represen-
tation, politics, agency, surveillance, power, resistance, knowledge and identity. To that
end we are interested in a particular type of image, one that has a sociological dimension
to it, one that activates change, or one that responds to global concerns. This led to a
narrowing of our focus, with the result being that all chapters in this book are concerned
with lens-based images, in other words an image produced through an optical device
and with a presumed ‘indexical’ relationship with the real. We are not suggesting that
non-lens-based images such as graphic images are less political, nor are we suggesting
that lens-based images are inherently more political than non-lens-based images. Rather,
we are arguing that the transformative change brought about by online technologies –
the evolution as described above – is most discernible in lens-based images such as
photography or mobile phone films, which are the focus of this book. As the chapters in
this book explore, one major aspect of this evolution is the ubiquity of mobile phone
technology as well as the ever-improving automation from the moment an image is taken
to the moment it is shared with online communities. We do not believe in a type of
technological determinism whereby ‘users’ passively respond to the technology that is
available to them. In our view, technology is advancing in response to, and as a result of,
this on-going social phenomenon. To that end the book is not concerned with scientific
aspects of electronic imaging, network computing, cloud computing and virtual plat-
forms. Rather, we are interested in visual manifestations. This collection includes a
range, not exhaustive, of discourses, which are theoretical, historical and practice-driven
around the evolution of images and their manifestations.
Images are produced but they are also consumed. They are being looked at and seen
and our ability to see is called vision. Vision also dictates how images are constructed
historically, socially and culturally. Early-1800s vision was radically reconfigured first
by the collapse of camera obscura and its linear optical system and second by the birth of
a new mobile observer. Modernization brought signs and images that were mobile.
Vision became deterritorialized and started being detached from physical space. The
following century brought industries of the image and the spectacle, and the digital
realm, which further complicated the relationship between vision and space, and created
4 Marco Bohr & Basia Sliwinska
a more abstract space governed by digits. This space became a network or more
specifically a digital network. Nicholas Mirzoeff observes that,

Today there is a new world-view being produced by people making, watching and
circulating images in quantities and ways that could never have been anticipated in
1990. Visual culture is now the study of how to understand change in a world too
enormous to see but vital to imagine.9

Further Mirzoeff adds that, ‘networks have redistributed and expanded the viewing
space.’10 This emergent and ever-changing digital network not only allows us to rethink
ways in which we see the world, but also enables us to question the nature of images
that are digital and the subjectivities that become digitized. This volume responds to a
resurgence of interest in the area, reflected in recently published studies and events
addressing issues around digital visual cultures.11 Different contributors to this book
query the nature of images on the verge of analogue and digital culture.
Nancy Baym remarks that the digital age in which we live is defined by the evolution
and expansion of new technologies.12 The number of ways in which we communicate
grows rapidly and the spaces in which or through which messages are exchanged
expand. These new communication channels, together with the development of social
media, enable and support in-depth social interactions, as argued by Jeremy Husinger
and Theresa Senft.13 This new landscape, as suggested by Husinger and Senft, creates
opportunities for interaction and collaboration. It is also a fertile ground for the for-
mation of communities and for a broader outreach through these digital networks.14
Those contemporary digital ecologies enable political and performative uses of social
media and new possibilities for communication through images. This visual digital
culture, to take Nicholas Mirzoeff’s claim concerning visual culture,15 enables change.
Mirzoeff proposes that ‘visual activism’, as a form of political protest, brings together
online presence with interventions directed at creating social change. Representation
of protests becomes a form of political action revealed visually and attracting visual
and critical thinking.16 Visual culture can be employed to activate new ways of seeing
and being seen and visual activism can enact change and turn our ability to see the world
into action.17 Mirzoeff’s ‘visual activism’ is a starting point for our discussion of the
evolution of the image, less concerned with representation of protest and more focused
on being a form of protest itself. This image is on the verge of the analogue and the
digital. It is often produced and consumed via digital technology and yet it concerns
the analogue attributes of photography and its historic context.
The overriding thematic framework of this volume is guided by a triangulated
relationship between the evolution of the image, political action and the digital self. Our
concern is to decipher an emergent subjectivity that is engaged with the world around
and actively resilient through different representational strategies. In this context it is
important to define what we mean by the term ‘political action’ in relation to the image.
This volume is not primarily concerned with the representation of politics such as in
reportage photography, documentary photography or photojournalism.18 Nor is this
volume concerned with ‘activist photography’, or a type of photography that purports to
have a social or political mission originating from the image-maker.19 Rather, we are
concerned with the potential for an image to function as an active agent in its own right –
independent of the intentions of its maker and independent of the image genre it is
attributed to. We are concerned with images that, in the words of the photography
Introduction 5
historian Ariella Azoulay, promote a ‘political imagination’, which she defines as ‘the
ability to imagine a political state of being that deviates significantly from the prevailing
state of affairs.’20 We argue that the sharing of images in online digital communities
provides a significant opportunity to study the impact of images on this type of ‘political
imagination’. Our emphasis in this book is for images to engage with this discourse
actively, through online participation and digital networking. It is this that we define as
political action in relation to the images discussed in this book.
The concept of the digital self, which is approached by contributors to this volume
from a variety of perspectives, is complex. In an influential paper from 2005, the soci-
ologist Shanyang Zhao interrogates ‘how people present their self to others when they
become disembodied and anonymous in the online world.’21 In his analysis, Zhao
inverts this research question by arguing that the ‘digital self’ is formed through other
online participants, as he writes: ‘others on the Internet constitute a distinctive “looking
glass” that produces a “digital self” that differs from the self formed offline.’22 Inter-
esting to note in this context is that, even though this analysis was written before the
emergence of popular image-sharing platforms such as Instagram and the selfie culture
associated with it, a distinct link between vision and subject formation (a ‘looking glass’
as a mirror and also psychoanalytic concept of the mirror stage) and digital identity is
already alluded to. Yet much has changed in this short time span and in this book we
query a rigid separation between on- and offline identities. Indeed, as with our argu-
ments on the ‘edge effect’, we believe that the future will see these hitherto separate
spaces merge continuously. To distinguish between life conducted online and life
conducted offline is not possible any more.23
In addition to that we query the two key characteristics identified by Zhao, namely
anonymity and disembodiment. What we are concerned with in this volume is a trend
whereby images shared online have the effect of making the ‘digital self’ identifiable to
others, precisely through the sharing of images of one’s identity. This means that the
disembodied ‘digital self’ conducted in the past is increasingly a ‘digital self’ with a
distinct subjectivity as well as a relation to corporeality. In other words, the key drivers
of the ‘digital self’ are in a moment of flux. We argue that this transition is not just
promoted, but is actually facilitated through the emergence of online image-sharing
platforms. In the same way as the ‘mug shot’ in the 19th century and the passport
photograph in the early 20th century transformed the legal register of citizens, we argue
that online photographs of and by Internet users have a profound impact on the digital
self.24 In our view the digital self brings together an abstract idea of the self, an embodi-
ment of elements that constitute identity of a person and something that is technological,
yet deriving from ‘a finger’, a body part.25 Such juxtaposition offers possibilities, which
enable identity to be queried and politicized in relation to technology.
This volume offers a multidisciplinary insight into contemporary concerns addressed
by a variety of images or visual manifestations, which take advantage of technological
developments and are embedded in the online environment, being part of a larger dis-
course of digital humanities. We are aware this is a broad field and only a certain number
of issues can be analysed throughout eleven chapters. It is also an area that is fast
evolving, changing and expanding, which requires a variety of approaches and per-
spectives. Our selection of themes revolves around broad topics such as identity, gender,
cultural belonging and political action, which are overarched by the political efficacy of
the image in digital communities and the ways in which the self can be represented
with/in the digital. The key objective is to offer a fresh perspective on the role of digital
6 Marco Bohr & Basia Sliwinska
images in the creation and promotion of new forms of resistance, agency and identity
within visual cultures. McLuhan’s well-known phrase ‘the medium is the message’
underpins discussions offered in this volume of digital visual culture and its varied
manifestations.26 Authors consider different media that influence the ways in which
messages are produced, communicated, distributed and consumed.
David Bate’s opening chapter ‘Camera Phones and Mobile Intimacies’ points to the
impact of mobile phone image automation and how the simplicity and ubiquity of this
technology is affecting our daily lives. As the first chapter of the book, Bate sets out some
important principles about the gaze of the mobile phone camera and the venture into
ever more personal and intimate territories via visual phenomena such as ‘sexting’ –
sending a sexually explicit photograph via a mobile phone. In his fluid analysis, and
building on Michel Foucault’s concept of Technologies of the Self 27, Bate argues that
mobile intimacies ‘represent a new disclosure of the self’, which is both inward as well as
outward looking. In the second chapter, ‘Creepshots and Power: Covert Sexualised
Photography, Online Communities and the Maintenance of Gender Inequality’, Anne
Burns explores the relationship between gender, looking and power, analysing ‘creep-
shots’ featured on an online photography discussion forum The Candid Forum. Further
building on Foucault’s theories on power, Burns addresses practices of looking and the
dynamics between a viewer and a recipient of the look, which in the case of creepshots is
non-consensual. She positions the photographer as an active agent and argues that the
subjects of the photographs are reduced to passive objects to be used without permission
for the enjoyment (often sexual) of others, mostly men. Burns engages in a nuanced
exploration of gendered gaze and gendered dynamics, which she explores through
Nicholas Mirzoeff’s concept of ‘the right to look’ and the role of visuality in reinforcing
authority. Her close analysis of terminology and techniques used to take covert photo-
graphs, tutorials and topics and the online sharing of skills and experiences is used to
uncover an online space for viewing and discussing sexualized images of women’s bodies.
Burns argues this space is not just for passive viewing, but, as its principle relies on sharing,
it is a ‘sublimated form of social organization’, an online community of likeminded
individuals objectifying and devaluing women through ‘intrusive forms of looking’.
In our dialogue with Rasha Kahil, a visual artist originally from Beirut, Lebanon and
based in London, we address two projects, In your Home (2008–2011) and Anatomy of
a Scandal (2016), which test the border between public and private space. Kahil dis-
cusses taking nude self-portraits in other people’s homes as a record of her social
relationships and encounters between her body and private spaces. In a conversation
around those projects we explore the reason behind a ‘scandal’ that broke when
screengrabs of Kahil’s website featuring the photographs were shown on a Middle
Eastern satellite channel in 2013. She talks about the layers of censorship that were
applied to the images by the online audience, mostly through digital ways of manip-
ulating. The interview with Kahil raises issues around practices of shaming the female
body and objectifying it in the context of cyber-bullying and different forms of digital
harassment. In the following chapter Edgar Gómez Cruz and Gemma San Cornelio
provide a visual ethnographic analysis of a protest march in Mexico, which had a heavy
social media presence under the hashtag #VibraMexico, or Mexico pulsating. The
march was an attempt to redefine and reclaim Mexican identity in light of the negative
opinions on Mexicans as voiced by Donald Trump. As Gómez Cruz and San Cornelio
point out, part of the reclamation of Mexican identity was conducted online and via
images. The hashtag itself, a pulsating Mexico, is referencing the desire of the protest
Introduction 7
organizers to make news and images associated with this event go ‘viral’. Through their
detailed analysis of this case study, Gómez Cruz and San Cornelio establish that images
shared online provide a new opportunity to open up virtual spaces for politically driven
protest. The effect of this new visual space is that the protest reaches new type of
audiences, both as the protest occurs but also in the form of a lasting digital legacy.
Basia Sliwinska analyses the pro-choice movement #CzarnyProtest, or #BlackProtest,
that swept over Poland in October 2016. As with #VibraMexico mentioned above,
activities related to this protest were documented and shared under a hashtag in order to
activate specific concerns about gender and equality. As much as the protest suggests a
reclaiming of space in a physical sense, Sliwinska argues that the virtual protest con-
stitutes a reclaiming of cyberspace – a way to control the narrative about women’s rights
and women’s bodies. Expanding on Donna Haraway’s concept of a ‘cyborg body’,
Sliwinska identifies this reclaiming of cyberspace as a key strategy by contemporary
feminist movements to articulate a shared identity. Images play a major part in the
protest as they function as a type of visual manifestation of expressions of resistance. In
that sense the evolution of the image provides a significant opportunity to disrupt and
subvert prevailing conventions, may they relate to patriarchy, religion or ideology. In
‘Appearance Unbound: Articulations of Co-Presence in #BlackLivesMatter’, Nicholas
Mirzoeff addresses the concept of appearance as co-presence between two modalities,
physical and online spaces, in common temporality. Such understanding of ‘appearance’
invites what he calls ‘persistent looking at the violent events’. Mirzoeff considers
different spaces: of connection, racialized, non-spaces of white supremacy and spaces of
action, which enable other ways of seeing. He then poses the question of whether the
space of appearance can be decolonized. Mirzoeff’s argument locates appearance not
within representation but within the possibility of appearing directly, which might, as he
suggests, ‘become the practice of decolonized space’. He also proposes thinking of
appearance as friendship and love. His nuanced and careful analysis of the Black Lives
Matter mobilizes issues of segregation, the polis and its police. It considers assembled
technologies of appearance inclusive of ‘(digital) co-presence, persistent looking and
embodied protest’ to enable looking beyond what is visible and look at what is kept out
of sight. He calls us to reclaim space and resist closure, and to think about how we see.
In his chapter ‘Photography, Politics and Digital Networks in a “Post-Truth” Era’
Marco Bohr explores the relationship between photography and politics in the context
of ‘post-truth’ and ‘fake news’. His close and detailed analysis of specific photographs
reveals how this medium has become one of the key actors performing in political battles
used to offend or defend, and to manipulate and deceive the viewer. Bohr’s argument is
initiated by the first White House press conference of the Donald Trump administration
in 2017. He examines different representational strategies that were adapted to point
towards ways in which photography is used as visual evidence and how effective it can
be, particularly when spread via social media. Bohr questions the concept of ‘truth’ in
relation to photography and the ‘post-truth’ era, and analyses different instances of
representing power disseminated in a strategic manner and via specific media. His
emphasis on the relationship between photographic image and digital networks opens
ways to think about the future of the image. The triangular relationship between politics,
social media and photography that he proposes sheds light on new ways in which images
are currently produced and consumed and, most importantly, how truth is also pro-
duced, consumed and questioned. In his chapter, Daniel Rubinstein identifies a new
epoch for photography that moves away from the humanist and representational
8 Marco Bohr & Basia Sliwinska
approach of the past. Underpinned by the theories of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
amongst others, Rubinstein describes the emergence of a new type of image, which he
describes as a ‘rhizomatic assemblage of interconnected fragments’ that functions as a
more accurate reflection of living in the digital age. Rubinstein’s term ‘posthuman’
photography provokes us to think about a technical shift, from a fixed and analogue
condition towards the image as streamable and interconnected data. But it also asks us to
consider this in philosophical terms: from photography as a document – or an ‘index’ of
reality – towards images as a new way to experience reality through layers, networks and
amalgam of data.
Written from a dualistic practice and theory-based background, Max Schleser
explores the role of mobile phone films in the formation of what he terms smart political
action. As one of the key figures in this emerging field, Schleser has a unique perspective
on the way filmmakers have adapted mobile phone technology to form a particular type
of visual expression that goes counter to pre-existing cinematic or documentary genres.
In the analysis of three interrelated case studies, mobile phone films provide a strategy to
give marginalized, stigmatized or underrepresented communities a ‘voice’. The wide-
scale ubiquity and availability of mobile phone technology thus opens up an opportunity
to develop representation for such communities by bypassing more established media
channels. In his analysis, Schleser describes filmmakers as ‘agents’ – not just agents for
transmitting a message but also agents for political and social change. Leo Selvaggio, an
interdisciplinary artist based in Chicago, opens his chapter ‘Am I Seen?: The Reciprocal
Nature of Identity as Technology’ with a question ‘Am I seen?’. Discussing his practice
Selvaggio addresses the materiality of his own identity and the presentation and con-
struction of identity in the current global world where social media platforms gain
increasing popularity. In the context of online technologies Selvaggio questions the
authorship of one’s persona and its distribution. He considers technology ‘to be the
externalization of an internal human process or ability into a “tool” to be used by an
other’. The collaborative possibilities of technology are explored in his
interactive online artwork created in 2011, which adopts an open-source-like process to
question, produce and consume identity. Selvaggio discusses how others use his online
identity and data as material to act upon. He then analyses his URME Surveillance
project launched in 2014, in which participants were encouraged to wear a photo-
realistic 3D printed prosthetic of his face in public spaces. He turns himself into a tool
that might be used to protect his own identity from identification by facial recognition
systems by assuming identity of someone else. He also invites others to communal
participation in a performative and collective questioning of facial recognition systems
and their ability to define one’s identity.
In the final chapter Ingrid Hoelzl and Remi Marie address the future evolution of the
image. Tracing the origins of the machine of vision to the beginning of Modernity, Hoelzl
and Marie question whether this instrument of vision is an enhancement or an auton-
omous and independent tool, or perhaps even a replacement of human eyes. Following
their argument presented in Softimage (2015) and their notion of ‘the photographic
paradigm of the image’, they explore the development of the programme of the image
and the interlinked epistemic revolution of the image originating in the 15th-century
invention of perspective and the geometric and mathematical world view.28 They then
address the current posthumanist era and argue that this perspective revolution
expands the human world into the infinite space. This has been even more prevalent
since the digital revolution when the image became ‘a tool for human-machine and
Introduction 9
machine-machine communication’. Hoelzl and Marie’s discussion on the politics of
representation and the hardimage and softimage provides a framework for potential
future development of the image. They open up discussion on images that show the
invisible, post images and Martian images, pointing to many possible scenarios and
multiple ways in which images might evolve. Hoelzl and Marie provide a fitting end to
this book by highlighting the potential future of the image into yet unknown territories.
The contributions to this book as a whole should underline that the evolution of the
image we are concerned with here is still unfolding and, as such, our relationship to
the image is unfixed and in a process of transformation. Our hope is that the chapters in
this book – written by a diverse set of authors from a variety of different cultural
backgrounds – provide an opportunity to reflect on this transformational change.
Lastly, we hope that the chapters provide an opportunity for further debate, critique
and action.

1 Ron Burnett, How Images Think (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2005).
2 Marco Bohr and Basia Sliwinska, “Edge Effect: New Image Formations and Politics of
Identity,” in New Media New Intimacies, eds. Andreassen Rikke, M. Nebeling Petersen,
K. Harrison and T. Raun (New York: Routledge, 2017).
3 See for instance: W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994); Nicholas Mirzoeff, Bodyscape: Art, Modernity
and the Ideal Figure (London and New York: Routledge, 1995); Stuart Hall, ed. Represen-
tation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (London: Sage, 1997); Sunil
Manghani, Arthur Piper, Jon Simons, eds. Images: A Reader (London: Sage, 2006).
4 See for instance: Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1989); Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier. Psychoanalysis and the Cinema (Bloo-
mington: Indiana University Press, 1982); individual chapters in: Philip Rosen, ed. Narrative,
Apparatus, Ideology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986); Jonathan Crary, Tech-
niques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: MIT
Press, 1990); John Tagg, The Burden of Representation. Essays on Photographies and
Histories (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1993), among others.
5 Timothy Binkley, “Digital Dilemmas,” Leonardo. Journal of the International Society for the
Arts, Science and Technology, 1990, Supplemental issue ‘Digital Image – Digital Cinema:
Siggraph ’90 Art Show Catalog’, guest edited by Thomas E. Linehan.
6 Martin Lister, ed. The Photographic Image in Digital Culture (London: Routledge, 1995).
7 Andrew Darley, Visual Digital Culture: Surface Play and Spectacle in New Media Genres
(London: Routledge, 2000).
8 Ingrid Hoelzl and Remi Marie, Softimage: Towards a New Theory of the Digital Image
(Bristol: Intellect, 2015).
9 Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World (London: Penguin Books, 2015), 12.
10 Ibid., 13.
11 For instance: conference “Material Environments: Sensing Time and Matter in Digital &
Visual Culture” in July 2015 at the University of Greenwich, UK; events organized by
The Visual Culture Caucus of the American Studies Association (ASA), for example the
October 2015 symposium in Toronto, Canada; The Association of Visual Pedagogies and
Digital Cultures Conference in June 2016 in Zagreb, Croatia; or “Visual and Social Cultures”,
the 4th International Association for Visual Culture Biennial Conference in Istanbul in 2016.
The issue of the ‘digital’ is also addressed in other events such as the Media X Symposium on
the digital self, organized in 2012 at Stanford University, among others. Some recent publi-
cations on the topic include: Mirzoeff, How to See the World; Burnett, How Images Think;
Darley, Visual Digital Culture; Hoelzl and Marie, Softimage; Jonas Larsen and Mette Sandbye,
Digital Snaps: The New Face of Photography (London: I.B. Tauris, 2013); Anna Bentkowska-
Kafel, Trish Cashen and Hazel Gardiner, eds. Digital Visual Culture: Theory and Practice
10 Marco Bohr & Basia Sliwinska
(Bristol: Intellect, 2009); John Lechte, Genealogy and Ontology of the Western Image and its
Digital Future (London, New York: Routledge, 2014); Oliver Grau and Thomas Veigl, eds.
Imagery in the 21st Century (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2011); among others.
12 Nancy K. Baym, Personal Connections in the Digital Age (Cambridge: Polity, 2010).
13 Jeremy Husinger and Theresa Senft, eds. The Social Media Handbook (New York: Routledge,
14 Ibid., 2.
15 Mirzoeff, How to See the World, 289.
16 Ibid., 271.
17 Ibid., 297–298.
18 For a recent study on photojournalism please see: Liam Kennedy, Afterimages: Photography
and U.S. Foreign Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
19 For a recent study on ‘activist photography’ please see: Michelle Bogre, Photography as
Activism: Images for Social Change (New York: Focal Press, 2012).
20 Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography (London: Verso,
2015), 3.
21 Shanyang Zhao, “The Digital Self: Through the Looking Glass of Telecopresent Others,”
Symbolic Interaction 28(3) (Summer 2005): 387–405.
22 Ibid., 387.
23 The distinction between online and offline presence used to be a way to distinguish between
industrialized and developing countries. The rapid expansion of broadband and 4G networks
in developing countries, at times surpassing Internet access in industrialized countries, means
that this rigid differentiation is increasingly outdated.
24 For more on the history of the ‘mug shot’, please refer to: Jonathan Mathew Finn, Capturing
the Criminal Image: From Mug Shot to Surveillance Society (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 2009).
25 The etymological roots of the word ‘digital’ point to a finger, a body part (from Latin digitus).
Its numerical sense (deriving from the fact that numerals under ten were counted on fingers)
suggests a digit, a number, a value of a physical quantity and more recently data of binary digits
and also electronic devices or computerized technology.
26 Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge MIT Press,
[1964] 1994).
27 Michel Foucault, “Technologies of the Self,” in Ethics: Essential Works of Foucault,
1954–1984, ed. Paul Rabinov (London: Penguin, 1997).
28 Hoelzl and Marie, Softimage, 94–95.

Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography (London: Verso, 2015), 3.
Nancy K. Baym, Personal Connections in the Digital Age (Cambridge: Polity, 2010).
Anna Bentkowska-Kafel, “Cashen Trish and Gardiner,” in Digital Visual Culture: Theory and
Practice, ed. Hazel (Bristol: Intellect, 2009).
Timothy Binkley, “Digital Dilemmas,” Leonardo. Journal of the International Society for the
Arts, Science and Technology, 1990, Supplemental issue ‘Digital Image – Digital Cinema:
Siggraph ’90 Art Show Catalog’, guest edited by Thomas E. Linehan.
Michelle Bogre, Photography as Activism: Images for Social Change (New York: Focal Press,
Marco Bohr and Basia Sliwinska, “Edge Effect: New Image Formations and Politics of Identity,”
in New Media New Intimacies, eds. Andreassen Rikke, K. Harrison, M. Nebeling Petersen
and T. Raun, New Media New Intimacies (New York: Routledge, 2017).
Ron Burnett, How Images Think (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2005).
Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth
Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990).
Andrew Darley, Visual Digital Culture: Surface Play and Spectacle in New Media Genres
(London: Routledge, 2000).
Introduction 11
Jonathan Mathew Finn, Capturing the Criminal Image: From Mug Shot to Surveillance Society
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
Michel Foucault, “Technologies of the Self,” Ethics: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, ed.
Paul Rabinov (London: Penguin, 1997).
Stuart Hall, ed. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (London:
Sage, 1997).
Ingrid Hoelzl and Remi Marie, Softimage: Towards a New Theory of the Digital Image (Bristol:
Intellect, 2015).
Jeremy Husinger and Theresa Senft, eds. The Social Media Handbook (New York: Routledge,
Liam Kennedy, Afterimages: Photography and U.S. Foreign Policy (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 2016).
Jonas Larsen and Mette Sandbye, Digital Snaps: The New Face of Photography (London:
I.B.Tauris, 2013).
John Lechte, Genealogy and Ontology of the Western Image and its Digital Future (London,
New York: Routledge, 2014).
Martin Lister, ed. The Photographic Image in Digital Culture (London: Routledge, 1995).
Sunil Manghani, Arthur Piper, Jon Simons, eds. Images: A Reader (London: Sage, 2006).
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge: Cambridge
MIT Press, [1964] 1994).
W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (Chicago: Univer-
sity of Chicago Press, 1994).
Christian Metz, The Imaginary Signifier. Psychoanalysis and the Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1982).
Nicholas Mirzoeff, Bodyscape: Art, Modernity and the Ideal Figure (London and New York:
Routledge, 1995).
Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World (London: Penguin Books, 2015), 12.
Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).
Philip Rosen, ed. Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986).
John Tagg, The Burden of Representation. Essays on Photographies and Histories (Minneapolis:
The University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
Shanyang Zhao, “The Digital Self: Through the Looking Glass of Telecopresent Others,”
Symbolic Interaction 28(3) (2005): 387–405.
Taylor & Francis
Taylor & Francis Group
Figure 1.1 David Bate, Screenshot (IMG_4363, 2016)
Note: All images made by the author on a camera phone (iPhone 6). All originals in colour.
1 Camera Phones and Mobile
David Bate

It is remarkable that, beyond its function as a telephone, the ‘cell phone’ is essentially a
pocket computer designed to do a multitude of other things at the same time. The cell
phone is a device that creates a space for its user to conduct their social life, business
duties and leisure interests, all united in one object-space that fits in a pocket/handbag.
What is there to say about this device and the new practices it creates for its users? More
specifically, what can be said about the phone camera and the impact of the new ‘phone
photography’ it has enabled, now also linked to the Internet host sites and platforms that
circulate and celebrate these images? And what of the fact that these digital images and
the phone machines that produce them are part of a much bigger and broader apparatus
of computational activity, of ‘big data’ systems, which, aligned with machine learning
algorithms, help to organize and structure the impact and effects of all these machines on
us? In short, the question here is: what are the effects of mobile phones on our sub-
jectivity, our personhood and ‘lives’, given our new daily intimate relation with them?
Or, reciprocally, what are the effects of users on the development of these camera
machines and their images?
The invention of the portable cell phone long precedes the invention of the camera
phone. The development of the camera phone has a very specific history. The camera
was first introduced into the portable cell phone market during the year 2000, in Japan
and South Korea. This makes the camera phone a specifically new ‘millennial’ device,
born in the twenty-first century, which first emerged on the market in Asia.1 In 2002,
these camera phones were rebranded, exported and sold in other cell phone market
segments across the world. However, despite a billion cell phones already registered for
use in 2002, it is generally considered that it is the widespread launch of the new 3G
‘third generation’ communication networks (eventually taken up more widely in the
USA and European markets in 2004) that really made the significant difference to the
popular use of the mobile phone in telecommunications culture.2 As Jon Agar notes in
Constant Touch, ‘3G’ enabled a higher quantity and quality of data to be streamed,
allowing for a more complex development and use of the cell phone.3 The 3G network,
coupled with the almost incidental inclusion of text messaging and email in mobile
phones – added as functions in an almost chance afterthought by the designers –
suddenly meant that the phone was useful as a device for a more extensive set of purposes
than simply a phone call conversation. Verbal communication could be supplemented by
written messages as the possibility for ‘texting’ and emails became available. The mobile
phone was quietly turning into a ‘multi-media’ tool, as a more widely useful device for
communicating with other people. It was only a matter of time (and data memory
increase) before visual communication would be added to the phone, its camera enabling
Camera Phones and Mobile Intimacies 15
this image function as supplementary media too. In fact, there was an attempt to name
the early camera phone a ‘visual phone’. The mobile phone was rapidly and even perhaps
somewhat unexpectedly plugged into a whole new world and network of mobile com-
munication devices, currently ‘4G’. The rest, as they say, is history.
The technological battle, fought out during the 2000s, to improve camera phone
technology was primarily between the ascendant Nokia and rival Sony Ericsson corpor-
ations, until they were both usurped by Apple’s introduction of the first iPhone in 2007.
Since then, the popularity of the ‘smart phone’, with its convenient flat shape and size has
levelled the technics of the camera phone. In the short passage of time of their existence, the
camera phone and its images (in trillions) have become the most common global source of
digital photo-image streamed and archived on devices around the world today.
Who could deny that the smart phone and its camera, with its sophisticated still/moving
image functions, has not already had a massive cultural impact on everyone’s lives
today, regardless of whether such a device is used personally or not? The camera phone is
one of the central components in the visual representation of everyday contemporary life
and part of its technological transformation. Camera phone images coupled to the global
network of Internet-linked computer screens have flooded all of our online and offline
cultural spaces. Images are uploaded and downloaded daily on a minute-by-minute, if
not second-by-second, basis. Whether seen voluntarily or not, camera phone images of
every imaginable form and content have appeared of almost any and every location and
of every subject matter you can and cannot imagine. These same images can be seen on
screens that are also looked at in almost any and every location you can think of too.
These are the new habits of computerized phone photography. Yet what does this mean?
The camera phone is a hybrid device emerging from the combination of three older
technologies: the telephone, digital photography and Internet computing. Each of these
predates the invention and development of the camera phone, yet has also informed its
technical development. The technical advances of the cell phone camera has followed
work in parallel to the development of other digital cameras, computer chips, sensor
designs, megabyte size and data image file formats. Camera phone technology drew on
and advanced these digital imaging technology fields, but in miniaturized forms, adding
mini lenses and micro flash functions to the technical developments of multiple
exposure, face recognition, slow-mo(tion) ‘movie’ and burst modes; digital zooms as
well as panoramic and HDR (high dynamic range) exposure modes. All these functions
were and are developed for inclusion into a variety of smart phones across the market. As
such, camera phone technology ‘shrank’ digital photography into becoming an essential
component within almost any mobile phone or portable computer device. However, we
may also note that, unlike most other digital cameras, camera phones have two lenses:
one facing the user, like a mirror, and the other facing outwards, like a window. While
these two camera lenses serve one camera phone, this nevertheless does not mean that
they are the only two optical inputs possible for these devices. With its visual data screen,
the camera phone can be used as a computer centre, as a remote-control console for
another device, for example, to operate another camera shutter and lens, operating a
satellite digital camera or other such device, like a hovering drone camera lens, through
which one can also take aerial photographs or shoot a video.
The technical acceleration and transformation involved in the tiny technics of these
camera phones, their screens and associated electronics have been truly astonishing.
Pictures taken with them can be instantly streamed or uploaded to online sites and a
variety of different network resources and platforms. These same images can then be
16 David Bate

Figure 1.2 David Bate, Grass (IMG_5180, 2016)

re-sent or downloaded to other sites and platforms automatically. The remarkable tech-
nical achievement of this device is given in its popular name, no longer, as originally, a ‘cell
phone’, but precisely in the dual meaning of the mobile phone and camera, whose novelty
is precisely in its mobility as a camera and the images that it supplies. The mobility of these
images is way beyond the dream of the old analogue photography. Not only do camera
phones have a dynamic range that is far more sensitive to light than any film, they also
outstrip its capacity for instantaneous distribution. The camera itself is almost invisible,
light and portable, yet this pocket computer/camera phone can also store a vast archive of
images in itself and on online links. How does the camera phone achieve all this?
Automation. The procedure for taking a camera phone image has been highly sim-
plified technically for the user and this is one of the key features of the mobile phone
camera. The process of taking a picture is an activity (technically) reducible to the user
pointing the device at the subject and composing (or not) the image on its screen and
triggering the shutter. Once triggered the phone processor automatically generates and
stores the registered image as data on the device and/or can also automatically stream it
to other designated locations for sharing, later selection and/or back-up as storage. The
very mobility of these images means that the user is able to simply move an image from
one space to another. In a mere gesture, the image can be ‘swiped’ from one screen to
another very different location on another screen. All this ‘instantaneous’ mobility is
achieved through a sophisticated level of technical automation in the processing of the
Camera Phones and Mobile Intimacies 17
image. It is this automation that gives the image as data its cultural ‘liquidity’.4 This same
technical automation also enables the user to make images ‘without thinking’. The
intentionality of the phone camera user can be given the same sort of status as doodling
with a pen, i.e. taking pictures out of boredom, in any location with almost any lighting
or other environmental conditions. Conversely, the specialist can use this automation as
an intentional variation to the control of the professional, as an electronic form of
surrealist ‘chance’. It is thus possible to make acts of visualization ‘instantly’, which
demand no technical skills beyond a basic cultural knowledge of a photographic image,
and the whereabouts of the ‘shoot’ button to operate the camera phone or other device.
The automation and mobility of this type of image means that the user is able to produce
pictures anywhere, anytime and anyhow, with or without any specific purpose. These
characteristics release the camera phone user from the usual co-ordinates of behaviour
and propriety defined as acceptable for a photographer. Instead of only taking a camera
to photograph a special event and special occasions that make up most social and
domestic photography (e.g. the scenes of vacations, the rites of marriage ceremonies,
other family and friend gatherings and events), the phone camera is now ever present, in
a handy pocket or bag, and can be operated at any time at all. Here is the birth of the so-
called ‘citizen photographer’, who, like the professional news photographer of old,
always has a camera to hand. Yet, instead of taking pictures to follow a specific brief or
shoot schedule (as with the professional photographer), the new versatility of the camera
phone means that its non-specialist user conducts a different activity; it is used as a

Figure 1.3 David Bate, Dinner (IMG_6804, 2017)

18 David Bate
witness to the experience of the self. This at least is the temptation, given the simplicity of
the photographic act. The camera can be operated anywhere, in the kitchen, bathroom,
bedroom, lounge, office, restaurant, bar, nightclub, car and bus and so on, in fact,
wherever the user is located.
We can see some of these new behaviours already represented in cinema and TV drama
productions. The smart phone and its camera are a new actor and prop, or a narrative
device, used to aid the development of the story and plot. A fictional detective, for
example, uses the camera phone to send a clue or crime scene picture to a colleague, as
evidence. Equally, the modern psychopath or villain uses a phone to show or send images
of a mutilated victim’s body to the detective, or hints at a crime scene location with a
cryptic image and text posted to an anonymous website. We learn here, not only to see
the common communication structures that operate with the camera phone, but also
how seamlessly they have become integrated into everyday communications and life.
The development of emoji (and ‘emoticons’) as an ideographic ‘language’ is a recog-
nition of the new versatility of this communicative device. Although not exclusively tied
to the cell phone, emojis have been developed as a communicative process (a language
no more universal than any other), which blends fixed iconic codes in imagistic scenes
with visual symbols and the signifying habits of human expression. Elsewhere, in the
advertising industry, camera phones are featured as a personal possession enabling the
owner to write valuable messages to loved ones, or enabling the user to find a new one.
Everywhere, the camera phone is represented as an essential instrument to people’s lives –
new friends, old acquaintances, work and business interests alongside other personal
passions – and the production of photographic images constructed as one of its basic and
essential values.
Despite all the technological innovations, however, the actual type of photographic
image that informs the horizon of the camera phone image is not in itself theoretically
new. Although the historical shift from a camera obscura to camera phone image rep-
resents a massive technological development in the production of pictorial space, the
lens of the camera phone still constructs a perspectival lens image that requires a screen,
despite the different technical mode of production. The pictures that the camera phone
produces are informed by the same spatial logic of monocular perspective, inherited so
long ago from the Renaissance and subsequent optical theories.5 As is now long since
established, the historical system of perspectival representation, as developed via
painting and adopted by photography, has been reconfigured into the new electronic
technics of digital camera image-making devices, the apparatus that replaces analogue
film, but has done so by identifying with and incorporating its values.
We might note that the lens optics of camera phones have tended to assume a wide-
angle lens viewpoint as normal. (Even in camera phones with a digital zoom, the wide-
angle lens is typically the default position.) The iPhone lens today has the equivalent of a
29mm lens angle viewpoint (if it was on a standard 35mm film camera, which remains
the most common reference for such lens measurements). Electronic processing is used to
help make corrections to the extreme ‘barrel’ distortion that can appear visible in the
optics of a wide-angle lens (when not corrected optically), especially where vertical lines
are involved.6 The significance of this wide-angle lens being used as the standard view is
often overlooked. Indeed, the adoption of this wide-angle lens viewpoint in photography
also has its own history.
The adoption of the wide-angle lens for cell phone cameras echoes a more general
cultural shift in the typical ‘standard’ lens angle-of-view, as chosen by manufacturers and
Camera Phones and Mobile Intimacies 19
photographers during the twentieth century. Perhaps the most famous twentieth-century
photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson can offer a symptomatic example here. Working as
a reportage photographer in the mid-twentieth-century period, Cartier-Bresson typically
used a 50mm lens as the standard or ‘normal’ lens vision on the 35mm film camera.7 This
was in contrast to the ‘option’ lenses, the wider vision offered by a 35mm lens or a longer
vision as offered by 75–90mm. These, however, were always ‘option’ lenses, specifically
for when particular spatial circumstances required it, when the photographer could not
obtain the ‘right distance’ for a 50mm lens. The 50mm lens has been deemed to be the
standard lens, offering a ‘natural vision’ because it replicates, or is close to, the mon-
ocular vision angle of a human eye lens. However, in the 1960s a younger generation of
new art photographers started to adopt then-available wider-angle lenses as their ‘nor-
mal’ camera vision. The most celebrated example in the history of photography for this
would probably be the three photographers featured in the 1967 New Documents
exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in the USA. These photographers, Diane
Arbus, Gary Winogrand and Lee Friedlander8, all started to utilize much wider-angle
lenses, 35mm, 28mm or 24mm (on 35mm film cameras or equivalent9) as standard on
their cameras. The wide-angle lens look was used to great effect, especially as the new
lens designs improved the quality and sharpness of the optical image space they pro-
duced. The effect of the wide-angle lens view (relative to the then-standard 50mm lens) is
that it enabled a deeper focus at the same distance between camera and subject matter,
but also, more importantly, allowed for more of the scene to be included within the
frame, whilst the photographer was still relatively close to the subject matter. Unlike the
narrow vision and longer distance given to camera and subject with the 50mm lens, these
new photographers’ pictures looked simply different to Cartier-Bresson’s photographs.
The wide-angle lens created a new lively sense of visual engagement, of being close or
closer to the scene and, as such, gave a more dynamic relation to the event, people and
objects in their spatial relations to each other. The wider lens gave, quite literally, a
‘different perspective’ to how things looked, and generated the feel of a new, different
vision to the whole space and scene of 1960s photography. The new vision was used to
exaggerate the size and scale of objects in the foreground relative to those in the distance,
which look in appearance further away. Yet the deeper focus could also help flatten
the objects in all these different planes together. In these respects, the wide-angle lens
changed the perspectival relation between the objects within the photographic image, as
dynamically nearer, yet also further away – as they would appear in a 50mm lens
standard view. (The extremely wide 16–18mm ‘fish-eye’ lens in 35mm film photography
took these effects even further with its almost 180 degrees of vision, which is likened to
the ‘panoramic’ mode in digital camera phone setting.)
Just as these wide-angle lenses were adopted as the ‘normal’ vision for the new
modernist photographers of the late 1960s and1970s, so there was an equivalent shift in
the cinema too, towards the new wide-screen frame ratio. During the 1970s, wider
cinema screen ratios became more popular and increasingly common and saw an
accompanying development of cinema technology, newer better wide-angle lenses and
‘panoramic vision’. There is thus a common overlap, an uncharted corresponding visual
cultural history in the relations between the new wide lens strategies in new cinema and
new photography. These developments meant that the wide-angle lens was increasingly
normalized into a standard cultural value and photographic image. As these new visual
values, to ‘see more and be closer’ and to ‘be more involved’ in the scene, became more
normal, wider-angle lenses were subsequently incorporated into point-and-shoot mass
20 David Bate

Figure 1.4 David Bate, Venice (IMG_0199, 2016)

production 35mm film cameras. The new range of electronic film cameras, which really
reached their peak in the 1990s, almost always had fixed 28mm or 35mm lenses as their
standard viewpoint.
The point of this excursion into camera lens angles is to note that this same wide angle-
of-view now adopted by the mobile phone camera industry can be understood, at least
from a design point of view, as accommodating this notion of a closer proximity in distance
in which the camera is likely, or is supposed, to be used. Yet the technical development of
wide-angle lenses on mobile phone cameras is not only a techno-practical decision to do
with the distance of the camera from its subject; it is also related to another issue, of the
contemporary cultural understanding of the spectator’s relation and proximity to the
scene in the photographic image. The photographic proximity of the viewer to the scene is
thus related to the issue of the intimacy of the subject matter in the scene.
Curiously, the new automated point-and-shoot film cameras developed during the
1990s, with their new wide-angle lenses, coincided with a surge of interest in showing
scenes of ‘intimacy’, especially in art and fashion photography. This was already
becoming clearly visible in the art photography from the 1970s, which became a popular
reference point for art photography during the 1990s. Today it is totally common. An
essay by Charlotte Cotton on ‘Intimate Life’ in art photography published in 2004 gives
many examples that exemplify the mood of this art photography very well.10 Cotton
shows how the traditions of domestic and amateur photography, with its snapshot image
Camera Phones and Mobile Intimacies 21
and personal subject matter (of family and friends’ lives), begin to overlap with the
intimate stories told by new (often women) artists, who developed the new informal
‘snapshot style’ of art photography. This art practice, whether it sought to reveal, expose
or confess aspects of intimate personal life (e.g. sex, sexual identity, family conflicts,
addictions, friends’ behaviour, personal terrors and so on), were all voluntarily shown,
displayed in public and opened up to ‘exposure’ in an explosion of different photographic
exhibitions. We can begin to see through these works of artists a new cultural tendency and
interest, a desire and motivation, to show the intimacies of private life in public, which
anticipated and literally preceded what has happened since with the many different uses of
the mobile phone camera today. Already exploited by paparazzi photography in relation
to celebrities, we can begin to see a new relation to ideas of intimacy being formed.
In the ‘age of reality TV’, the Lacanian psychoanalyst Gerard Wajcman notes, these
revelations of private life are an ‘intimate extorted, intimate exposed’.11 The desire to see
everything, Wajcman comments, ‘is now a widespread desire on the part of the subject,
one that demands gratification’.12 Strikingly, he cites among his examples the work of
three well-known art photography figures: ‘the films of Larry Clark, the photographs of
Araki, or the work of Nan Goldin’. Wajcman goes on to say:

What characterizes our age is that, in addition to revealing ourselves [se dire] in the
secrecy of the analyst’s office, the intimate today is published, is displayed on screens
and exposed on the walls of museums. And, we must add, without shame. We have
entered the age of uncovering, which is also an age of the dissolution of shame.13

Wajcman observes that this new exposure of the intimate should bear witness to a certain
victory over the prohibitions that had once governed the Victorian era, and the patients
of Sigmund Freud. Censorship ‘no longer weighs on us’, or rather, as he qualifies it,
censorship ‘no longer weighs on us the way it did in Freud’s day’.14
Certainly, the mobile phone camera and the networks with which it is almost com-
pletely synonymous have intensified this interest and capacity to photograph and dis-
tribute a person’s intimacy. The anxieties of this shift are manifestly expressed across
culture. These appear, for example, in the attention to these attitudes of privacy in
newspaper stories, on whether it is ‘OK’ for someone to look at pornography on their
phone whilst on public transport, or whether ‘sexting’ (sending selfie images to reveal
intimate parts of their body to another by phone) is OK when dating, and so on. These
and many other examples symptomatic of the conflicts towards changing attitudes to
intimacy and shame in ordinary everyday culture are global questions, prevalent in
Australia as much as they are common in Zambia, India, the UK, Europe or the USA.15
Roland Barthes, so long ago, already named this new social value of photography the
‘publicity of the private’.16 Whether framed as a moral question or as images uninhibited
by ‘boundary issues’, these new popular activities of the ‘seer’ and ‘seen’, the voyeur and
exhibitionist, have become common and normalized. This is the emergence of what I
have elsewhere called the new ‘polymorphous perverse photographer’.17 ‘Scandal’ is no
longer quite what it used to be. As intimacies are voluntarily revealed, their reciprocal
relation to being seen becomes clearer. Wajcman comments: ‘Each one wants to see and
each one wants to be seen, all at once’.18 As such, photography in general and camera
phone photography in particular are one of the key historical machines instrumental in
the development of this drive towards transparency, towards making intimacy visible
and towards the ideological theme of revelation.
22 David Bate

Figure 1.5 David Bate, Twigs (IMG_0386, 2016)

Yet Gèrard Wajcman argues that these image practices – in art, at least – are ‘a response
to the threat against the intimate’ and work, paradoxically, for the ‘right to secrecy’.19
Instead of veiling the intimate (which is one option we can pursue), Wajcman suggests
that the solution to the intimate inquiry of the ‘machine-for-seeing-everything’ is to show
that showing everything (as ‘showing everything is good for you’) is never complete or
‘resolved’. This is because what is revealed, what they show, is nothing but what remains
still unresolved. In Nan Goldin’s work, Wajcman sees images that can be ‘moving,
striking, troubling’, yet also what ‘these images show is that there is something behind
the shocking, behind the image, behind all things: the great uncurable disorder of love’.20
What is visible in an image does not necessarily correspond to what is expressed as
sayable about it. The plethora of images on sexuality or as sexuation, as we might call it
today21, in particular, show that the relation to shame has changed. Such images, for-
merly regarded as shameful, ‘are no longer to be considered subversive or emancipatory’
because they confront an impossibility, to see how human desire works.22
We can further this by making a distinction between the two seeing functions of the
lenses provided on a smart phone camera: one lens looks ‘inward’ toward the user,
primarily a lens for the self, the other lens looks ‘outward’ towards the world. The
division between these two modes of looking was already neatly encapsulated in the art
photography exhibition, Mirrors and Windows, curated by John Szarkowski at the
Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1978.23 Szarkowski famously relates the terms
mirrors and windows to ‘self-expression’ and ‘exploration’ respectively.24 These terms
Camera Phones and Mobile Intimacies 23

Figure 1.6 David Bate, Lock (IMG_1813, 2016)

are often related in turn to another pair of terms: interior and exterior. However, we
would be ill advised to adopt them for photography, since the optical camera is designed
to only record the appearance of external surfaces. While some camera technologies are
designed to register the internal appearance of the human body, like x-rays or MRI
(magnetic resonance imaging) scans, they do not relate to the idea of ‘interiority’ in the
psychological sense of the term (in so far as biology is not psychology).25 Instead, it is a
matter of what the camera and lens construct from surfaces in the field of vision. This
was what the Mirrors and Windows exhibition failed to show, that the ‘internal’ is
signified in ‘external’ appearances. However, it is not a contradiction to say that the
perspectival space derived from the monocular lens system of photography is essentially
egocentric, in that it places the human observer at the centre of its vision. This is the case
regardless of the angle of lens used – telephoto, normal or wide – or object in the field of
its vision. The photographic apparatus functions to locate the camera user and viewer
simultaneously in front of the screen that is productive of the scene depicted. The angle-
of-view of the lens will affect the positioning of the spectator’s relation to the scene,
inherited as the space given to them by the photographer-user. Located in the perspec-
tival space of the screen image, and thus, as at the scene of representation, the spectator
occupies this imaginary place, the viewer is integrated into the system and scene of
representation. Yet this same positioning at the scene of the image also introduces its
spectator to the screen as a site for reverie. This is the dual logic of the photographic
24 David Bate
image: it presents a perspectival identification for the viewer, who is ‘positioned’ as at the
scene, from which their location also simultaneously functions as a space for imaginary
reverie. In this spectatorial mode, the gaze (or, for the fetishist, the glaze) of the screen
offers itself as an object of enjoyment. In this respect it is not clear where the viewer’s
enjoyment of the object on the screen is localized. This is because the enjoyment belongs
to the intimate scopic activities, the intersecting looks and gaze between the viewer and
the screen, and the objects illuminated in it. In Wacjman’s discussion of Nan Goldin’s
photographs, for instance, the intimate space in the photographs is constituted precisely
through different gazes between the image and its viewer, but the meaning of them is only
given by the revelation of fantasy by the viewer. The spectator-user is the being who invents
their enjoyment with the camera phone image (as well as through its other sensory stimuli
of sound and music, etc.). The mirror image of the self, formed as the ego, is tested through
‘mirroring’ in the production of camera phone images in the manner of a question. Made
public, these images at once reveal themselves as intimate, but simultaneously conceal
their (real?) meaning to the self at the same time. Identity remains a ‘work in progress’.
In these terms, we may say the selfie is a symptom of the self. What does this mean?
To describe the mirror function of the lens facing towards the user in the camera phone,
we may turn to what Michel Foucault once called Technologies of the Self.26 Written in the
pre-Internet culture of 1982, Foucault’s essay draws on texts from antiquity to elaborate
how certain social practices have historically functioned as ‘techniques of the Self’. Those
techniques can be summarized as three practices: ‘letters to friends and disclosure of self’,
‘examination of self and conscience’ and what he calls ‘not a disclosure of the self, but a
remembering’.27 These disclosures of the self, he argues, relate to the social functions of
‘conscience’, which were treated differently, developed through different models and
discourses. For example, in one model of doctrine, the ‘confession’ is deemed to help purify
the mind, whereas in another cultural model it is ‘inner contemplation’ that works well to
harmonize the self. These antique discourses articulated modes of self-renunciation in
relation to the social. Towards the end of his argument Foucault constructs the hypothesis
that in modern society it is the use of the verbalization of the self that has become
increasingly important. This is because these ‘techniques of verbalization’ have been used
differently in relation to self-renunciation. Foucault elaborates:

From the eighteenth century to the present, the techniques of verbalization have
been reinserted in a different context by the so-called human sciences in order to use
them without renunciation of the self but to constitute, positively, a new self. To use
these techniques without renouncing oneself constitutes a decisive break.28

Today we face another decisive break. The new-millennium camera phone and its data
networks are the new apparatus for ‘techniques of the self’ today. They involve the visual
camera phone usurping and supplanting these older techniques of verbalization. The
new mobile techniques of visualization, distributed with such ease (without dis-ease)
represent a new disclosure of the self, but without any clear renunciation of the self.
Foucault’s discussion of these discourses on the self might be linked to the camera
screen image in numerous ways, not only as the popular space for a sort of ‘dialogue on
the self’, but, as Foucault put it, in terms of sexuality:

concerned not simply with the acts that were permitted and forbidden but with the
feelings represented, the thoughts, the desires one might experience, the inclination
Camera Phones and Mobile Intimacies 25
to seek within the self any hidden feeling, any movement of the soul, any desire
disguised under illusory forms.29

These dialogues on the self that can take place in front of the camera-mirror, about ‘who I
am’, also operate critically as a space for the dialectic between ‘who one would like to be’
and ‘who one has become’. To say this type of ‘self-image’ speculation is narcissistic is
true, in so far as it relates to notions of enjoyment and fantasy. Yet the dialectic of
photographic space offered by the mobile camera operates not only with the selfie phone
lens, but also the outward-looking ‘window’ lens image too.30 The mobile camera phone
offers the capacity to engage with these dual modes of looks and received gazes, now also
as images construed from automated ‘effects’, as adaptive optics, which in computing
processes can make image corrections beyond the optical properties of a lens. The many
pictures, produced on camera phones and whose qualities often mock the conventions
and habits of established photography, all vary enormously. It is not really possible to
humanly categorize the trillions of pictures taken, uploaded to websites or downloaded
from them on a daily basis. Yet it is possible to glimpse a new subjective dimension to
them, their aesthetic concern for intimacy, not as interiority, but as both the betrayal and
revelation of what it is to be a human today.

1 Hoi Wan, “Evolution of the Cameraphone: From Sharp J-SH04 to Nokia 808 Pureview,”
Digistrat, 28 February 2012.
2 Jon Agar, Constant Touch: A Global History of the Mobile Phone (Cambridge: Icon books,
2004), 169.
3 Ibid.
4 I borrow the term ‘liquidity’ from Zygmunt Bauman’s sociological work on the description of
contemporary life. See Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty
(Cambridge: Polity, 2007), 1.
5 A summative history of these issues is in Victor Burgin’s essay, “Geometry and Abjection”. See
Victor Burgin, In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture (London: University
of California, 1996).
6 Most digital cameras use their computer processor to correct barrel, concave and other optical
distortions; in other words, the faults in lenses are adjusted ‘electronically’.
7 Cartier-Bresson commonly used a 50mm lens on a Leica 35mm film camera. Although he did
sometimes use a wider or longer lens, the 50mm lens was the ‘normal’ lens used. See Clement
Cheroux, Henri Cartier-Bresson (London: Thames & Hudson, 2008), 90. See also The Cam-
era, Life Library of Photography, Editors (anon) (New York: Time Publications, 1971), 125.
8 See Martha Rosler, “Lee Friedlander, An Exemplary Modern Photographer,” in Decoys and
Disruptions: Selected Writings, 1975–2001 (London: MIT, 2004).
9 For Diane Arbus this wide-angle was a 50mm lens because she used the larger format 6x6cm
film camera, the Rolliflex Wide.
10 See Charlotte Cotton, “Intimate Life,” in The Photograph as Contemporary Art (London:
Thames & Hudson, 2004).
11 Gerard Wajcman, “Intimate extorted, intimate exposed,” Journal of the Jan van Eyck Circle
for Lacanian Ideology Critique 1 (2008): 67.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid.
15 For a discussion of this issue in India, for example, see Robin Jeffrey and Assa Doron, Cell
Phone Nation (Gurgaon, Hachette Books, 2013), 187–203.
16 Roland Barthes, La Chambre clair (Paris: Gallimard, 1980), 98.
26 David Bate
17 See David Bate, “Introduction: Psychoanalysis and the Photographer,” Photographies 10(1)
(2017): 10. ‘Polymorphous perverse’ is the term used by Sigmund Freud to describe the
unformed or un-organized sexuality of the infant.
18 Wajcman, “Intimate Extorted, Intimate Exposed,” 67.
19 Ibid., 69.
20 Ibid., 75.
21 Geneviève Morel, Sexual Ambiguities: Sexuation and Psychosis (London: Karnac, 2011).
22 Wajcman, “Intimate Extorted, Intimate Exposed,” 76.
23 John Szarkowski, Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960 (New York: The
Museum of Modern Art, 1978).
24 Ibid., 19.
25 For a discussion of geometry and interior space see Victor Burgin, “Geometry and Abjection,”
in In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture (London: University of California,
26 Michel Foucault, “Technologies of the Self,” in Ethics: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–
1984, ed. Paul Rabinov (London: Penguin, 1997).
27 Ibid., 238.
28 Ibid., 249.
29 Michel Foucault, “Technologies of the Self,” in Ethics: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–
1984, ed. Paul Rabinov (London: Penguin, 1997), 223.
30 A more extensive discussion of the mirror would relate to Jacques Lacan’s “Mirror stage as
formative of the ‘I’” in Ecrits.
2 Creepshots and Power
Covert Sexualised Photography, Online
Communities and the Maintenance
of Gender Inequality
Anne Burns

This chapter considers the relationship between gender, looking and power by analysing
an online photography forum that features covertly taken photographs of women,
known as ‘creepshots’. I will show how unequal gender relations are expressed and
maintained by the users of this forum, through practices of looking at, and commenting
upon, women’s bodies.
By studying the discussion forums where enthusiasts share the images they have taken
of women, I will explore how creepshot photographers conceptualise and engage with
their practice. In particular, I look at The Candid Forum1, a site whose banner image
features a cartoon of two men in camouflage clothing, staring through binoculars at two
women in bikinis. I will consider three aspects of The Candid Forum, relating to users’
discussion of photographic technique, the manner in which they perceive themselves and
their practice and how such discussions express particular attitudes towards women.
These three elements demonstrate how such an online community enables users to
develop and express their own identity, alongside maintaining wider patterns of social
organisation along gendered lines.

Creepshot Definition and Characteristics

A creepshot is a candid photograph that has been taken in public, and which sexualises
both the subject and the act of photographing someone without their consent. Creep-
shots first gained large-scale visibility online in 2010 through the website Girls In Yoga
Pants2, and on the dedicated Reddit creepshot forum (now closed, although numerous
emulations exist). The Reddit forum defined creepshots as:

CANDID. If a person is posing for and/or aware that a picture is being taken, then it
ceases to be : : : a creepshot. A creepshot captures the natural, raw sexiness of the
subject without their vain attempts at putting on a show for the camera.
(Post, – original emphasis)

As this definition suggests, creepshots enact a specific dynamic, between the viewer and
the unwitting recipient of the look. Here, it is not the sexual nature of creepshots that is
key, but that they are candid, as this positions the photographer as being agentive, and
the encounter as non-consensual. Therefore, the sexual appeal of such images is pre-
dicated upon the creepshot photographer’s retention of control. This complicates the
28 Anne Burns
idea of the photograph’s subject, as we might usually understand it, by reducing the
person depicted to the status of passive object, especially as they are characterised as
losing their value if they become ‘vain’ enough to ‘attempt’ to ‘put on a show for the
camera’. Creepshot practice therefore asserts that female bodies are not only available
for the enjoyment of others, but that a particularly high value is placed upon their use
without permission.
Additionally, the emphasis placed upon images being candid indicates an overlap with
amateur pornography, as there is specific value placed upon bodies perceived to be ‘real’.
Simon Hardy characterises this in terms of the ‘abolition of the spectacular’ in which the
viewer can access ‘something more than the performance of sex; something the girl does
not intend to reveal’ (in Attwood 2009, 12). Creepshots bear similarities to other forms and
definitions of pornography, as their form (focusing on breasts and bottoms, and with no
artistic value) indicates an explicit intention to arouse the viewer (Paasonen et al. 2007, 1).
Unlike other forms of pornography, however, the key principle of the creepshot is that the
focus of erotic attention remains entirely unaware of how they are being viewed, and used.
Looking is a socially codified practice, with staring considered rude, and prolonged acts
of unauthorised watching constituting a violation of privacy. John Taylor argues that, by
enabling the viewer to stare and scrutinise, photography becomes associated with a certain
invasiveness and vulgarity, in the form of ‘prurient looking or intrusive, secret gawking’
(1998, 6). Susan Sontag suggests that looking is also interconnected with ideas of own-
ership, as a photograph ‘captures’ and objectifies what it depicts, turning it into ‘something
that can be possessed’ (2003, 72). Looking is therefore a means of enacting a hierarchical
dynamic between the viewer and the viewed, as the ability to look is not ‘the mark of a
servile objectivity, but evidence of a desiring subjectivity’ (Silverman 1996, 175). As Sue
Thornham identifies, there is a gendered characteristic to this dynamic, as the way of seeing
a woman is ideologically shaped, by being a ‘product of the specific power structures which
constitute our society’ (1999, 12). The gendered gaze characteristic of creepshots is far
from unique, as the ‘surveillance of women’s bodies constitutes perhaps the largest type of
media content across all genres and media forms’ (Gill in Attwood 2009, 99).
The term ‘creepshot’ itself is revealing, as to ‘creep’ implies not just a stealthy or even
animalistic form of movement, but also characterises a person who makes others
uncomfortable. In the physical sciences, ‘creep’ also implies the deformation of materials
such as rock or metals. These connotations suggest that the claiming of the term ‘creep’
implies a knowing acceptance of, and even a wish to brag about, a maligned character.
Additionally, ‘shot’ is a term widely used to refer to images, yet connotes the act of firing
a gun as much as taking a picture. As photography is often described in terms of seeking
and hunting a target, Sontag argues that ‘a camera is sold as a predatory weapon’ (1977, 10).
However, Elahe Yekani argues that the real focus of the hunt is not the object but the
photographic depiction of the successful hunter, as ‘the image itself, more than the
animal, becomes the prey’ (2011, 88). Therefore, as we shall see in the following
examples, the creepshot photographers take their pictures not just to view women, but
also to create a certain image of themselves – as cunning, as daring – that these materials
convey to their peers, and to themselves.
By combining unsettling and violent terminology, the term ‘creepshot’ constitutes an
appropriate label for a form of photography that is predicated upon enacting non-
consensual sexual encounters. Besides sharing images, and technical advice for taking
candid photographs, forum users also seek justification for their activities by reinforcing
their sense of entitlement. Nicholas Mirzoeff discusses the political implications of the
Creepshots and Power 29
‘right to look’ in terms of an opposition to the role played by visuality in reinforcing
authority, through a process of identification and classification (2011). Yet the ‘right to
look’ asserted by the creepshot photographers is a means for re-inscribing, rather than
challenging, their position relative to others. Creepshots also illustrate how such gen-
dered dynamics are presented as being justified, as the discussion of the women con-
cerned positions them as somehow negligent or eliciting their own objectification.
The Candid Forum has been selected for study as it demonstrates not just how an
online community of practice can be developed around the circulation of media and
advice, but also around particular concepts – in this case, relating to men’s ‘right’ to look
at women’s bodies. Since 2011, The Candid Forum has grown into a community of 194
thousand members, who have collectively posted over 3.6 million posts, 876 thousand of
which are dedicated to images. This is therefore not just a considerable body of work, but
is also a reflection of a large and international group of people who are interested in
consuming and producing a specific kind of erotic material.
The Candid Forum contains two main sections of content, divided into candid media
(images and videos), and discussion related to techniques and technologies. This division
demonstrates users’ interest in both creepshot images and the means of their production.
Therefore, this forum exemplifies how an online community sustains itself, through
supporting the on-going creation of creepshots, as well as hosting images themselves.
Images on the forum receive anything from a few hundred views to tens of thousands of
views and hundreds of comments. Certain topics reappear in the image titles – such as ‘hot
blonde’, ‘cutie’, ‘girl’, ‘tight leggings’ and ‘MILF’ – indicating that photographers are
aware of their audience’s tastes and are keen to use certain keywords to catch their eye, and
thereby accrue esteem in the form of views and likes. The Candid Forum divides images
into themes, such as ‘Beach and Bikini’; ‘Spandex’; ‘Leggings and Yoga Pants’; ‘Short
Shorts’; ‘Tight Jeans’; ‘Upskirt’; ‘Dresses and Skirts’; and ‘Downblouses and Boobs’. These
categories of image show an interest in tight or short clothes that reveal a woman’s body,
but also exemplify a type of physical intrusion that seeks to override the limits placed on a
viewer’s ability to observe, in the form of ‘upskirting’ and ‘downblousing’.
Laura Mulvey notes that the sexual enjoyment of looking at another person is fre-
quently experienced in relation to films or photographs, as if the viewer were ‘looking in
on a private world’ (1975, 9). Creepshots exemplify Sigmund Freud’s characterisation of
scopophilia in two ways. Firstly, the secretive photographing of women demonstrates
how a ‘pleasure in looking’ at others ‘becomes a perversion if [: : :] instead of being
preparatory to the normal sexual aim, it supplants it’ (Freud, 1975 [1905], 23). The
folders of photographs of women therefore act as substitutes for – and acknowl-
edgements of the impossibility of – genuine sexual encounters with the women observed.
Secondly, the reinforcement supplied by the group demonstrates the need to overcome
personal doubts, as ‘the force which opposes scopophilia, but which may be overridden
by it [: : :] is shame’ (Freud 1975 [1905], 23). As explored below, relating to acquiring
the right mindset for creepshot photography, forum users engage with their peers as a
means of negating any sense of shame caused by their practice. At its extreme, the
‘pleasure in looking’ that is characteristic of scopophilia can take on a sadistic quality in
the form of voyeurism, in which sexual satisfaction comes from ‘watching, in an active
controlling sense, an objectified other’ (Mulvey 1975, 9). The taking of creepshots
constitutes a form of voyeurism, as it conveys a wish not just to look, but to control,
through obtaining symbolic ownership of the person depicted. Daniel Palmer evaluates
the candid photograph in terms of a ‘promise of revelation but also the threat of
30 Anne Burns
nothingness’ (2011, 123). Such ‘promise of revelation’ lies at the heart of the erotic value
of creepshots, as they are a means of seeking knowledge of, and satisfaction from, a
person who is otherwise unattainable.
In particular, the invasive quality of creepshots, with lenses angled down tops and up
skirts, demonstrates the creepshot photographer’s intention to transgress the subject’s
bodily sovereignty, and to negate their right to regulate the manner in which they are seen
by others. Therefore, rather than being the subject of creepshot photographs, the people
depicted have been firmly positioned as objects, as the removal of agency is integral to
the process. This denial of subjectivity is evident not just in the images but in the way in
which they are deployed discursively on the forum. Victor Burgin argues that a photo-
graph is dependent upon ‘the specificity of the social acts which intend that image and its
meanings’, so that an image of a woman in a tight skirt is not innately problematic, rather
it is her unwitting objectification and use as a means of sexual enjoyment that is
troubling, as it ultimately reproduces wider forms of gendered social organisation (1977
[2002], 131). As such, during observation of the forum, it was not the photographs
themselves – the endless close-ups of breasts and bottoms – that were especially dis-
concerting, but the discussion around them, as the comments express a specific view of
women as instruments available for the use of men. Here, the person photographed
functions as the ‘bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning’ (Mulvey 1975, 7), and as a
consequence no such images will be reproduced in this chapter, as to do so would be to
perpetuate the denial of agency that creepshots represent.

Acquiring Skills: Technology and Technique

On sites such as The Candid Forum, photographers seek the company of likeminded
enthusiasts to achieve a sense of solidarity and to help each other negotiate the technical,
ethical and legal obstacles to taking covert images by employing the right kit, and the
right attitude, to justify their behaviour. In particular, creepshot photographers use this
context to facilitate their practice, through sharing tips and technical advice on how to
photograph women without being noticed.
Topics range from the merits of different cameras (spy cameras vs. SLRs being a
popular topic), to discussions of shooting in different environments. In a gym, for
example, one user advises readers to:

Wear a black sweater : : : and practice a way to hang it or bundle it up on the ground
so that your phone can film out of a spy hole. : : : This will give you a great steady
shot and some interesting angles.

Another tutorial describes a way of holding a smart phone down at one’s side, with the
camera facing outwards, which ‘to the casual observer, most people will not notice’,
making it suitable for when doing ‘walk-behinds of girls or stand[ing] behind them in a
line’ (Post, Ultimate Guide to Filming Women,
The user continues by describing methods for hiding the camera inside a bag or object,
such as a book, with a hole for the lens to poke through, suggesting that:

It’s relatively easy to set up and extremely safe. I was never, ever caught doing this.
(Post, Ultimate Guide to Filming Women,
Creepshots and Power 31
In the creepshot forum, users share images and information as a way of displaying
ingenuity and bravery to their peers, in terms of adapting one’s practices to suit different
challenges, or finding a way to capture ‘stunning’ shots. Self-characterisation is also
evident in one user’s definition of ‘the 3 main types of shooter’, in which they identify a
complex series of skills required to take creepshots, relating to persistence, patience and

The Hunter – someone who actively stalks their target

The Sniper – someone who finds a good spot and waits for a target to come into view
The Opportunist – someone who always has a camera available ready to get the
shot, should the chance arise
(User signature,

Such self-descriptions acknowledge that this kind of behaviour is tantamount to stalk-

ing, yet do so in a way that suggests a certain pride in the level of determination, cunning
and skill required by creepshot photographers, in order to sexualise the women they
encounter. Another suggestion relates to the placement of a camera phone in a shopping
basket, held in place with a heavy item, and angled to look through the gaps in the basket
(and up someone’s skirt):

Get in close, preferably behind your target. Squat down and tilt the camera end
upward toward your subject. Stunning low angle shots every time: : : The views can
be breathtaking.

The terminology here concerning ‘targets’ and ‘snipers’ establishes a subject / object
relationship between the hunter and the hunted, in which achieving the desired outcome
(in terms of ‘breathtaking’ views) is expressed only in terms of the actions of the pho-
tographer, as the focus of their photograph is characterised as entirely passive in com-
parison. Furthermore, the description of these techniques demonstrates the level of
thought that is put into the practice of taking creepshots.
Alongside their commitment and technique, users also seek to express their ingenuity,
in the form of attaining particular levels of authority in relation to potential victims:

Ah, try being an authorized cameraman at teen festivals, cause i am :P


This user positions himself as being the envy of his peers, through being ‘authorized’ and
by having access to vulnerable subjects that he is anticipating sexualising for his
enjoyment. His evident delight at the ability to abuse a position of trust (as observable in
his use of an emoticon denoting a stuck-out tongue) demonstrates the deeply concerning
nature of creepshots, in which forum users can confidently brag about subjecting
attendees of ‘teen festivals’ to unwanted sexual attention. Within the creepshot com-
munity, this kind of access to teenagers, and the determination to subject them to non-
consensual eroticisation, serves as a form of cultural capital (Bourdieu 1984), as it
demonstrates skills and status that consolidate a specific, elevated, position relative to
32 Anne Burns
Acquiring the Right Mindset: Attitude and Self-Justification
Alongside attaining a range of skills and techniques, discussion on The Candid Forum
demonstrates that the creepshot photographer also needs to acquire a sense of their own
entitlement, regarding the right to photograph women. Entitlement is the belief in male
sexual privilege, which has been correlated with an adherence to gender roles, sexually
aggressive conduct and rape-supportive attitudes (Bouffard 2010). Reinforcement of
entitlement, as observed on the forum, takes two forms, regarding clarification of the
legal position of creepshots, and the attainment of a certain sense of self-belief.
Regarding legality, the creepshot photographer defends his work by virtue of being (at
least technically) legal:

When you are in public, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. We
kindly ask women to respect our right to admire your bodies and stop complaining.
(Post, – original emphasis)

Indeed, in both the UK and the US, there is no restriction on photographing individuals in
public, and several US courts have even ruled that taking photographs up women’s skirts
is not illegal, as women do not have an expectation of privacy in public (Zeronda 2010).
The creepshot therefore exists in a tenuous position, as being both legal, and yet morally
dubious, and likely to cause a disturbance if noticed. The post above expresses not just a
petulant anger at the disruption of their hobby – in the form of subjects resisting, or
boyfriends complaining – but also reflects a furious sense of entitlement to sexualise
whomsoever they wish. Women’s passivity is at the heart of the forum users’ enjoyment,
and any expression of agency is met with indignant annoyance, insisting that women
‘stop complaining’ and allow men to do as they want. In this way, the covert photo-
graphing of women expresses a firm belief in an unequal gender dynamic, in that the
male photographers’ desire to enjoy women’s bodies is prioritised over the rights of
women to govern how they are viewed, and indeed used, by others.
One thread on the forum discusses the legal position of creepshots, and whether
changes in legislation may make the practice impossible. The following user dismisses
this possibility, by aligning his own sexual predilections with those who make the laws:

Most lawmakers are men. So you know at LEAST a few of them like to peruse sites
that have pictures of women. For a lot of them, creating a law to disallow candid
photography : : : would be blatant hypocrisy.

This comment expresses a level of security about one’s position in society, in terms of
being similar to those who are in charge. Therefore, it is not a question here of whether
creepshots are morally ‘right’, but whether they are perceived to be supported by wider
power structures and forms of inequality. According to this comment, the circumstances
that sustain creepshots are to be found on both a legal (‘most lawmakers are men’) and
social level (in terms of assuming most men objectify women in the same way that the
forum user does).
Despite protestations on the forum about creepshot activities being legal, users also
express an awareness that this kind of conduct is unethical, which for some appears to be
the appeal, and for others is a source of tension. Much discussion focuses on bypassing
Creepshots and Power 33
the ethical dilemmas posed by creepshots and attaining the optimal mental state for
taking candid shots, in the form of photographers calming their nerves and acting as if
this is their right:

You need to : : : believe what you’re doing isn’t ‘perverted’ cuz [sic] it all starts with
you and the energy your [sic] exuding.

In this example, it is not so much the legal or social perception of creepshots that matters,
but the photographer’s own sense of self that is key. Individual determination is therefore
conceptualised as overriding wider social norms regarding propriety and respect.
Alongside this sense of self-justification exists the desire to avoid getting caught, with
users speaking of their paranoia and insecurity:

I’ve had a really uneasy feeling and am seriously considering giving up. I have a well
paid job, a good life and a family and that is too much to lose.

Here, we see the benefits of ‘a good life’ being weighed against the attraction of creepshots.
Despite being aware of the risk his conduct poses to himself, the commenter is still unde-
cided. However, unease is only framed in relation to the anticipation of punishment or loss
on the part of the photographer – no thought is spared for the people he has photographed,
or how they might feel to be viewed and discussed in this manner. Furthermore, there may
be more to the concept of ‘being caught’ than simply fear, as the threat of discovery may in
itself be part of the appeal, and confer a certain frisson to the experience. Despite the
ostensibly covert nature of the practice, creepshot photography might therefore be a form
of exhibitionism – identified by Freud as a drive paired with voyeurism (1975 [1905]) – in
that it publicly reveals something about the person that may well cause offence if observed.
However, such expressions of concern about ‘being caught’ are generally viewed with
disdain by other users, who view taking candid shots as a competitive expression of
strength that positions them not only in relation to women, but also their peers:

This is a game for mentally tough people.


The lack of mental ‘toughness’ or the reluctance to ‘get close’ distinguishes those who are
confident in their activity and their entitlement to practice it, from those who are not:

If you are too scared or lazy to walk over and get a closer shot, then maybe creeping is
not for you.

Here, practices of taking and sharing photographs illustrate Pierre Bourdieu’s connec-
tion between photography and the maintenance of social hierarchies, in which ‘the real
object of photography is not individuals but the relationship between individuals’ (1990,
24). This relationship is not just between male forum users and the women they view, but
also between ‘mentally tough’ creepshot photographers and those they exclude for being
‘scared or lazy’.
34 Anne Burns
Besides establishing a degree of bravery, cunning or skill relative to others, creepshots
also serve to convey a sense of possessing, and having mastered, the person depicted.
John Berger described the relationship between looking and owning in terms of oil
paintings, as ‘they show [the viewer] sights : : : of what he may possess’ (1972, 85). But,
rather than simply conferring ownership upon the single viewer, photography renders
visible the way in which women’s bodies are essentially ‘understood as the collective
property of others to survey and regulate’ (Ringrose and Harvey 2015, 209; Nurka,
2014). Therefore, the angling of lenses to look down tops and up skirts expresses the
conviction that women’s bodies are essentially public, and accessible.
However, despite this perception of women as being public, creepshot photographs
also act as proof of one’s capacity to take what was not given, which can then be shared
with others in return for peer esteem. There is a parallel here between creepshot images
and photographs taken as trophies during wartime of vanquished enemies, as both
function as ‘symbols of power [and] proof of victory’ (Roberts 2012, 202). As ‘symbols
of power’, images perform a particular function within the creepshot community, as the
perceived sexual value of the woman depicted reflects back onto the photographer, in the
form of group approval and gratitude. Accordingly, the wish to attain a level of standing
within the community is evident in users’ statements relating to their ability to produce
and share material:

I’ll try to get out one post each week, my folders contain anywhere from 10 to 500
pictures each and I got over 100 folders and over 9000 pictures ready to go.

As the comment above suggests, The Candid Forum is more than just a space for viewing
or discussing covert, sexualised images of women. The principle of sharing is central to
the community, and promotes social cohesion, with users keen to show that they reg-
ularly upload images and give support to others in terms of ‘thanks’ and ‘thumbs up’.
Such peer support, along with the sharing of practices and resources as explored above,
exemplify Nancy Baym’s (2000) characterisation of online communities, as a space in
which members pursue and discuss an interest alongside likeminded and dedicated
others. Furthermore, information sharing is a way for forum users to build a reputation,
in which peer esteem is accrued through having access to certain knowledge and
materials. As Joseph Lampel and Ajay Bhalla (2007) argue, participation must be
regarded as a form of status seeking, as individuals build a reputation within online
communities through instances of ‘gift giving’, such as by sharing information and
media. Forum users are therefore deploying their photographic practice within a larger
conversation about status and masculinity, in which taking pictures expresses a position
relative to others, and a dominance over space (both online and off) and the people
within it.

Devaluing Women through Looking and Commenting

Having considered the production of creepshot photographs in terms of the technique
and mindset required – as well as how they are used to establish an identity within a
community of likeminded individuals – I shall now consider how such candid images
reflect a wider gender inequality.
Creepshots and Power 35
On the surface, creepshot photographers maintain that their practice is a kind of
harmless entertainment, in which the female form is simply being recorded and admired.
One user expresses his confusion at the debate over whether to include ‘upskirt’

It’s not like they’re causing the women being photographed any physical harm.
Besides, many users, like myself, come here solely to share and view such content.

Here, although ‘harm’ is being conceptualised as solely physical, the sexualisation of

someone against their will or without their knowledge cannot be regarded as harmless,
as it connects with broader discourses that position women as sexual objects and, most
importantly, as being for the use of others. Furthermore, the creepshot photographers’
frustration at not getting what they want displays an inability to admit that their conduct
is, in fact, intimidating:

I’ve found that if there are very few people around, whenever I get vaguely near a girl
she’ll clock me straight away : : : I’m sure they are worried about being sexually
assaulted rather than being filmed, but this doesn’t exactly make it any better for us!

This comment makes a distinction between ‘us’ (creepshot photographers) and an

imagined ‘them’, in the form of the assailant the commenter believes the girl is mistaking
him for. The frustration at this characterisation, and the obstacle it creates, displays a
determination to overlook the parallels between the stalker and the rapist, as both of
them are seeking non-consensual sexual encounters:

It’s like you are taking something that they were not intending to give up : : : I am
seeing something they probably didn’t intend for me to see.

Being predicated on the transgression of another’s will, creepshots are not just about
looking at others, but also concern forcibly taking something from them. But this
predatory and possessive activity does more than express control over another, as it is
often focused on specifically exploiting perceived vulnerabilities, which in this comment
is exemplified by younger girls:

Being able to look at an unknowing teen’s beautiful ass as I get off is the reward that
makes the risk worth it, for me : : : the age, the carelessness and the obliviousness of
the girls is what makes a candid so HOT.
(Comment, – emphasis in original)

By acting as a tool for the enjoyment of others, candid shots are therefore an expression
of power, through taking something that was not given, and through observing an
unsuspecting victim. Michel Foucault (1977) describes how practices of surveillance
exemplify the power relations between different groups, such as prisoners and prison
guards. Here, the act of making visible, and of simply being able to look upon others who
36 Anne Burns
cannot return the gaze, have power effects in that these forms of looking consolidate the
right of certain groups over others to examine and make assessments.
John Tagg expanded upon Foucault’s ideas in order to identify the disciplinary
function of photography, in which images are held to reveal knowledge of the subject’s
morality and disposition, and hence enable its classification and subjugation (1988).
Furthermore, photography marks a separation between those who have ‘the power and
privilege of producing and possessing’ meaning, and those who were reduced to merely
‘being meaning’ (Tagg 1988, 6, original emphasis). As such, creepshots are to be
regarded as a form of power, as they enable the assessment of those who are depicted, and
their use according to the roles assigned to them by others.
Judith Butler argues that gender, and gendered power relations, are not fixed but
require constant restating, through repeated performative acts. Furthermore, referen-
cing Lacan’s characterisation of the symbolic opposition between women and men in
terms of being and having (1985), Butler also identifies the means by which women serve
as a reflection of what men are not, and as a guarantor of men’s autonomy and function
(1990, 61). The images and discussions on the creepshot forum therefore constitute the
continual restating of women’s relationship to men, as objects of sexual attention, and as
powerless in comparison. In the following comment, this attention is characterised as
ubiquitous, in that the leering gaze is assumed to be replicated by numerous others:

Behind every good man, there is a good woman. And behind every good woman,
there’s another man filming her butt.
(User signature,

This kind of humour acts to both normalise and trivialise gender inequality, in presenting
the figure of the ‘good woman’ as inevitably the victim of another’s invasive ogle. The
photographers’ disrespect for their subjects is evident at not just a macro level, in terms of
their rejection of women’s agency to refuse a forcible sexualised encounter, but also
permeates the majority of discussions at a micro level. By referring to his subjects as
‘office sluts’, ‘pieces of skirt’ and ‘cock teasers’, the user below displays his disdain for the
individual women he sexualises:

Anything from office sluts at my work, to pieces of skirt I find walking the
street : : : Can’t wait to start sharing and enjoying some cock teasers on here.

Both of the comments above exemplify Butler’s statement regarding women’s status as
being in relation to men. In the earlier comment, a woman’s status is characterised through
being available, and suitable, to be viewed, in terms of her ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ (Mulvey
1975, 11). In the second comment, the notion of the ‘cock-teaser’ is predicated upon
sexual difference, in which women are understood only in relation to male sexual desire.
Furthermore, such references to clothes are common, as they are often used to
describe the people wearing them, demonstrating how women are reduced to being a
‘thong in class’ and ‘pantyhose sitting in front of me’. This practice, along with others
we have observed previously, means that creepshots exemplify each of the seven prin-
ciples of objectification as defined by Martha Nussbaum: instrumentality (women are
used for others’ enjoyment); denial of autonomy (women’s privacy is overridden);
inertness (women are denied agency); fungibility (images of breasts and buttocks become
Creepshots and Power 37
interchangeable); violability (conversation dwells on what viewers would wish to do to
subjects); ownership (images imply access to and mastery over subjects); and denial of
subjectivity (women’s feelings on being ogled are not considered) (1995, 257). As the focus
on items of clothing suggests, it is not just images of similar body parts that can be
interchangeable, as items of clothing can also be used to stand for the woman as a whole.
Therefore, creepshot photography illustrates a way of viewing women not just as objects,
but as a collection of parts, in which each element – whether breasts or skirts – can serve as
the focus of either partialistic or fetishistic attention. Mulvey argued that the fragmented
and fetishistic depiction of women’s bodies was a means of rendering them ‘reassuring
rather than dangerous’ (1975, 14). Therefore, the creepshot acts a substitute for the
women photographed, in which they are apprehended as a limited range of components,
each of which can then be viewed without attending to the person as a whole.
Such objectification is further intensified through the practice of depicting women
with their face either removed or obscured, as ‘the face occupies a supreme position in
connecting or disconnecting the self with the body’ (Waskul 2002, 216). The effect of
removing the face is dehumanising, as it reduces the woman to the aspects of her body
that hold sexual value for others, implying that the woman’s sexual function can be
separated from her person, and that this sexual purpose is able to fully represent her
(Bartky 1990, 26). Creepshot photographs frequently feature a close-up of breasts,
crotch or buttocks, and are titled in order to draw attention to this. Therefore, the
objectifying effect of creepshots works to sustain the subordinate status of women, as it
expresses a reductive and dismissive attitude towards women’s right to privacy and self-
definition, in contrast to the viewer’s entitlement to have access to what they wish to see.
Additionally, the focus on women’s body parts reproduces the fragmenting gaze
characteristic of advertising, in which close -ups of hands and torsos act to align the
woman with the products she is selling (Williamson 1978; Goffman 1979). Further-
more, creepshots demonstrate a point of intersection between the three modes of
oppression identified by Bartky (1990, 23), as such images do not just objectify, but also
act to stereotype and culturally subjugate those depicted, by expressing a requirement
for women to be sexually attractive and yet lacking in agency or a voice of their own.
One particular set of images – featuring a shot of the photographer’s sister-in-law that
has been taken to look up her skirt – demonstrates how a number of forms of objec-
tification can intersect in this context. In this example, not only did the photographer title
the series of images drawing attention to her relationship to him – and thereby to the
particular social taboo this represented – he also described her as pregnant, and as wearing
underwear (observable in the photographs) with a visible ‘wet spot’. The woman in
question is therefore objectified by being reduced to marks on her clothing, by this being
used to excite viewers, and by the photographer’s transgression of her privacy, especially
given her relationship to him. But, in addition, the emphasis placed upon the difficulty of
acquiring the image testifies to its function as an object of exchange, as its ‘value depends
upon its rarity’ (Berger 1972, 21). Therefore, creepshots can be approached as a form of
currency, in which images are circulated and exchanged in a manner that ascribes value
according to not just the contents, but also to the wider scenario that is depicted. As the
example above demonstrates, creepshots attain popularity not just through featuring
particular body parts, but by using photography to convey a specifically gendered message
regarding the defiance of propriety and a dominance over others.
Furthermore, this series of images also exemplifies a puerile fascination with women’s
bodies that is widely evident on the site, in terms of their mechanics, their reproductive
38 Anne Burns
capacity and their sexual unavailability to the viewer. Photography is therefore used here
in order to investigate women’s bodies, and to observe what would usually remain
hidden. Obtaining this kind of knowledge is highly prized in this context, as comments
urged the photographer to share more images, thereby generating social status within the
community as someone who can deliver highly valued material.
This example illustrates Fred’s distinction between scopophilia and voyeurism, in
which the pleasure of looking becomes distorted through being associated with feelings
of disgust (1975 [1905]). Furthermore, voyeurism is also predicated both on the lack of
awareness of the person observed, and on the acquisition of unintended knowledge.
Such ‘knowledge’ of women’s bodies exemplifies the intersection between looking and
power, as there is a controlling aspect of this punitive and investigatory gaze (Mulvey
1975, 9). David Green identifies how Foucault’s analysis of the ‘(sexualised) body as the
object and vehicle of forms of power/knowledge’ has been used within feminist thought
to identify how patriarchy positions women as subjugated ‘objects of both knowledge
and desire’ (in Evans 1997, 120). This crossover between lust and observation is the
primary feature of the creepshot, in which photographers, and viewers, attain sexual
satisfaction from being able to see, and therefore to gain knowledge of, women’s bodies.
Additionally, creepshots illustrate Bartky’s criticism of Foucault’s characterisation of
discipline, as ignoring the specific ‘disciplinary practices that engender the “docile
bodies” of women, bodies more docile than the bodies of men’ (1988, 95). Creepshot
photography therefore constitutes a specifically gendered manifestation of power, which
serves as ‘evidence of the social relations that made it possible’ (Azoulay 2008, 127).
The last aspect of creepshots that I wish to discuss relates to the practice of devaluing
the woman depicted, which serves to consolidate the right to photograph, as ‘sluts’ or
‘teasers’ are established as deserving their objectification:

How can you take indecent photos of anybody unless they are out and dressed

This comment displays a contradiction in the discourse relating to creepshots. Women,

in order to be valid subjects for such photography, need to be both unaware and yet also
tacitly complicit, by virtue of dressing in a manner that is perceived to invite attention.
An example of this is a series of images of a woman with her children in a playground:
in the accompanying text, she is characterised as a ‘sexy MILF’ who ‘must WANT
everyone to stare at her sweet ass’. As observed in these comments, The Candid Forum
does more than just facilitate the observation of women, as it also exemplifies a dis-
course in which women are subjected to an intrusive, sexualised gaze by virtue of being
in some way deserving of it. The sense in which women are conceptualised as both
complicit in creepshots (by virtue of their attire) and yet also as not consenting (by
being unaware) demonstrates the complexity and contradictions of the creepshot
This chapter has analysed an online photographic community based around practices of
taking and sharing candid, sexualised photographs of women. Forum users give each other
tips for taking photographs, discuss the legal position of their behaviour, and outline their
own self-belief, perseverance and privileged access to subjects as a way of gaining social
status within the group. The Candid Forum demonstrates the complex processes of
sociality and the different kinds of hierarchy enacted on creepshot sites, in which users are
Creepshots and Power 39
positioning themselves relative not just to the women they photograph, but also to their
peers. Here, esteem is earned through displaying a certain kind of masculine bravado, as
expressed in relation to hunting and ‘mental toughness’. Furthermore, the emphasis placed
upon sharing – of both media and advice – illustrates the community’s focus on supporting
creepshot photography on both a practical and theoretical level. Even in such a morally
questionable context, there still exists a drive towards self-improvement and a desire to
produce work that is received well by the rest of the group.
The bodily autonomy of the people depicted within creepshots is repeatedly negated,
as the specific aim here is for photographers to obtain non-consensual sexual material,
especially from victims perceived to be particularly vulnerable, such as girls. Despite this
exploitative objective, forum users do not perceive their behaviour to be harmful, and
express annoyance when their activities are curtailed. Nevertheless, creepshots express a
demeaning and objectifying attitude towards women, as being deserving, if unwilling,
targets of an erotic gaze. Ultimately, the site’s logic suggests that the right to make bodies
visible remains in the hands of those who take or view such images.
It is the power dynamic expressed through creepshot photography, between viewer and
viewed, that demonstrates the utilisation of creative practice, and social media, to enforce
wider power relationships. The visual cultures outlined here are not separate from broader
society – rather, these images are deployed by forum users as building blocks within wider
discourses, by being interpreted in ways that reflect the culture and gender relations within
which they are created and viewed (Solomon-Godeau 1991). Repeatedly, forum users
state their belief that women are valid targets for their unsolicited sexual attention, thereby
positioning their desires as overriding the rights of the subjects. Therefore, the production
and sharing of candid sexualised photographs constitutes a sublimated form of social
organisation, in which observation, and the knowledges produced in relation to such
intrusive forms of looking, act as a symbolic – and inescapable – form of dominance.


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3 Interview with Rasha Kahil
May 5th, 2017
Rasha Kahil (RK), Marco Bohr (MB)
and Basia Sliwinska (BS)

MB&BS: Anatomy of a Scandal (2016) is a complex body of work which finds its origins
in another series you started in 2008 titled In Your Home (2008–2011), which
encompasses a series of semi-nude self-portraits taken in friends’ and acquaintances’
homes without their knowledge. Already in this body of work you are playing with
the borders between public and private space. Before we get to discuss Anatomy of a
Scandal, could you explain the origins of In Your Home? What was the main idea
behind this work? Did your friends and acquaintances later find out that you used
their living space as a backdrop to your work?
RK: In Your Home started very organically. I had just acquired a new point-and-shoot
camera, and was experimenting with self-portraiture as I was staying at a friend’s
house in Berlin. He was away for the evening, so I used his space as a backdrop for the
photos. I did the same during the same trip at another friend’s house a couple of days
later, and that is how the idea came about. I didn’t know I would keep doing these
furtive shoots for another three years, taking advantage of being left alone in someone’s
house to whip out my point-and-shoot camera and take a few spontaneous nude self-
portraits. It is only after having collected a large number of these images, in different
houses around the world, that I could see the underlying ideas behind my drive and
articulate words around what I was doing. Most of my friends only found out about my
tryst at the first solo exhibition opening of In Your Home at The Running Horse gallery
in Beirut, June 2011, when they discovered their spaces in the exhibited photos.
What struck me the most was that since my body was the only constant element in all
the images – I had amassed about 32 images at the end of the project – it was the
domestic spaces that became the ‘star’ of the images. My body seemed to disappear
with the repetition, bringing the backdrops of the interiors to the forefront. The per-
sonalities of these spaces competed with my body, and ultimately I felt they became the
subjects of the portraits, rather than my own body.
MB&BS: And how did you set out to achieve the photographs?
RK: Between 2008 and 2011, which were my ‘active’ years of working on In Your Home,
I could never plan a shoot. I always had that same point-and-shoot camera in my bag
wherever I went, so the shots came about as golden opportunities. Sometimes
months would go by without being able to do a shot, as I had to be left in someone’s
home long enough to be able to furtively take the images. But when I did find myself
able to seize a moment alone in someone’s home, I would scan the space, finding a
spot to place the camera and mentally creating a composition with my body in the
space, quickly discard my clothes and take the images with the self-timer. Most shots
were done in under three minutes.
Figure 3.1 ‘Caledonian Road, N7, London’ In Your Home, Rasha Kahil, 2011, c-type print,
900 x 600mm, framed

Figure 3.2 ‘Kastanienallee, Mitte, Berlin’ In Your Home, Rasha Kahil, 2011, c-type print, 900 x
600mm, framed
Interview with Rasha Kahil 43
MB&BS: You talk about domestic space. Why did you decide not to ask permission to
take photographs for the purpose of In Your Home project? And why did you decide
to take them in other people’s homes? How do you understand the concept of home?
RK: I have always been an avid collector. A collector of things, of memories, I had
volumes of diaries, collected cinema stubs and exhibition tickets, letters, hand-
written notes. I have boxes and boxes of memories I have amassed since 1992, most
of which I have not looked through since.
During the process of taking nude self-portraits in other people’s homes, I
understood it to come from the same drive, the need to collect and keep. They
became records of friendships and acquaintances over the years, a record of my
social relationships. Homes are an extension of someone’s personality; they are
intimate spaces that reflect their owner. Inviting someone to our home adds a layer of
intimacy to the meeting – in contrast with meeting up in a neutral public space. So
taking photographs in those private spaces equates to taking an intimate portrait of
the owner of that space. They are rich with clues, they are a concrete record of
someone’s taste, interests, habits. Recording the moment of communion between
my nude body and the private space of someone’s bedroom, lounge, kitchen, marked
the meeting of personalities in the most intimate of manner.
I couldn’t ask for permission because, rather than a collaborative effort, the urge is
born from a personal drive; the need to collect and record. I enjoyed the furtiveness,
the intuitive compositions I created from constraints of space and time. It was my
representation of that ‘meeting’ rather than a curated conversation. I did not want or
need permission to mark the relationship.

Figure 3.3 ‘Landsdowne Drive, E8, London’ In Your Home, Rasha Kahil, 2011, c-type print,
900 x 600mm, framed
44 Rasha Kahil, Marco Bohr & Basia Sliwiniska
Also, just to make it clear, I never broke into anyone’s house, I was always invited
in. So permission was in a sense already given. Is it a violation of privacy, or breaking
that permission, merely by the act of taking off one’s clothes in that space? By taking
a photograph?
MB&BS: The permission to enter those domestic spaces was already given. We might say
that the hosts welcomed you and you felt ‘at home’. Did the feeling of being wel-
comed make you also feel comfortable enough so that you were able to take your
clothes off and explore your close relationships, whether with friends or acquain-
tances, within those domestic spaces? Are your photographs explorations of this
intimacy of domestic spaces, which you were given permission to enter?
RK: Rather than an exploration, each photograph is the record of that particular
meeting, in that specific place at that specific time. A stamp, if you will. As a col-
lection of images, they form the narrative of social life through the lens of a single
body. I wouldn’t say that I was comfortable taking my clothes off, not because of the
nudity, but because of constraints of space and time, and the fear of being discovered
in the act. The composition of my body in the space is a split-second decision, and
more often than not reflects those limitations. It is a body trying to fit into a space. Or
a body trying to find its place. Which, in a way, is what we do as social beings, as we
navigate, and attempt to build relationships.
MB&BS: At some stage In Your Home transformed into a scandal. Please tell us when,
and how you noticed that your work was scandalised and what were the impli-
cations for you as artist?
RK: In Your Home was shown in 2011, as a solo show in Beirut at The Running Horse
contemporary art space. There was press in the local newspapers, the gallery show
was on for a month, and it all went very smoothly. But two years later, in 2013, a TV
presenter on a Middle Eastern satellite channel, Al Jadeed, found my website online
and included me on his segment – which ran after the news. He featured screengrabs
of my website, and posed a very deliberate question: ‘Is this art or is this a scandal?’ It
all exploded after that. I found out when I suddenly noticed a spike in Facebook
requests, mostly from Middle Eastern men. I received emails, I found myself dis-
cussed all over Facebook and on Arab online news channels. Even my family in
Lebanon received random WhatsApp messages, and phone calls from friends saying
they had seen me on the news.
In the beginning, I did feel very violated. In Your Home was always intended to have
its place within the space of a gallery, in the context offered by the gallery. It was never
meant for such a public exhibition or mass dissemination. I was always aware of the
implications of being an Arab female artist, especially with the solo show in Beirut.
But this felt like a violation, as it was thrust in an arena it was never meant to be in. My
identity as an ‘artist’ was taken away from me in that moment, especially in the first
few weeks. I felt very much like a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Again, I instinctively started collecting all the chatter I read online – something I just
automatically do anyway. I copy-pasted all the comments on Facebook that appeared
on Middle Eastern public news sites, I saved all the censored images, I screengrabbed
the portrait pictures of the commenters, and put it all in a folder I named ‘Scandal’.
Like the beginnings of In Your Home, I didn’t actively set out to start a project, but it
was through the process of collecting that the project slowly came about.
MB&BS: Once the scandal broke and went ‘viral, so to speak, you mention that your
identity as an artist was taken away from you. In that period, as far as we
Interview with Rasha Kahil 45

Figure 3.4 Anatomy of a Scandal, Rasha Kahil, 2016, installation view, c-type prints. Image
courtesy of Art First Projects

understand, you largely remained silent. We are interested in that silence and the
meaning of it. We are aware you said it wasn’t an act of resistance; however, shutting
up, almost sewing your lips, is a radical response to what was happening at that time.
Can your silence be read as part of the dialogue you continued when you exhibited
your works together with people’s comments?
RK: At the beginning, as the scandal was unfolding, I was stunned into silence. The
chatter was so loud and the online space is vast and anonymous. No one was
specifically asking for my input, I was mostly witnessing a mass online conversation
in which I was the subject rather than the interlocutor. And my natural reaction,
as I mentioned, was to collect and record. I was however contacted by a couple of
talk shows asking for my participation in TV debates about the scandal. But the fact
that they specifically used the word ‘scandal’ – and by their sensationalist overtones
as talk shows in general – meant that the conversation would revolve around me
‘defending’ myself against the allegations. I was not prepared to enter that sort of
dialogue. This was something I had expected might happen back in 2011, when the
solo show was actually ongoing, but not two years later as a response to what was
branded a scandal. I felt like they were loosely disguised trials, television enter-
tainment rather than informed debates.
In a sense, my silence was an act of refusal to take part in the chatter, which
would’ve been a futile exercise. The online world does not demand answers, it only
seeks to churn out opinions. There is no space for a dialogue. It is only when I looked
back on all the documentation of the ‘scandal’ that I started to form ideas about how
46 Rasha Kahil, Marco Bohr & Basia Sliwiniska
to respond. I always knew that I eventually would, but I had to let the ‘scandal’ die
out in order to turn my project into a thoughtful response rather than a spur of the
moment defence of my actions and of my work as an artist.
I think my silence was my way of denying legitimacy to the scandal. Attempting to
answer back and acknowledging would mean validating it, which I was not pre-
pared to do. I was not seen or heard as an artist, and the work was not perceived as an
art work, I was merely a naked Lebanese woman on the internet. And I did not want
to give legitimacy to that identity I felt was being forced on me.
MB&BS: Al Jadeed used your work as ‘clickbait’ by sensationalising and scandalising
your work. Once you noticed to what extent this scandal has evolved, what was your
strategy? You subsequently re-exhibited your photographs as Anatomy of a Scandal.
Crucially, your photographs now include rather crude attempts by the media or
online users to censor your work by covering up your breasts and other parts of your
body. Please tell us more about these attempts to censor you. When did you think
that these marks are worth looking at closer?
RK: I needed some time to digest the material I had amassed, organising and classifying
it. I made folders for each of the elements I collected: emails, Facebook comments –
with the authors’ Facebook picture profiles – images of In Your Home which were
censored by online media, graphs demonstrating the spike in website visitors, etc.
I was particularly interested in the defaced images, and their multiple layers
of censorship using crude Photoshop tools. They were painted on, blurred out,

Figure 3.5 Anatomy of a Scandal, Rasha Kahil, 2016, installation view, c-type prints. Image
courtesy of Art First Projects
Interview with Rasha Kahil 47
black-barred. All these different digital ways of manipulating an image were fas-
cinating. Some online media channels even picked up images already censored by
another channel and added further Photoshop elements to increase the level of
These were now novel versions of my original In Your Home images, with visible
marks reflecting this new online reading. I saved all these images and subsequently
decided to recreate them IRL (in real life) using the original framed In Your Home
photographs I still had from a previous show at Artfirst gallery in London in October
2011. Recreating the different censorship marks on the glass, rather than on the
photo surface itself, represented that new reading of the work. I used frosted film and
black tape to represent the digital blurring and black bars covering my breasts, and
spray paint to mimic the spray paint tool on Photoshop. The original In Your Home
photograph sits untouched under the glass, but has a bruised, defaced layer atop
covering the offending parts of my body, marking its churning through the motions
of the online scandal. The image underneath remains unscathed and protected by the
vandalised layer of glass, which in a way embodies my position as the subject of the
media storm: they are not permanent marks on the surface of my body, but rather
attacks that are easily peeled away and discarded.
Alongside these reworked prints, the Anatomy of a Scandal installation also
comprises of a video work in which I read out the various Facebook comments that
people left on a news page’s Facebook post about the scandal. By using my own
voice, I reassert my position of power, reappropriating the online chatter and
therefore negating its potency: the commenter’s Facebook profile picture appears in
the video, reversing the tables and in turn shaming them.
However, in contrast to the very public comments on social media, the majority of
personal emails I received were very encouraging: they lauded my bravery, asked for
my friendship or even my hand in marriage. I included print outs of these emails in
the installation, cutting out their names so as to protect their identity.
I called the series Anatomy of a Scandal to reflect this forensic investigation of the
online scandal – collecting, documenting and analysing the data to make sense of the
digital noise.
MB&BS: As you mentioned earlier, your cultural background is Lebanese. Al Jadeed is a
privately owned pan-Arabic TV station based in Beirut. Do you know how they
found out about your work? Do you know why they specifically targeted you? Does
your Lebanese background have anything to do with it? Is this mainly about gender,
culture, religion?
RK: I think I had deduced that the presenter himself had read an online blog post about my
photographic work by a Middle Eastern woman living in NYC. Being a Lebanese
woman with nude images of myself online, as he would have seen me, definitely singled
me out as ripe fodder for his programme on Al Jadeed. His segment, called ‘Trending’,
reports on topical online trends or viral videos, and my website definitely wasn’t the
topic du jour when he picked up on it. It was the allure of being nude and Lebanese, and
the flammable nature of the region’s online audience when it comes to taboo subjects
that made me the perfect scoop for his show. Religion never came into the dialogue, but
it was the breakdown of Middle Eastern cultural values and the fact that I was a
woman that inflamed the masses and provided the main topics of ‘conversation’.
Most of the online talk revolved around the fact that I was a woman, with open
discussions about my body. I was vilified and shamed, as a woman and as a body, by
48 Rasha Kahil, Marco Bohr & Basia Sliwiniska

Figure 3.6 Anatomy of a Scandal, Rasha Kahil, 2016, installation view, c-type prints, framed
emails. Image courtesy of Art First Projects

men and women alike. The quality of my work as art was also a big part of the online
chatter, defining art and its meaning, and denigrating the work by stripping it of its
context. A lot of throwaway comments such as ‘attention-seeking’, ‘slut’, ‘whore’,
‘fat and ugly’, which were meant to be violent and defile.
MB&BS: Rasha, before we reach the end of the conversation, it is hard to ignore that your
work brings to mind the notion of shame. Many scholars notice that women as a
socially subordinate group are more vulnerable to shame. It is a concept that is more
present in recent feminist scholarship, emphasising its ethical and political value.
Does your ‘shame’ have this radical political potential, particularly for the female
body? Your body was censored but did it make you feel ashamed of it?
RK: This sort of ‘shaming’ happens across all media and parts of the world, and is not just
confined to the Middle East. It just so happened that I am Lebanese and therefore my
case as a female artist working with the body and self-representation resonated in
that part of the world that I come from.
However, any woman who uses the body as a tool in their art practice comes
across such inflammatory shaming reactions through many different channels on a
regular basis, and not just from seemingly conservative societies. If you look at the
comments under any feature or piece focusing on a female artist, even on reputable
online photography journals, there will always be comments or attacks that hone in
on gender and attack the feminine physicality. This almost exclusively happens
online because of the nature of the digital world. It affords anonymity, it cannot be
controlled or channelled, and each one of us is but a drop in its ocean. There is no
Interview with Rasha Kahil 49
echo, no interlocutor, it is a space where one can deposit words, immune from the
consequence of those words.
I have often used my body in my work because it is my primary tool. I have never
felt shame, even during the scandal, because as soon as it is an image captured, my
body becomes other than me. It is a representation of my body, and becomes light,
volume, movement, an object in a frame. For a moment, the scandal did make me
feel very vulnerable, but it wasn’t with regards to feeling shame for my body, but
rather the feeling of being denied legitimacy as a woman and as an artist. I felt
violated not because of my nudity, which became a traded commodity but for which
I have an objective relationship with, but because the digital ‘me’ was being assigned
roles and qualities which I couldn’t control. It became personal.
MB&BS: It is fascinating the way you describe that once photographed your body
becomes something other, something that you can look at in an almost objective
way. In that sense there is a clear difference between your body, and a body (which
happens to be yours) represented in the photograph. In the photographic exhibition,
where physical prints of your work are displayed on the wall, the materiality of the
image is also underscored through things like the frame, the gallery lighting or even
something banal as a hook from which your work is hung.
In an online context, these aspects that highlight the materiality of your work (e.g.
the physical print, the frame, the lighting, the hook) are missing. At the height of the
‘scandal’, were you still able to distinguish between your body and a body (which
happens to be yours) represented in a photograph that is being shared online?
RK: It is true that the control of the body as a tool extends to the way the images are
presented in a gallery space, the editing process, the accompanying elements of
framing, size, and text. But I had already at that point ‘framed’ them within my
personal website, which is a digital exhibition tool. I had also seen them on blogs and
on online news channels reviewing my show. They existed online as standalone
images, albeit within the context of the work as an art piece, prior to the scandal
erupting. I won’t pretend that seeing nude images of my body multiplying across the
web when the scandal happened wasn’t unnerving. I have to admit, my heart always
sinks a little every time I google-image search my own name! But I have always been
able to see the images as part of a body of work, with a thought process and intentions
behind them. I get irked more by tagged Facebook images of myself in which I don’t
like my smile or my body in a particular image. But whether the original images, or
the later censored images of In Your Home, or any of the previous work I had done
using my body as a tool, it remains that, a tool that I have been using for self-
expression and visual experimentation through photography since my early twenties.
I am definitely now more aware of the power of the digital world and the indel-
ibility of the web surface. And the ‘voices on the other side’ of the screen, the mob of
the anonymous mass, is a presence that is increasingly taking up more news headlines
with the rise of ‘cyber-bullying’ or other forms of digital harassment. But it is hard,
and almost self-sabotaging, not to exist online – websites, Instagram, etc. Is it a case
of developing a thick skin and not being shamed into self-censorship, especially as a
woman and artist? I don’t really have an answer to that. But I can say that the new
project I am working on will be addressing Google Image search results, so I’m not
veering too far off from the subject!
MB&BS: Although the scandal has now subsided, images of your body are still shared
online or, in the least and as you allude to, they are digitally archived such as on
50 Rasha Kahil, Marco Bohr & Basia Sliwiniska
Google Images. Yet now that things have calmed down a bit, what are your
reflections about what has happened? Have you gained a new perspective on your
work particularly in relation to its online presence?
RK: What upset me the most when the scandal was happening was the fact that the online
chatter leaked into the real world, affecting my family and loved ones. But I was very
happy with Anatomy of a Scandal, it was a cathartic project to work on and finally
see it installed IRL. Making sense of the noise, reappropriating the scandal for
myself and finally having my voice out there in ‘retaliation’ allowed me to reclaim
ownership of the work. If it wasn’t for that TV presenter and the ensuing scandal,
Anatomy of a Scandal would never have existed and I would never have born witness
to the immense power of the world wide web. I am definitely more cautious about
putting work online, especially when it comes to images of friends and sitters,
whether it is personal or an art work, since I am now more acutely aware of the
presence of an audience. And as I mentioned wth the Google Image search project, I
am very interested in investigating online discourses and the blurring of public and
personal spheres through digital channels and social media. Being at the centre of a
media storm is not something I would want to go through again, but I’ll be honest, ‘I
was a Middle Eastern scandal’ is a great conversation starter.
MB&BS: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us.
4 Imagening Discontent
Political Images and Civic Protest
Edgar Gómez Cruz and Gemma San Cornelio

Intro: #VibraMexico, the anti-image Rally

On February 12th of 2017, barely 20 days after Donald Trump’s Inauguration as
President of the United States, Mexican civil society and intellectuals organised a
‘National Civic Rally demanding respect to Mexico’ with rallies in different cities
(organisers claimed 40,000 in 22 cities). During Trump’s campaign Mexico was one of
the main targets of Trump’s populist and hateful comments, he called Mexicans that
migrated to the US ‘bad hombres’1, ‘drug dealers’, ‘criminals’ and ‘rapists’2 and one of
his main campaign promises was to build a wall on the border between the two countries.
His combative and confrontational tone did not change after he became president and
the march was a response to these constant accusations and attacks. Organised by a
variety of citizens and organisations, the call was to participate in a ‘nonpartisan, pacifist
and respectful protest’ under the title of #VibraMexico (Mexico pulsating). The rally
was aimed at redefining/reclaiming the power to define who Mexicans are, to reclaim the
right of Mexicans to present their own image in response to an imposed image from a
foreign powerful person.
This text analyses photos posted on Instagram about the rally in order to demonstrate
how the use of images3, digital platforms and practices could form a social imaginary
with political implications. This protest provides an example of how images and
imagination are entangled and mobilised in an emergent form of civic participation
and it aligns with a growing academic interest in the relationship between images and
imagination, particularly the political implications of this relationship4.
Doerr and Teune suggest that ‘images produced by social movements are part of the
struggle over meaning’5. In the case of the #VibraMexico rally, it is precisely the con-
testation over a meaning that constitutes the core of the protest. Through the rally,
participants collectively displayed an ‘imagined community’ (presenting ideas of unity
and goodwill while expressing discontent towards these discourses) against Trump’s
imposition of meaning on Mexicans (as ‘rapists and drug dealers’ as ‘bad hombres’, etc.).
We use the concept of images in a broad sense, comprising photographs, illustrations,
cartoons, etc. We also acknowledge the multiplicity and complexity of communication
ecologies used in protests6, but we focus our analysis on these different images shared on
social media. These images, portrayed in the analysed data, are indeed part of a larger
entanglement of different elements (the street, the walk, the banners, social media,
traditional media, historical icons, etc.). In this sense, we suggest that the #VibraMexico
rally is particular because it was, as we call it, an imagened protest—though it incor-
porated people’s actual presence, marching in the street, it was shaped in important ways
52 Edgar Gómez Cruz & Gemma San Cornelio
through images and widely photographed and shared on social media. While photo-
graphing at rallies seems to be the norm nowadays, we highlight the central role of
images in the creation of a shared imaginary. By remediating, appropriating and
remixing images for different purposes (mocking, complaining, responding, etc.), we
present the rally as a case study of how a shared imaginary is set in motion using images.

Method and Protest Images

The methodology used in this chapter was developed by the funded project Selfiestories
and Personal Data7 (12/2014–6/2017) led by San Cornelio and with Gómez Cruz as one
of the researchers. The goal of the two-year project was to analyse selfies as personal and
collective narratives using Instagram as the main field site. Using the same methodology,
the particular case study presented in this chapter is centred on the social media study of
the #VibraMexico rally. Our approach is as a non-image-centric visual study. While we
focus on images, we understand them as communicative objects that circulate and
generate social interactions and consequently are context-dependent while holding
multiple meanings.
We have designed a mixed methodology that combines analysis of a large corpus
of data (photos, hashtags, comments) with a qualitative approach. More specifically,
our methodology was built in three phases: image content analysis, platform analysis (in
this case Instagram) and a practice-theory approach, focusing on users’ perceptions,
discourses and doings8, especially those photography-related9.
Our observation of the march started before the physical event took place—following
the media coverage, discussions on social media—continued during the time of the rally—
reading and making notes of tweets and images in real time—and, finally, we analysed
the material generated after the event, both on Instagram and on Twitter—comments,
reactions, etc. Gómez Cruz, as a Mexican himself, felt emotionally attached to this event.
John Postill developed the idea of ‘remote ethnography’10 to account for the ways eth-
nographic work could indeed be completed from afar. Inspired by this idea, Gómez
Cruz followed the protest from its inception, and ‘participated’ remotely by posting,
retweeting and commenting on social media about the protest. In this sense, a rally, with
its fixed timespan and with the shared use of a hashtag, presented a rich object to study
‘intensities’. Postill and Pink11 use the concept of intensities to describe a shift in eth-
nographic work, from studying territories or communities to focus on ‘relations between
things and processes’12. Studying intensities presents new opportunities to understand
the way the rally was not bounded (only) to the physical marching of people nor to
specific identities.
In order to obtain the data, a data scraper was developed by a programmer in the
context of the project selfiestories. Since our main focus is Instagram, the official API
(Application Programming Interface) was used to gather data using different methods of
communication between various software components. As a result, we got a piece of
software that allowed the extraction and storage of information in a server, automating
specific queries, related both to hashtags and users on Instagram. In this case, the
application captured information during the period from 12/02/2017 to 14/02/2017,
forming an archive of ‘visual protest material’13 comprising a total of 800 posts to be
analysed. According to our query, the scraper returned a raw data file (in JSON14
format) containing the following information besides the images: hashtags, captions
and comments, date and time of uploading, users, and like count, amongst others.
Imagening Discontent 53
This file was later converted into a spreadsheet and analysed with NVivo, a software for
Computer Assisted/Aided Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDAS). Finally, we contacted
ten of the most active users detected in the dataset in order to do online interviews and
ethnographically informed observations of their practices on social media. This method
allowed us to approach the rally from multiple perspectives and layers; from a com-
prehensive overview of the type of images shared to the most important depictions in
those images and the possible impact they had. Moreover, these two analyses, con-
textualised by the richness of interviews and ethnographic interpretation, locate quan-
titative data among broader and deeper narratives regarding photographing and sharing

Social Discontent, Civic Imagination and Creative Imagery

Our analysis showed that more than 40% of the collected images posted during the rally
depicted banners or crowds, suggesting the display of the rally and people participating
as a reinforcement of the rally’s success. Simultaneously, these photos display images
within them, on banners and signs, and these embedded images represent the message of
the protest. In combination, our interpretation of this 40% of images is that the overall
statement of the rally’s social media posting was: ‘we are all here together and this is
what we think’. As one female Instagram user claimed in a comment: ‘I think the image
we were looking for was achieved and will reach overseas, thousands of Mexicans
demanding respect’. These photographs present an image of unity and cohesion that
becomes effective precisely because of the collective gathering of individual messages.
In this sense, the presence of some public figures such as Enrique Graue, the Vice-
Chancellor of the National University, the biggest university in Latin America, and
Denise Dresser, one of the most important independent news journalists, helped to boost
representation of the protest on social media. As one of the male interviewees mentioned:
‘I photographed them [the vice-chancellor and the journalist] because they are “famous”
and because they are going to create a bigger impact when I publish them on my social
This rally provides a good example of the contemporary shift from social movements
presenting specific political demands to a norm in which protesters seek systemic change
or show general discontent rather than seeking specific outcomes in the rally. Several
examples of these ‘discontent rallies’ were indeed against Trump, such as the women’s
march or the academics’ march opposing him, but there are many other examples, such
as the first stage of the 15M in Spain or the rally in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist
attack. These manifestations of discontent present an alternative ‘vision’ to the existent
one. Because they are imagened visions in opposition to an imposed one, irony, sarcasm
and mocking are a central element in the rallies. While these elements have always been
an important element of protests15, in this particular one they were central. The com-
bination of images and texts changed some of Trump’s motifs by playing with them,
remediating them and contesting them. For example, a man carried a sign that said: ‘bad
hombre’ with an arrow pointing down at him while he carried it above his head (but
with the addition in smaller font of the words: ‘son’, ‘brother’, ‘uncle’ in Spanish), fol-
lowing Jordan’s definition of ‘semiotic terrorism’ as part of ‘culture jamming’16 where
the ‘power of an effective moment is based on using the same language as that being
criticized’17. Some other banners said: ‘Build bridges not walls’, ‘Simpsons yes, Trump
no’, ‘Mexico is the new black’, ‘No hate, no racism, no walls’, ‘Time to make America
54 Edgar Gómez Cruz & Gemma San Cornelio
Latina great again’, all of them in English. The protesters presented an informed sub-
version of many of Trump’s discursive elements regarding Mexico and Mexicans.
Written on cardboard, T-shirts, faces and hats, these messages turned into a public satire
of Trump’s populist claims. In the same way, other images (re)mixed different iconic
elements to re-signify them (for example, one poster used the same design of the ‘Hope’
poster created by Shepard Fairey for Obama’s 2008 campaign, using Trump’s face with
the addition of a Hitler-like moustache and overlaid by the word ‘Twitler’ instead of
‘Hope’. Trump’s face was portrayed on masks, piñatas, posters etc. in a cartoonesque
style, clearly signalling the personification of a discourse. While Trump’s discourses
portrayed Mexicans in a certain way, all these discursive elements were contested using
the person of Trump himself as the focus of the protest.
But this discontent also targeted the Mexican president for his perceived lack of
strength in his opposition to Trump. There were several images portraying President
Peña Nieto as a puppet or as a lackey. A popular sentiment mocked the distinctive
hairstyle of both Presidents Trump and Peña Nieto, with one banner reading: ‘let’s get rid
of toupees’. Several posters reproduced political cartoons, especially those published in
the national newspaper La Jornada, famous for its political cartoonists who are among
the best in the country, and who portray Trump quite often in their cartoon section.
In Mexico there is a long history of political iconography (political cartoons18, prints,
murals), which has been fundamental in the creation of national imaginaries19, from the
Mexican Revolution to the 1968 Students’ movement. This historical heritage of protest
iconography in relation to a Mexican self-awareness is activated nowadays through
political cartoons but also with memes and tweets20. Therefore, this political icono-
graphy has been increasingly present in the latest social movements that have an
important social media component21.
Two iconic elements are also widely present, and both are good examples of the
important relationship between images and imagination: the first is the Mexican
national flag. Historically, the national flag has been an element of unity and cohesion,
respected and venerated by Mexicans. It is commonly used in national celebrations,
sport events and popular media and it is a distinctive element of pride and cohesion in a
country that is very diverse and full of inequalities. The presence of the flag and its
colours works to underwrite the visual homogeneity and therefore creates a cohesion in
the imaginary. The second iconic element, widely present in the rally imagery, is the
Monument to Independence (better known as ‘The Angel’), established in 1917 to mark
the centenary of independence in one of the main avenues in Mexico City. The ‘Angel’ is a
golden sculpture of an angel on top of a 36-metre-high victory column. At the base of the
column there are four bronze sculptures that symbolise law, war, justice and peace. The
place is a common gathering site for victories of all sorts (especially sports) and it is also
the icon of Mexico City. The rally passed by the monument and along with the flag it was
one of the most photographed icons, expanding its presence in connection to the protest
and transferring its meaning into the rally’s topic. The Angel is a symbol of freedom and
independence and it belongs to the imaginary of all Mexicans, which is what, implicitly,
the rally was trying to aim for. In this sense, there is a relationship with the offline protest
design, which also contributes to the way online imagery is constructed and shared.
An increasingly important corpus of work discusses the role of visual elements in
social movements, public protests and political activism. Current literature focuses
overall on social movement identities and visual branding of social movements. A
prominent contribution to the field is Mattoni and Doerr’s22 work on the imaginary of
Imagening Discontent 55
the precarious in Italy through the case of the Euro Mayday Parade (EMP) protest cam-
paign. They found that the main objective of the activists was subverting existing popular
culture traditions by creating new icons. On the other hand, the work of Cozen23 is
focused on the images produced by artist activists against climate change. From an arts
perspective, Tzortzis Rallis coined the expression ‘Agitational Visual Language’24 as an
attempt to examine geopolitical characteristics, as well as common visual elements in
social movements arising in Greece and other parts of the world in recent years. This
Agitational Visual Language could also be observed in Mexican case studies such as the
Zapatists’ websites25. According to this body of work, patterns and visual elements within
these images provide a shared interpretation in terms of their iconic power.
Following this literature, other scholars focus on precisely how images are used pol-
itically in protests with different configurations from those organised by traditional
social movements. Jeffrey Juris, in his work on #occupy26, proposes that some current
protests introduce a ‘logic of aggregation’, ‘which involves the assembling of masses of
individuals from diverse backgrounds within physical spaces’27, distinguishing it from a
more structured and networked logic, traditional in social movements. In the same
direction, Fatima Aziz, in her analysis of the #azadimarch in Pakistan, uses Engin Isin’s
concept of ‘acts of citizenship’ to explain how, by taking and sharing images of protests
on social media, a banal activity is transformed into a citizen act, ‘an active performance
of political identity’28. This seems aligned with Nunes’ suggestion that one gains a kind
of political agency: ‘not by making an overt rights claim, then, but by situating oneself, in
a highly personal way—situating one’s selfie—as a node of circulation within a move-
ment that expresses itself equally through actions and imagery’29. Aligned with these
approaches, we suggest that, due to the particular nature of the #VibraMexico rally
(a civic protest without specific demands and open to any form of participation but not
politically driven as many protests), images and image-making practices created a net-
work of digital visuality that had two main outcomes. First, it produced the conditions
for the protest to reach more people than those present at the rally itself and, second, this
imagery extended both the temporality and the reach of the physical protest on social
media. These two outcomes combined created an echo-chamber, an imagined image of a
common idea (that Mexicans are united and reject Trump’s portrayal of them) shared
collectively. Mattoni and Teune30, in their meta-analysis of studies about visual com-
ponents and political protests, affirm that social movements are ‘essentially visual
phenomena’. While acknowledging the important role of icons and images in every rally,
political or social, we want to suggest that the case of the #VibraMexico rally seems to
be different. We are not suggesting a new form of political movement nor necessarily a
new form of protest, but we do argue that networked images, along with practices and
platforms, create the conditions for a non-political multitudinous but individually
experienced gathering to be discursively constructed in political terms by imagining it
through images without a shared identity of people as a movement. This is not a self-
represented social movement but an imagened rally of different individuals who oppose
an ideological representation that they feel as personal. We will develop this idea further
at the end of this section.

The Hashtag: Aggregating Individualities, Imagining Collectivities

After an initial image classification (using image management software), focusing on
what the image depicted, we extended the analysis to identify the most common hashtags
56 Edgar Gómez Cruz & Gemma San Cornelio
and phrases used in captions (besides the main #VibraMexico) by using tag cloud
visualisations. We found that hashtags related to geographic locations were predom-
inant (#MexicoCity, #Mexico) along with those related to the rally’s aim (#mexico-
united, #unity, #family, originally in Spanish). We analysed hashtags ethnographically
(Bonilla & Rosa, 2015) as a key element of the discursive and connective nature of the
rally. They were also useful to identify the more active users and the most liked photos
during the time of the capture. We contacted ten users in order to do online interviews
and ethnographically informed observations of their practices on social media. We
analysed all these different sets of data to understand how people felt about the rally, why
they participated and how they perceived its failure or success.
According to Rambukkana (2015), hashtags mediate discursive assemblages with
multiple possibilities that depend on the different actants involved. By naming the rally
‘Mexico pulsating’ the organisers were not making the rally a clear political demand but
creating an open invitation to gather under a common umbrella of discontent, and at
the same time calling for participation in the depiction of Mexicans as an active society.
The combination of words in the chosen name was closer to other titles used in sport
events, national celebrations or popular media. What seems relevant is that the organ-
isation included the hashtag sign as part of the rally’s name from its inception; it seems
clear that they wanted social media to be an active element accompanying the physical
rally and to create online resonance from a physical gathering. In this sense, and fol-
lowing Rambukkana31, the hashtag was a ‘pathway to an open and non-predefined set
of communicative encounters and architectures’32.
The hashtag functioned as a connector that gave a sense of continuity and collective
cohesion to a series of images that were individual. But, while hashtags can give a sense of
cohesion and commonality, they also work against a shared goal by enhancing the social
component and dissolving the political elements into individual goals. For example, one
Instagram user posted several selfies using the hashtag of the rally along with others such
as ‘follow’, ‘gaymexico’, ‘gym’ and many others. Similarly, a radio station Instagram
account used the hashtag when posting images and news content that in some cases had
nothing to do with the rally. Examples like these not only distorted our analysis of the
sample, but also highlighted an apparently unusual overlapping of aims, interests and
connections beside the use of the official hashtag. This finding is consistent with other
studies such as the work of Giannoulakis and Tsapatsoulis33. In their analysis of a corpus
of 1,000 Instagram images they found that an important portion of hashtags had nothing
to do with what the image depicted34. The use of apparently non-related concepts
through hashtags can be interpreted, in this case, as a form of reaching a wider audience
for photos and personal accounts. While connecting to a collective event through the
official hashtag, every other hashtag opens a new possible connection with different
publics. As one informant mentioned about the use of several different hashtags: ‘I do it to
get more followers : : : the hashtags link my photos to a wider exchange network’. An
extreme example of this was another user who posted a bikini shot at the beach and, along
with the hashtag from the rally, she used others such as ‘travelling’, ‘passion’, ‘heart’, etc.
This user was aware of the rally taking place and she used the fixed temporality of the
hashtag to get more visits to her account. There are multiple possible interpretations of
this; the hashtag adds layers of connection, bringing multiple networks together and
multiplying the contextual meaning of the posted images. But, while hashtags can be used
for personal interests, according to Aziz (2017), in her analysis of a Pakistani rally, images
that use the hashtag indirectly support and acknowledge the importance of the rally.
Imagening Discontent 57
After visualising all the verbal content that is present in the picture caption, including
hashtags, comments and mentions, three different types of contents mainly emerged.
First, after the official hashtag, the most frequent words are related to Mexico and its
different cities and locations (#cdmx, #mexicounido, #mexicocity, #noalmuro); second,
we identified the kind of hashtags more commonly used on Instagram to get more fol-
lowers and likes (#like4like, #followme, #spam4spam); and, finally, a third group of
hashtags related to gender collectives (#gaymexico, #gaymadrid, #gaymodel). The first
set of hashtags is logically used since they are related to the topic of the rally, showing
pride for Mexico and making it visible. The second group reveals a strategic use of the
images in trying to get likes and reach as many followers as possible. For the last con-
currence of hashtags there could be two probable explanations; one particular user
posted several dozen pictures (mostly selfies) using the rally hashtag along with a number
related to gay communities. One possible explanation is that he was taking advantage
of the temporality and visibility of the rally for personal purposes. A more optimistic
interpretation could be that, since the rally was organised against Trump’s statements
against Mexicans, the user tried to connect specific agendas fighting sexism and
homophobia as part of a broader set of discourses contesting Trump’s ideas. Never-
theless, looking in depth into this possible connection, it is important to consider at this
point that most of these tags were used by only a small number of users—who were very
active in posting—so the hashtags related to gay collectives are probably over-
represented. In this regard, if we look at the big picture we see a message of cohesive and
unitary discourses showing and verbalising the projected feeling of a whole country but
in very personal ways and for a myriad of reasons.
Finally, there is another important element regarding the use of the official hashtag in
the rally. Not only was the hashtag part of the official name of the rally but the hashtag
symbol was also used, as a visual signifier, in many prints held in the protest. This signals
the multiple dimensions and entanglements between the online and the offline elements
of the protest, something interesting to further theorise.

Some Concluding Remarks

The media coverage of the #VibraMexico rally was scarce and the coverage gave
the impression that the rally was not especially successful35: participation was low, there
was another parallel rally at the same time in Mexico City (allegedly in support of the
Mexican president), the messages were diverted from the rally’s theme to a criticism of
the Mexican President and Trump didn’t even tweet a response to it! But it became
a good example of the possibilities for social discontent to be politically constructed
in the future.
Zeynep D. Gürsel, in her analysis36 of the images of the Unity Rally (Marche
Republicaine) in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in 2015, points out that:
‘How events and publics are visualized matters not only because we live in an image-
saturated world but because determining what can be visually represented, managing
zones of visibility and invisibility, has become a key means of exercising power’37. In this
sense, photographs that depict the mass of attendants to the event are important in
demonstrating that the call had a numerous response even while traditional or mass
media did not cover the event as it happened.
The rally was similar to other protests for unity, such as in Paris in 2015 or the 15M
in Spain. Although it did lack a clear political agenda based on ideologies, groups
58 Edgar Gómez Cruz & Gemma San Cornelio
or movements, it seems to be a good example of an emerging form or protest that
follows the ‘logic of aggregation’ suggested by Jeffrey Juris38. Participants in this rally
did not share a ‘collective identity’ but they were more an enactment of an ‘imagined
community’39. Anderson in his influential book proposes to define a Nation as an
imagined political community, ‘imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign’40.
Precisely the idea of the protest is to offer a shared idea of a united front against an
imposed (and foreign and alienated) ‘subject construction’. This rally was an ‘anti-
image’ protest because it was a reaction to a series of discourses that disparaged Mexican
identity, a reaction from an ‘imagined image’ in Trump’s discourses. At the same time it
was a shared display of a series of visual tropes that anyone from Mexico could be related
to: freedom, independence, the national flag, unity, etc.
There have been other social movements that were organised based on the opposition
to a specific (and usually uneven or unfair) situation. That is the case, for example, of the
15M movement in Spain, a movement characterised by plurality that sometimes even
contradicts itself41, or the #Ferguson protest42. Nevertheless, it is important to notice
that some of the usual participants in political rallies did not join #VibraMexico and that
signals a different (and less politicised) event. Some of the people we interviewed men-
tioned that it was surprising for them that participants in the rally were from the
Mexican upper class, a group that does not participate in protests very often. In this
sense, the rally was less politically constructed than many others. Therefore, it would
probably be a mistake to call participation in the rally activism in the traditional sense of
an ideology-based form of protest in order to change something. It was more a synergy of
individual participation triggered by social media affordances and the current political
climate. But, at the same time, it cannot simply be disregarded as banal or apolitical. This
rally could be seen as a good example of what Mirzoeff calls ‘Visual Activism’43, where
images are at the centre and are vehicles of social discontent. The civic-based nature of
this protest signals the entanglement between the online and the offline, marked by
images as a common denominator, not only as a practice during the rally but also as an
online performance of participation. In that sense, images become powerful translators
between different forms of mediations (political, social, technological). As Gerbaudo
points out: ‘it is precisely because of the high level of individualization of our society as
reflected in the personalized nature of social media communication that the construction
of collective identity becomes so important and urgent’44. In this sense, the imagined
entanglement created by an assemblage of images, social media activity, participation in
the rally and the resulting imagined unity opens new ways to think about civic partici-
pation and political discourses that need to be further explored.

debate-las-vegas-video, accessed 13 November 2017.
2, accessed 13 November 2017.
3 We use images in a twofold way, as visible images (photos, texts, banners, cartoons) but also
as ‘mental images’, as imagined projections.
4 See for example, Chiara Bottici, Imaginal Politics: Images beyond Imagination and the
Imaginary (Columbia University Press, 2014); Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political
Ontology of Photography (London: Verso Books, 2015); Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the
World: An Introduction to Images, from Self-Portraits to Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More
(Vol. 8) (New York: Basic Books, 2016).
Imagening Discontent 59
5 Nicole Doerr and Simon Teune, “The Imagery of Power Facing the Power of Imagery: Toward
a Visual Analysis of Social Movements,” in The Establishment Responds (New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2012), 46.
6 Emiliano Trere and Alice Mattoni, “Media Ecologies and Protest Movements: Main
Perspectives and Key Lessons,” Information, Communication & Society 19(3) (2016):
7 Project funded by BBVA Foundation, aiming to experiment with a mixed methodology
approach combining big data with an ethnographic orientation.
8 Edgar Cruz and Elisenda Ardèvol, “Ethnography and the Field in Media (ted) Studies: A
Practice Theory Approach,” Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture 9(3) (2013).
9 Edgar Gómez Cruz and Elisenda Ardèvol, “Some Ethnographic Notes on a Flickr Group,”
Photographies 6(1) (2013): 35–44.
10 John Postill, “Remote Ethnography. Studying Culture from Afar,” in The Routledge Compan-
ion to Digital Ethnography, eds. Larissa Hjorth, Heather Horst, Anne Galloway and
Genevieve Bell (London: Routledge, 2017), 61–69.
11 John Postill and Sarah Pink, “Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy
Web,” Media International Australia 145(1) (2012): 123–134.
12 Postill and Pink, “Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web,” 124.
13 Axel Philipps, “Visual Protest Material as Empirical Data,” Visual Communication 11(1)
(2012): 3–21.
14 A JSON file is a file that stores simple data structures and objects. It contains data in a standard
data interchange format which is lightweight, text-based and human-readable. JSON files
were originally based on a subset of JavaScript, but are considered a language-independent
format, being supported by many different programming APIs.
15 Patrick Gun Cuninghame, “‘A Laughter That Will Bury You All’: Irony as Protest and
Language as Struggle in the Italian 1977 Movement,” International Review of Social History
52(S15) (2007): 153–168.
16 Mark Dery, Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs (Vol. 25)
(Westfield: Open Media, 1993).
17 Tim Jordan, Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society (London:
Reaktion Books, 2002), 104.
18 Victor Alba, “The Mexican Revolution and the Cartoon,” Comparative Studies in Society and
History 9(2) (1967): 121–136.
19 See for example the Special Issue of Third Text on “Art and Revolution in Mexico” www., accessed 13 November 2017.
20 See for example
cartoons-pena-nieto, accessed 13 November 2017.
21 Emiliano Trere, “Reclaiming, Proclaiming, and Maintaining Collective Identity in the
#YoSoy132 Movement in Mexico: An Examination of Digital Frontstage and Backstage
Activism through Social Media and Instant Messaging Platforms,” Information, Communi-
cation & Society 18(8) (2015): 901–915.
22 Alice Mattoni and Nicole Doerr, “Images within the Precarity Movement in Italy,” Feminist
Review 87(1) (2007): 130–135.
23 Brian Cozen, “Mobilizing Artists: Green Patriot Posters, Visual Metaphors, and Climate
Change Activism,” Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture 7(2)
(2013): 297–314.
accessed 13 November 2017.
25 Sandra Escalona Urenda, “A Cultural Analysis of the Visual Signs in the Zapatistas Websites”
(Master’s thesis, University of Jyväskylä, 2012).
26 Jeffrey S. Juris, “Reflections on #Occupy Everywhere: Social Media, Public Space, and Emer-
ging Logics of Aggregation,” American Ethnologist 39(2) (2012): 259–279.
27 Ibid., 260.
28 Fatima Aziz, “Performing Citizenship: Freedom March Selfies by Pakistani Instagrammers,”
in Selfie Citizenship (Springer International Publishing, 2017), 27.
29 Mark Nunes, “Selfies, Self-Witnessing and the ‘Out-of-Place’ Digital Citizen,” in Selfie
Citizenship (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2017), 114.
60 Edgar Gómez Cruz & Gemma San Cornelio
30 Alice Mattoni and Simon Teune, “Visions of Protest. A Media-Historic Perspective on Images
in Social Movements,” Sociology Compass 8(6) (2014): 876–887.
31 Nathan Rambukkana, Hashtag Publics: The Power and Politics of Discursive Networks
(New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2015).
32 Rambukkana, Hashtag Publics: The Power and Politics of Discursive Networks, 4.
33 Stamatios Giannoulakis and Nicolas Tsapatsoulis, “Evaluating the Descriptive Power of
Instagram Hashtags,” Journal of Innovation in Digital Ecosystems 3(2) (2016): 114–129.
34 Ibid., 127.
35 See for example
36 Zeynep Devrim Gürsel, “Visualizing Publics: Digital Crowd Shots and the 2015 Unity Rally in
Paris,” Current Anthropology 58(S15) (2017): S135–S148.
37 Ibid., 135.
38 Jeffrey S. Juris, “Reflections on# Occupy Everywhere: Social Media, Public Space, and
Emerging Logics of Aggregation,” American Ethnologist 39(2) (2012): 259–279.
39 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nation-
alism (Verso Books, 2006).
40 Ibid., 6.
41 Arnau Monterde, Antonio Calleja-López, Miguel Aguilera, Xabier E. Barandiaran and John
Postill, “Multitudinous Identities: A Qualitative and Network Analysis of the 15M Collective
Identity,” Information, Communication & Society 18(8) (2015): 930–950.
42 Yarimar Bonilla and Jonathan Rosa, “#Ferguson: Digital Protest, Hashtag Ethnography, and
the Racial Politics of Social Media in the United States,” American Ethnologist 42(1) (2015):
43 Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World: An Introduction to Images, from Self-Portraits to
Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More (Vol. 8) (New York: Basic Books, 2016).
44 Paolo Gerbaudo, “Protest Avatars as Memetic Signifiers: Political Profile Pictures and the
Construction of Collective Identity on Social Media in the 2011 Protest Wave,” Information,
Communication & Society 18(8) (2015): 921.

Victor Alba, “The Mexican Revolution and the Cartoon,” Comparative Studies in Society and
History 9(2) (1967): 121–136.
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nation-
alism (London: Verso Books, 2006).
Fatima Aziz, “Performing Citizenship: Freedom March Selfies by Pakistani Instagrammers,” in
Selfie Citizenship (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2017), 21–28.
Yarimar Bonilla and Jonathan Rosa, “# Ferguson: Digital Protest, Hashtag Ethnography, and
the Racial Politics of Social Media in the United States,” American Ethnologist 42(1) (2015):
Brian Cozen, “Mobilizing Artists: Green Patriot Posters, Visual Metaphors, and Climate Change
Activism,” Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture 7(2) (2013):
Patrick Gun Cuninghame, “‘A Laughter That Will Bury You All’: Irony as Protest and Language
as Struggle in the Italian 1977 Movement,” International Review of Social History 52(S15)
(2007): 153–168.
Mark Dery, Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs (Vol. 25)
(Westfield: Open Media, 1993).
Nicole Doerr and Simon Teune, “The Imagery of Power Facing the Power of Imagery: Toward a
Visual Analysis of Social Movements,” in The Establishment Responds (New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2012), 43–55.
Sandra Escalona Urenda, “A Cultural Analysis of the Visual Signs in the Zapatistas Websites”
(Master’s thesis, University of Jyväskylä, 2012).
Imagening Discontent 61
Paolo Gerbaudo, “Protest Avatars as Memetic Signifiers: Political Profile Pictures and the
Construction of Collective Identity on Social Media in the 2011 Protest Wave,” Information,
Communication & Society 18(8) (2015): 916–929.
Stamatios Giannoulakis and Nicolas Tsapatsoulis, “Evaluating the Descriptive Power of Insta-
gram Hashtags,” Journal of Innovation in Digital Ecosystems 3(2) (2016): 114–129.
Edgar Gómez Cruz and Elisenda Ardèvol, “Some Ethnographic Notes on a Flickr Group,”
Photographies 6(1) (2013): 35–44.
Edgar Gómez Cruz and Elisenda Ardèvol, “Ethnography and the Field in Media (ted) Studies:
A Practice Theory Approach,” Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture 9(3)
Zeynep Devrim Gürsel, “Visualizing Publics: Digital Crowd Shots and the 2015 Unity Rally in
Paris,” Current Anthropology 58(S15) (2017): S135–S148.
Tim Jordan, Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society (Reaktion
Books, 2002).
Alice Mattoni and Nicole Doerr, “Images within the Precarity Movement in Italy,” Feminist
Review 87(1) (2007): 130–135.
Alice Mattoni and Simon Teune, “Visions of Protest. A Media-Historic Perspective on Images in
Social Movements,” Sociology Compass 8(6) (2014): 876–887.
Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World: An Introduction to Images, from Self-Portraits to
Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More (Vol. 8) (Basic Books, 2016).
Arnau Monterde, Antonio Calleja-López, Miguel Aguilera, Xabier E. Barandiaran, and John
Postill, “Multitudinous Identities: A Qualitative and Network Analysis of the 15M Collective
Identity,” Information, Communication & Society 18(8) (2015): 930–950.
Mark Nunes, “Selfies, Self-Witnessing and the ‘Out-of-Place’ Digital Citizen,” in Selfie Citizen-
ship (Springer International Publishing, 2017), 109–117.
Axel Philipps, “Visual Protest Material as Empirical Data,” Visual Communication 11(1)
(2012): 3–21.
John Postill, “Remote Ethnography. Studying Culture from Afar,” in The Routledge Companion
to Digital Ethnography, eds. Larissa Hjorth, Heather Horst, Anne Galloway and Genevieve
Bell (London: Routledge, 2017). 61–69.
John Postill and Sarah Pink, “Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy
Web,” Media International Australia 145(1) (2012): 123–134.
Nathan Rambukkana, Hashtag Publics: The Power and Politics of Discursive Networks
(New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2015).
Emiliano Trere, “Reclaiming, Proclaiming, and Maintaining Collective Identity in the #YoSoy132
Movement in Mexico: An Examination of Digital Frontstage and Backstage Activism through
Social Media and Instant Messaging Platforms,” Information, Communication & Society 18(8)
(2015): 901–915.
Emiliano Trere and Alice Mattoni, “Media Ecologies and Protest Movements: Main Perspectives
and Key Lessons,” Information, Communication & Society 19(3) (2016): 290–306.
5 Mobile Places and the ‘Cyborg
Feminine Embodied Net-community
of #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest
Basia Sliwinska

You grant me space, you grant me my space. But in so doing you have always already taken
me away from my expanding space. What you intend for me is the place which is
appropriate for the need you have of me. What you reveal to me is the place where you have
positioned me, so that I remain available for your needs. Even if you should evict me, I have
to stay there so that you can continue to be settled in your universe.1
Luce Irigaray, Elemental Passions (1992) [1982]

October 3rd 2016 will be remembered in Poland as ‘Czarny Poniedzia1ek’ (Black Monday;
‘czarny’ translates in Polish to ‘black’ and ‘poniedzia1ek’ to ‘Monday’).2 Thousands of
women and men dressed in black unsettled the androcentric universe described above by
Luce Irigaray. They refused to conform to the space granted to them, the place that has
been deemed appropriate for them, the place in which they have been firmly positioned.
They got out on the streets in over two hundred cities in Poland to claim what should be an
obvious right – the right to one’s body but also the access to space.
This chapter explores the possibilities offered by Donna Haraway’s concept of a
‘cyborg body’ and net-communities, activating and politicising embodied femininity and
opening up new communication channels based on the self, claimed through the digital
and the hashtag. I argue that the use of new technologies and a revision of the concepts of
hospitality and community allow for a reconsideration of the notion of net-community.
These net-communities are based on strong visual presence activating political sub-
jectivity. Here, representation becomes an intervention. The cyborg body is an invitation
towards trans-subjectivity. It is also an activation of femininity, negating woman’s
association with hospitality based on androcentric narratives of passive domesticity.
My discussion is exemplified by the Czarny Protests (Black Protests) against tigh-
tening abortion law in Poland, which happened twice in October 2016.
First I introduce the protests, their context and the creation of the hashtags #Czarny-
Protest/ #blackprotest used to publicise events on social media, predominantly Facebook
and Twitter. Next I focus on the visual aspect and communication methods of the actions.
This leads me towards the concept of cyberspace and Haraway’s notion of ‘matrixial
borderspace’, which I adapt to analyse the transformative potential of cyberspace.
Discussing the Czarny Protests in the context of cyberfeminism leads me towards rene-
gotiation of concepts of community through hospitality, and then net-communities. In the
final section of this chapter I focus on the cyborg body to argue that cyberspace as a
shareable environment becomes a site of political action for female subjectivity. It is an
open platform for the formation of a community based on communication and social
Mobile Places and the ‘Cyborg Body’ 63

Figure 5.1 Czarny Protest / Black Protest in qódz, Poland, captured on October 3rd, 2016.
Image provided courtesy of Katarzyna Zimna

interaction open towards heterogeneity. #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest is an instance of

cyberfeminism through subjects’ responsibility towards their own bodies. It is also a
radical intervention into space by a hospitable ethical feminine agency in, with and with/in
cyberspace. Activating the feminine beyond the domestic, the private and interiority
becomes possible through movement and mobility within space.

#CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest
In October 2016 Polish women protested an extremely restrictive anti-abortion law, a
near-total restriction of abortion.3 The proposed law would criminalise women who
terminated pregnancy in cases where they were victims of rape and incest, the foetus was
severely impaired, or they were at risk of long-term health complications from pregnancy.
Miscarriages would be questioned by prosecutors and might result in a prison sentence.
Women would have no choice but to give birth, because if they underwent abortion under
this proposed law for any reason short of life and death situations, they would risk between
three months and five years in prison. Doctors would face increased prison sentences.
What women’s wombs produce is more important than their life, health and social agency.
The law was submitted for consideration to Parliament by the pro-life group PRO,
backed by the Catholic Church.4 The PRO group appropriated graphic imagery of Nazi
Germany and the Holocaust that was compared to abortion, claiming that this was to
64 Basia Sliwinska
remind Poles that abortion was introduced to Poland during the Second World War by
the Nazi occupiers as a means of limiting the population of people considered inferior.
One of the posters juxtaposed Adolf Hitler’s face with an image of an aborted foetus
covered in blood and a text that read ‘Abortion for Polish women introduced by Hitler
on March 9, 1943’. This kind of visual campaigning is aimed at causing discomfort, shock
and shame. Apart from the brutality of the imagery, and diminishing the Holocaust, this
triggers a dialogue on the effects (or in fact implications) of the restriction policy on the
right(s) to the female body.
The organisers of the protest called on women to manifest their objection towards the
anti-abortion law by not performing any work, whether at home or at their place of
work. They encouraged individuals to wear black clothes or black accessories either
during the protest or to show solidarity by taking a photograph, tagging it #Czarny-
Protest (translated as #blackprotest) and sharing it on social media. Black clothing
was meant to symbolise joining the strike. Because of this the event and the following
ones have become known as Black Protests, which prompted the use of the hashtag
#CzarnyProtest. The colour black is associated with power and has positive and negative
connotations. It might suggest strength, authority and formality but it may also suggest
something evil, death even. It symbolises grief and in Western culture it is related to
mourning. It reflects the severity of a loss and the accompanying pain. Wearing black on
the occasion of the strike has become a powerful signifier of the loss of respect and
dignity, safety and right to healthcare for the female body. Individuals wearing black were
mourning for the lost right to their bodies, taken away by the proposed anti-abortion law.
Approximately 120,000 participants united in public demonstrations.5 More indi-
viduals joined them abroad. Participants held placards with powerful slogans against
being a ‘no body’, among them ‘When will the witch-hunt start?’; ‘Cheaper in Slovakia,
closer to Berlin’; ‘These are my ovaries’; ‘Apart from the womb I have a brain and a
heart’; ‘I am not in favour of abortion, I am in favour of the freedom of choice’; ‘Your
Parliament, Our Bodies’; ‘Freedom, Equality, Right to Abortion’; ‘Country which hates
women’; ‘Get your rosary beads out of my uterus’; ‘Pro life, OUR life’; ‘Secular vagina is
our right’; ‘Women got up from their knees’; ‘My body, my choice’. On October 3rd
they held umbrellas, marching forward despite the rain and wind in some of the towns
where the protests took place. The idea of an ‘umbrella strike’ has a particular place in
Polish history and in this instance it was a conscious reenactment of female solidarity and
action. Nearly a century before, on November 28th 1918, Polish women used umbrellas to
claim the right to vote. Waiting outside the Warsaw villa of Józef Klemens Pi1sudski, the
Chief of State in Poland between 1918 and 19226, female activists lobbied for women’s
right to vote. They knocked their umbrellas against the pavements demanding their rights
and waiting for the decree to be signed.
Similarly, Polish women claimed the right to their bodies in 2016. Using the hashtags
#CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest they called for others to join the march to protect fun-
damental human rights that the Polish government wanted to take away from women.7
On October 6th 2016 the Polish Parliament abandoned the extremely restrictive anti-
abortion law. At the same time, the bill to liberalise abortion proposed by women’s rights
organisations was rejected by the Polish Parliament without any explanation.8
The second black protest was scheduled for Monday October 24th 2016. It was a
response to a further tightening of abortion law in Poland put forward by Jaros1aw
Kaczy nski (the head of PiS, the ruling party), who claimed it was necessary to prohibit
abortion in cases where the foetus was seriously malformed and had no chance of
Mobile Places and the ‘Cyborg Body’ 65

Figure 5.2 Czarny Protest / Black Protest in Wroc1aw, Poland, captured in 2016. Image
provided courtesy of Karolina Ke˛dzierska

survival. According to Kaczy nski, who, in fact, holds no formal government office yet
pulls political strings behind the scenes and rules the country9, this would allow for the
child to be baptised and have a name.10 Apart from denying women the right to decide
about their bodies and have a choice, he disregarded (yet again) the trauma of pregnancy
and giving birth to a child that is certain to die shortly after being born. PiS proposed to
reassert control over female bodies. This misogynist ideology resents any choice given
to citizens. PiS desires absolute power based on ‘muscular’ narratives and driven by
resentment and various phobias that promote sexism, xenophobia, exclusion and
intolerance. On October 24th 2016 women also advocated for better sex education,
easier access to birth control and the end of the influence of the Roman Catholic church
on politics and public education in Poland. The proposed liberalising abortion law was
rejected. Even the main opposition party, Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO,
a liberal–conservative, democratic party), did not support it.
October 24th was not a coincidental date. It marked the anniversary of Iceland’s 1975
protest against economic inequality for women concerning unequal pay in the work-
place and women’s uncompensated domestic labour. That day approximately 90% of
Icelandic women refused to work, cook, clean or look after the children. The slogan for
the day was ‘Equality, development, peace’ and the aim was to celebrate women’s
66 Basia Sliwinska
contributions to the nation. ‘Women’s day off’ almost brought Icelandic society to a
standstill.11 Polish women continued the legacy of Icelandic Women’s day off to claim
equal rights to their bodies.

Viral Visual Protest

The Black Protest hashtag,12 circulated primarily on Twitter and Facebook, included the
words ‘czarny protest’ or ‘black protest’. The hashtag functions as a visual (textual or
image-based) representation of the self in the digital or perhaps cyber realm. It is an
effective way of distributing a message and in the case of Black Protests female political
action. The protests had a strong visual presence on- and off-line. Posters, placards held
during the marches and profile pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram included a
black background populated with images of a woman’s face profile, a drawing of a
womb with one of the fallopian tubes facing upwards as though lifting or giving the
finger or, on the occasion of the second protest, an umbrella with a slogan ‘We are not
closing the umbrellas’. These images, together with photographs taken during the
protests or of individuals wearing black, were shared on social media and distributed as

Figure 5.3 Czarny Protest / Black Protest in Wroc1aw, Poland, Zofia Reznik getting ready,
captured on October 3rd, 2016. Image provided courtesy of Iza Moczarna-Pasiek
Mobile Places and the ‘Cyborg Body’ 67
hardcopies (posters, leaflets, flyers). People used them on their Facebook pages to call
others to join the protests, replaced their profile pictures, hashtagged them on their
Twitter and Instagram accounts. After the protests social media was flooded with images
taken during the events. They were shared, re-tweeted and spread further, making the
event present in cyberspace and sustaining its legacy. The political action initiated during
the marches kept spreading like a virus in the digital realm. The protest became inter-
national and women from other countries joined in solidarity. This chapter does not aim
to examine the different instances of how and where the images were distributed but
focuses on the creation of a net-community in which the feminine is hospitable and
enables emancipation. This is a virtual space in which through the digital the self is
claimed, re-claimed and given to the others to be claimed. #CzarnyProtest/ #black-
protest is a habitat for the body. It is a hospitable bodiless hashtag, which enables a ‘no
body’, a body without rights, to become a ‘some body’.
The visual presence of #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest demonstrates the power of
representation, not as a repetition of pre-existing concepts but an intervention into
conventions, articulation of difference and possibility. Particularly interesting is the
presence of #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest in cyberspace, discussed below, and
specifically on social media. The use of new technologies enables a different type of
community formation, which is a net of networked organisms within a structure of the
cyberspace. This cyberspace, a relational realm of networked communication, is, as
proposed by Bracha L. Ettinger, ‘matrixial’. It enables intersubjectivity, which,
according to Ettinger, as a field of communication can act as a model replacing the
Freudian–Lacanian psychoanalytic paradigm for subject formation and enable trans-
gressive encounters beyond phallocentrism. This perspective mobilises a different
affective economy, acknowledging emotional commitments, in which the feminine
(neither male nor female) is fully active and empowering to the ethical realm.13 Ettinger
proposes a ‘matrixial borderspace’ defining a shareable sphere, which is trans-subject-
ive. It is a transformative passage to others. The matrixial designates woman as ‘coe-
merging self with m/Other’, rather than Other. Ettinger explains,

The matrixial borderspace is a sphere of encounter-events where intensities and

vibrations as well as their imprints and ‘memory’ traces are exchanged and
experienced by fragmented and assembled experiencing partial-subjects who are
reattuning their affective frequencies. I and non-I are linked in trans-subjectivity on
a sub-subjective level in a mental resonance ‘camera obscura’.14

Ettinger emphasises that matrixial borderspace enables encounters and events that have
transformative potential for subjectivity. This common space is open for trans-subjectivity.

Matrixial Cyber Communication

Acknowledging matrixial borderspace is necessary if we consider the transformative
potentiality of cyberspace. Bruce Sterling in The Hacker Crackdown. Law and Disorder
on the Electronic Frontier (1992) further defines cyberspace:

A science fiction writer [William Gibson] coined the useful term ‘cyberspace’ in
1982. But the territory in question, the electronic frontier, is about a hundred and
thirty years old. Cyberspace is the ‘place’ where a telephone conversation appears
68 Basia Sliwinska
to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside
the other person’s phone, in some other city. The place between the phones. The
indefinite place out there, where the two of you, two human beings, actually meet
and communicate.
Although it is not exactly ‘real’, ‘cyberspace’ is a genuine place. Things happen there
that have very genuine consequences. This ‘place’ is not ‘real’, but it is serious, it is

Cyberspace, as defined by Gibson, refers to a global computer network, which connects

people, machines and information. ‘Cyber’ denotes computer networks and derives from
‘cybernetics’, a ‘study of communication and automatic control processes’ in mechanical,
electronic or biological systems. The word originates from Greek ‘kybernetes’ meaning
steersman, which was also the basis of the word ‘governor’. Etymology suggests an
element of control present within communication.16 ‘Space’ on the other hand defines ‘the
limitless three-dimensional expanse where all matter exists’. Other meanings suggest a
portion of something, a distance, relationship to time (‘a period of time’) or area.17
It connotes extension, topology, geometry and movement. Therefore, cyberspace is a fluid
network; an active realm of interaction and movement, in which different communication
channels are employed to enable, sustain or deconstruct new or existing networks. What is
important is the shareable dimension of cyberspace, which enables steering or, more
directly, control. This is a space of representation and communication, where and/ or how
one can exert control. Therefore, it is a space of social interaction, which augments
communicative possibilities and enables a flexible environment open to many participants
who could be present in distant locations at the same time.
#CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest intervenes in cyberspace to communicate and spread the
message further than it would have spread using only off-line media. This message is trans-
subjective. The hashtag is used to build a new shareable network and open another com-
munication channel to interact with others. #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest engages others
in a radical dialogue that is responsible and response-able. The message is enabled to cir-
culate in cyberspace and spread. It is reliant on connectivity and networking, and solidarity
of female communal action. Claudia Reiche argues that ‘Cyberfeminism is a policy of
radical invention based on different experiences.’18 I argue #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest
exemplifies cyberfeminism through subjects’ responsibility towards their own bodies and a
radical intervention in space, real and virtual precisely in, with and with/in cyberspace.
Its representative apparatus is based on visual communication and it is effective because
of shared tacit knowledge of the visual repertoire. Images spread virally and, even if the
textual message is not understood because of linguistic barriers, the depictions of womb or
woman’s face profile are signifiers that are commonly recognised. Their contextualisation
leads to different emphases and interpretations, but the representational potential is
achieved by using images that are known and relatable. The visual presence and the dis-
semination of the protest demonstrate the power of representation as an intervention into
dominant conventions deriving from foundational myths based on phallogocentrism.
#CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest is a net-community and it communicates through
images circulated with/in cyberspace. The words ‘community’ and ‘communication’
share the Greek root ‘koiνóς’, which means ‘common’.19 This in turn suggests common
participation, shareable doing and contribution, and also shared responsibility. The
question arises whether this space is indeed open and welcoming.
Mobile Places and the ‘Cyborg Body’ 69
Community, Hospitality and Hosting
The concept of community defines a collective, believed to be based on homogeneity
(having something in common) and interaction. The meaning of the word points to a
group of people, a bond and a shared place. It derives from Latin ‘communis’ – ‘shared in
common’.20 However, even though communion in Latin means mutual participation, the
meaning munio is to fortify, protect and defend. Therefore, community implies exclusivity
and defence against a foreigner or the other. Does the formation of net-communities, such
as #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest, challenge or expand the notion of community itself?
The origin of the concept points to homogeneity but it may also suggest exclusiveness.
Jacques Derrida argues that privileging unity is a danger for responsibility and ethics
and this has consequences for the relation to the other.21 Unity derives from fusion and
closure. He suggests that dissociation is an initial condition of community because it
introduces heterogeneity. His concept of hospitality, a method of building communities,
is a response to this proposal and a way to redefine exclusivity.22 Derrida reminds us that
etymologically the word hospitality (with its root hospes) is related to hostility (with its
root hostis). These roots point to ‘a stranger’ and ‘a foreigner’. Hospitality combines
hostilis with potes (power, force), which means the power of the host over a stranger. The
power of the host derives from the host’s ownership of the premises offered and being the
‘master’ of the house. Derrida explains, ‘being at home with oneself [: : :] supposes a
reception or inclusion of the other which one seeks to appropriate, control, and master
according to different modalities of violence.’23 Similarly, according to Immanuel Kant a
stranger has the right not to be treated in a hostile manner in the other’s space because all
humans are given common possession of the earth. This means they should all have
access to it.24 Derrida however argues that the earth or habitat is already constructed and
no longer pure; therefore it cannot be unconditionally accessible to all. 25 Existing limits,
such as borders, inhibit the unconditional hospitality but also allow us to consider new
forms of belonging and redefine the concept of community itself. Revising the notion of
hospitality is important when discussing access to space and women’s presence outside
of domestic spaces, to which they have been restricted. Trans-subjective cyberspace may
enable the redefinition of femininity and the concept of community. I argue that net-
community, as exemplified by #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest, has such radical potential
because it acknowledges embodied femininity.
This dynamic between owing and giving inherent in hospitality, and being in control
of the guests, builds tension, which Derrida explores when arguing that the possibility of
hospitality is also the condition of its impossibility as hospitality always posits limit-
ations upon the other.26 This paralysis can be overcome precisely by acknowledging the
impossibility of unconditional hospitality. Conditionality of hospitality negotiates the
imperative of access and belonging.27 The right to enter and the right to reside enable
responsible political action, which considers pragmatic conditions of a specific context.
If applied to the notion of community, contextualisation of action allows for hetero-
geneity and welcoming the other.
As Irina Aristarkhova argues, ‘posing difference, heterogeneity and otherness’ are the
‘constitutive and dissociative conditions of community formations, both net and real’.28
Derrida’s concept of hospitality opens up discussion of welcoming the other but the
ownership inherent in the concept itself becomes problematic because of sexual difference.
Welcoming when being hospitable cancels the control and mastery. However, this
welcoming is often associated with the feminine. Women have the welcoming smile, and,
70 Basia Sliwinska
as Aristarkhova suggests, this smile usually doesn’t belong to the owner of the premises
to which guests are welcomed. She asks, ‘What if the host is a hostess who doesn’t own
the home?’29 Even though Derrida addresses the relationship between hosting and
femininity and questions Emmanuel Levinas’s association between hospitality and
Woman, he does not address actions of embodied women.30 Derrida’s and Levinas’s
welcoming involves an openness to the other, a word or a smile at the threshold, pas-
sivity. It is about receptivity, discretion and indirect communication, intimacy and
comfort of being ‘at home’ and also vulnerability. Here, hospitality resonates with
habitation and home. Derrida acknowledges that Levinas’s association of Woman as the
condition for the interiority of the Home and inhabitation is problematic because it
presupposes androcentric qualities. He proposes to see the welcoming as premised not
upon empirical women but the feminine being. As I have already mentioned, this
understanding of sexual difference makes femininity and Woman disembodied and
predestined to perform particular functions symptomatic of androcentrism and pat-
riarchy. This is questioned by women participating in #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest
who reject being a vessel and a kind of passage, which has the duty of maintaining the
role of an honourable and sacrificial feminine being.

‘Hospitable Ethical Agency’ and Net-communities

Aristarkhova proposes to revise ‘the place of the feminine within communities by a
hospitable ethical agency’.31 She questions the Hegelian system of sexual difference
based on the divine law associated with home, family and womankind which is the
condition for the human law associated with community, state and mankind. This
structure reduces and represses woman and denies her ethical agency and conscious
ethical action. #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest through protests and generated imagery
questions this sacrificial role of the female which implies that woman is naturally des-
tined to perform her family duty and be a mother. She has no right to be a body, possess a
body, be a some body. She is tied to interiority and home and the (re)production
of conditions for the human (patriarchal) law, according to which men transgress
home and are able to enter community, which is denied to women. This positioning of
sexual difference within community assimilates the feminine. Luce Irigaray reminds
us that the feminine is considered the Other, the marginalised, the foreigner.32 This
needs to be acknowledged if we want to renegotiate right and access to space for the
female body.
Aristarkhova suggests that net-communities might have more potential than flesh or
what some call ‘real’ communities in terms of revising the notion of hospitality.33 If the
concepts of hospitality could indeed be an intervention, as Derrida proposes, to invite
heterogeneity within community, it cannot exclude feminine otherness as embodied
difference and welcome woman only as a feminine dimension attached to home.
Community cannot be positioned against the domestic, as proposed by Hegel, where it is
located in the public space. Similarly, Levinas differentiates between private and public
spaces, the former being feminine. Aristarkhova notices that, ‘if the other of the com-
munity is also feminine’, she is not welcomed in the community and only prepares it for
others to then disappear from it. Aristarkhova suggests that this spatial dimension links
hospitality, community and femininity and therefore ‘the space of femininity as home, as
intimacy, as refuge, and as abyssal interiority (Levinas, Hegel, Derrida, among others)’
must be re-thought to mobilise hospitality and community as critical categories.34
Mobile Places and the ‘Cyborg Body’ 71
Woman is not assigned a place in formulations of space, as Aristarkhova reminds us. She
is the home and has not been granted space. #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest resists rights
based on patriarchal myths. The protests activate the feminine beyond the domestic and
take ownership of space. They call for full access to space and participation in com-
munity that is not driven by the male master.
This chapter is written for and through space. Own space, not granted or assigned,
gives one freedom; it gives me freedom of choice and an opportunity to care for myself
and the other. I am indebted to Luce Irigaray whose writings continue teaching me how
to understand my own voyage through space (re-)claiming space as a woman in search of
her identity. An opening quote to this chapter emphasises woman’s restriction to male
space and her spatial-ness. Irigaray says, ‘You grant me space, you grant me my space.’35
This patriarchal spatial exclusion removes women from participation in the community.
Irigaray proposes that in order to rethink the space of and for the feminine it is necessary
to position movement as woman’s habitat. ‘For me infinity means movement, the
mobility of place. Engendering time, yes. Always becoming.’36 This understanding of
space negates the differentiation between the public and the private. The domestic is no
longer sedentary and fixed but becomes a mobile place where femininity is an active
ethical agency, claiming space and not being just a hostess. She is an embodied being.
Aristarkhova suggests that cyberspace and net-communities further problematise the
private and the public and provide a platform for the reconsideration of the relationship
between feminine and space.37
#CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest has become a platform problematising spatiality,
movement and the feminine. The women’s strike and marches in October 2016 in
Poland and the net-community that formed in cyberspace became a sustained and
systematic effort in claiming the right to one’s body and space. The protests acknowl-
edged that: I (woman) am the mobile home. I am the body. I am an active ethical agent.
I am not a vessel. These marches were radical. And they were hospitable towards the
other and welcoming but not necessarily with a welcoming smile or a courteous expected
word. The welcome was different. It read ‘Women got up from their knees’ or ‘My body,
my choice’, among other slogans.
The idea of a strike comes from radical feminist movement and relies on mass par-
ticipation in real time and real space. The strikes on October 3rd and 24th 2016 in Poland
demonstrated the possibility and in fact the reality of women’s solidarity against cap-
italist patriarchy, where the female body is a commodity and belongs to the state, and
the growing power of the Catholic Church. This massive gathering of women, which
happened twice in Poland over the course of three weeks in October 2016 and has
since continued performing online, has been an exercise in consciousness-raising and
articulating individual experience as a collective or perhaps a community. It also sig-
nalled that there exists an alternative voice, which too often is muted or unheard.
Women are not mute or inarticulate. On those two occasions they spoke out loud and
they could not be ignored. Women rebelled against infringement on their right to decide
about their body. On October 3rd and 24th women proved, yet again, that their political
agency is far from weak. They can mobilise themselves and resist barbarian patriarchal
fantasies. They can have a direct impact on the political and protest actions of the
state apparatus. Those women and men who marched on October 3rd and 24th united
together to demonstrate that gestures of disobedience and rebelling the everyday are
important and that they can bring change. Everyone has the right to own their body, to
be a ‘some body’.
72 Basia Sliwinska
‘I’d Rather Be a Cyborg.’
Net-community is part of the new digital communication system and new technologies
that continue shaping bodies, gender, identity and subjectivity. This was addressed in
Donna Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’, in which she discusses a new figuration of
cyborg, a cybernetic organism (a being and a machine), a fiction and a lived experience,
which is an ‘ironic political myth’ for female emancipation. It is also disassociated from
the dependency on a man in space.38 Haraway’s manifesto opens up a way to appreciate
new technologies not as instruments for liberation separated from the body but as a
merger of body and technology. This technological body enables women to claim their
bodies in yet another dimension, as the body is no longer what it used to be. Haraway’s
cyborg is ‘a polychromatic girl’ defying oppression of the body through the non-
materiality of a constructed body. This cybernetic organism is an affirmative represen-
tation of the body beyond flesh. Its self-articulation and networking is premised upon
the aesthetics and politics of women as active agents. ‘The ironic political myth’ of the
cyborg proposes a new politics of identity, which is fluid and in motion.
Haraway provides an account of community that is based on shared collective
foundational myths, as proposed by Rosi Braidotti.39 Such community can become a
space of agency and social and political impact. In the case of net-communities, the
profusion of spaces and identities is matrixial and opens more communication channels.
Haraway argues,

Communication technologies and biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our
bodies. These tools embody and enforce new social relations for women world-wide.40

Further, she also suggests, ‘Perhaps, ironically, we can learn from our fusions with
animals and machines how not to be Man, the embodiment of Western logos.’41 Body
imagery is fundamental to political language and ‘cyborg politics is struggle for
language’ and against perfect communication.42 Cyborg politics, by fusing of animal
and machine, pollutes and creates noise, challenging the privileged position of ‘Western’
oppression in terms of identity, culture, body, mind and domination of all constituted as
others. Haraway argues that high-tech culture subverts dualisms because it is unclear
where the demarcation line is between human and machine.

Bodies are maps of power and identity. Cyborgs are no exception. A cyborg body is
not innocent; it was not born in a garden. It does not seek unitary identity and so
generate antagonistic dualisms without end (or until the world ends); it takes irony
for granted. One is too few and two is only one possibility.43

Cyborg imagery challenges dualisms and fixed categories. #CzarnyProtest/ #blackprotest

radically intervenes in, with and with/in cyberspace through images. The cyborg body is a
new figuration, which welcomes heterogeneity. What the different images spreading
virally demonstrate is that, ‘I’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess.’44 In the case of the Black
Protests the female body became embodied and became a site of resistance, once again. Yet
this time it became dispossessed and flexible, it spread through networks and started to
exist beyond its physical presence in the marches on Polish streets. Its movement, which
according to Irigaray is necessary for femininity to become an active ethical agency, was
real as participants were marching together and virtually, spreading virally through
Mobile Places and the ‘Cyborg Body’ 73
networks of net-communities. The revision of critical concepts of hospitality and com-
munity allows us to search for new forms of belonging and participation in a world in
which technology and new digital communication systems shape our subjectivities and
our bodies. Merging fiction and lived experience into net-communities does not restrict
space. On the contrary, it expands space of and for feminine otherness as embodied
difference and its participation in the community. This space is infinite and it is mobile. It is
a space of continuous movement and active becoming against and for. Always.

1 Luce Irigaray, Elemental Passions (London: The Athlone Press, 1992 [1982]), 47.
2 This chapter expands ideas I explored in a short article about the protests I wrote for Lyra: Basia
Sliwinska, “‘My Body. My Choice.’ I am a ‘Some Body’, Not a ‘No Body’!,” LYRA (2) (2016).
3 Poland already has one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in Europe, enacted in 1993
(under Communist rule abortion was legal in Poland). Since then abortion has been illegal in
Poland unless pregnancy endangers the woman’s life or health, or the foetus is seriously
malformed, which needs to be verified by a physician, or it is the result of a criminal act, which
needs to be certified by a prosecutor.
4 In 1993, before Poland’s new constitution was finalised, the Polish government signed a concordat
with the Vatican, restricting the country’s sovereignty and violating the principle separating the
church and the state, leading in turn to the breach of equality between faiths. The concordat meant
that some income tax revenues were transferred to religious bodies and the Catholic Church was
granted concessions. It obliged the state to provide Catholic religious education in state schools.
Signing the concordat also meant that the power of the governing bodies was ceded to an
international organisation and subjected to foreign Canon Law, independent from the Polish
authorities. This clericalised public life in Poland and further privileged the social and political
role of Catholicism in Poland. The rising power of the Church in Poland had consequences for
women’s rights and female autonomy. A woman’s right to her body was restricted by Christian
morality proclaiming chastity and godliness and mythologising motherhood.
5 According to the organisers’ Facebook page, 99,000 individuals were interested in the event, 118,000
participated and 360,000 shared the page:
Round two had a separate Facebook page:
There was also a separate page for the UK protest:
6 The Provisional People’s Government of the Republic of Poland was formed on the night of
November 6th/7th 1918. Members of the Polish left-wing and people’s organisations pro-
claimed in a manifesto that the Republic of Poland covered territories inhabited by Polish
people and that until the Legislative Parliament was in place all power belonged to them.
Ignacy Daszy nski’s government introduced some progressive reforms such as the right to
strike, the right to an eight-hour workday, freedom of speech and equality, among others. They
also proclaimed a voting system based on suffrage. On November 11th 1918, four days later,
World War I ended and Poland regained independence after 123 years of partition by Austria,
Prussia and Russia. Pi1sudski became the Chief of State. On November 28th Pi1sudski enacted a
decree concerning the Election System of the Legislative Sejm (the lower house of the Polish
Parliament) in Poland. This was the first legally binding act in Poland giving suffrage to
women. The electoral law granted the right to vote to every male and female citizen over the
age of 21, regardless of their right to residence and it allowed Polish women to hold public
offices. Women voted for the first time in parliamentary elections in January 1919. Afterwards
they made up less than 2% of the parliament.
7 The hashtag was used over 70,000 times on Instagram. Hundreds of women posted the
slogan’My body. My choice’ or ‘My body. My decision’. Apart from text, activists also used
visual symbols such as a woman’s uterus against a black background.
8 The proposal suggested abortion should be allowed on request in the first 12 weeks of a preg-
nancy, access to contraception and sex education should be increased and the existing exceptions
for foetal malformation and for rape or sexual abuse should be preserved. The ruling party, Law
and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc or PiS, a national right-wing conservative party), wants to
74 Basia Sliwinska
add restrictions to the access to abortion, pre-natal care and contraceptives. Since the PiS victory
in 2015, the ruling party has made changes supporting its nationalistic agenda. The Polish
constitutional court has been dismantled. The central courts and public media have been staffed
with individuals approved by PiS. Racial hatred is promoted through anti-refugee rhetoric.
Fascist marches are organised to commemorate occasions such as, recently, the anniversary of
the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, when 200,000 Polish people lost their lives.
9 It would be more appropriate to talk about dictatorship in this case.
10 Margit Kossobudzka, “Kaczy nski: Chcemy by nawet przypadki, gdy dziecko jest skazane na
smierc, konczy1y sie˛ porodem. By mog1o zostac ochrzczone,” 2016,
(accessed 17 October 2016).
11 This remarkable event was organised in 1975, a year that was proclaimed by the United Nations
as International Women’s Year, with October 24th, United Nations Day, marking its culmination.
That year representatives from several of the largest women’s organisations in Iceland, including
Women’s Liberation Movement, or Redstockings, formed a committee to plan events for a year.
The ‘Day off’ was one of those events and it brought results. In 1976 the Gender Equality Council
was formed in Iceland and passed the Gender Equality Act. Marie Elizabeth Johnson discusses
the ‘Day Off’ (‘Kvennafridagurinn’) and its motivations in the chapter entitled ‘Visible Women’ in
her PhD thesis Women in Iceland (1984), which studies the position of women in Icelandic
society. See Marie Elizabeth Johnson, “Women in Iceland” (Doctoral thesis, Durham University,
1984). Durham E-Theses Online: (accessed 25 October 2016).
12 Hashtag includes a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#). It is used on social
media to identify a message on a particular topic.
13 Bracha L. Ettinger, “Matrixial Trans-subjectivity,” Theory, Culture & Society 23(2–3) (2006):
14 Ibid., 219.
15 Bruce Sterling, “The Hacker Crackdown. Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier,” 1992, (accessed 31 March 2017).
16 Chambers Dictionary Online, “Cybernetics,” 2017,
cybernetics&title=21st (accessed 21 April 2017).
17 Chambers Dictionary Online, “Space,” 2017,
&title=21st (accessed 21 April 2017).
18 Claudia Reiche and Verena Kuni, eds., Cyberfeminism. Next Protocols (New York:
Routledge, 2004), 8.
19 J. D. Peters, Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1999).
20 The word communis derives from the Greek ‘koiνóς’, and shares the notion and essence or
meaning of common. Chambers Dictionary Online, “Community,” 2017,
uk/search/?query=community&title=21st (accessed 21 April 2017).
21 Jacques Derrida, “The Villanova Roundtable: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida,” in
Deconstruction in a Nutshell, ed. John Caputo (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997).
22 Ibid., 13–14.
23 Ibid., 17.
24 Immanuel Kant, “Toward Perpetual Peace,” in Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings
on Politics, Peace and History (New York: Yale University, 2006), 82.
25 Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness (London: Routledge, 2001), 21.
26 Jacques Derrida and A. Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality (Stanford: Stanford University Press),
135; and Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism, p. 16.
27 Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism.
28 Irina Aristarkhova, “Femininity, Community, Hospitality: Towards a Cyberethics,” in Cyberfe-
minism. Next Protocols, eds. Claudia Reiche and Verena Kuni (New York: Routledge, 2004), 34.
29 Ibid., 36.
30 Jacques Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas (New York: Ithaca, 1985 [1974]), 214–226.
31 Aristarkhova, “Femininity, Community, Hospitality,” 34.
32 Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman (New York: Cornell University Press, 1993).
33 Aristarkhova, “Femininity, Community, Hospitality,” 44.
34 Ibid., 45.
Mobile Places and the ‘Cyborg Body’ 75
35 Irigaray, Elemental Passions, 47.
36 Ibid., 71.
37 Aristarkhova, “Femininity, Community, Hospitality,” 46.
38 Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in Late
Twentieth Century,” in Symians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, ed. Donna
Haraway (New York: Routledge, 1991), 149–151.
39 Rosi Braidotti, “Cyber Feminism with a Difference,” in Zones of Disturbance. Exhibition
Catalogue, ed. Silvia Eiblmayr and Herbst Steirischer (Graz, 1998), 105.
40 Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” 164.
41 Ibid., 173.
42 Ibid., 176.
43 Ibid., 180.
44 Ibid., 181.

Irina Aristarkhova, “Femininity, Community, Hospitality: Towards a Cyberethics,” in Cyberfemin-
ism. Next Protocols, eds. Claudia Reiche and Verena Kuni (New York: Routledge, 2004), 33–47.
Rosi Braidotti, “Cyber Feminism with a Difference,” in Zones of Disturbance. Exhibition
Catalogue, eds. Silvia Eiblmayr and Herbst Steirischer (Graz: 1998).
Chambers Dictionary Online, “Community,” 2017,
community&title=21st (accessed 21 April 2017).
Chambers Dictionary Online, “Cybernetics,” 2017,
cybernetics&title=21st (accessed 21 April 2017).
Chambers Dictionary Online, “Space,” 2017,
title=21st (accessed 21 April 2017).
Jacques Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas (New York: Ithaca, 1985 [1974]), 214–226.
Jacques Derrida, “The Villanova Roundtable: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida,” in Decon-
struction in a Nutshell, ed. John Caputo (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), 13–14.
Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness (London: Routledge, 2001).
Jacques Derrida and A. Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).
Bracha L. Ettinger, “Matrixial Trans-subjectivity,” Theory, Culture & Society 23(2–3) (2006):
Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in Late
Twentieth Century,” in Symians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, ed. Donna
Haraway (New York, 1991), 149–151.
Luce Irigaray, Elemental Passions (London: The Athlone Press, 1992 [1982]).
Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman (New York: Cornell University Press, 1993).
Marie Elizabeth Johnson, “Women in Iceland” (Doctoral thesis, Durham University, 1984)
Durham E-Theses Online: (accessed 25 October 2016).
Immanuel Kant, “Toward Perpetual Peace,” in Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on
Politics, Peace and History (New York: Yale University, 2006).
Margit Kossobudzka, “Kaczy nski: Chcemy by nawet przypadki, gdy dziecko jest skazane na
smierc, konczy1y sie˛ porodem. By mog1o zostac ochrzczone,” 2016,
(accessed 17 October 2016).
J. D. Peters, Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1999).
Claudia Reiche and Verena Kuni, eds., Cyberfeminism. Next Protocols (New York: Routledge,
Basia Sliwinska, “‘My Body. My Choice.’ I am a ‘Some Body’, Not a ‘No Body’!,” LYRA (2) (2016).
Bruce Sterling, “The Hacker Crackdown. Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier,” 1992, (accessed 31 March 2017).
6 Appearance Unbound
Articulations of Co-Presence in
Nicholas Mirzoeff

Black Lives Matter repurposes what Hannah Arendt famously named as the ‘space of
appearance where men are together in the manner of speech and action’ in which politics
takes place.1 Appearance is not what it was, whether in the 1950s when Arendt was
writing or in her idealized Greek city state. Appearance today invokes co-presence
between physical and online spaces. Such co-presence enables persistent looking at the
violent events that called the Black Lives Matter movement into being.2 What is this
space? What happens when it becomes axiomatic that Black lives matter within it? The
spaces discussed here, within the United States, are first spaces of connection—roads,
transport, infrastructure, malls, intersections. Second, racialized spaces—housing pro-
jects and urban neighborhoods that are visible without people as being marked racially
because of the visible lack of care. From the deaths of so many, it has become clear that,
third, there are non-spaces in which a person may not ‘appear’ in the political sense but
can be killed. These spaces are connected by the police and the prison industrial complex,
the infrastructures of white supremacy.3 The other type of space is that now called into
being by Black Lives Matter’s persistent claim to appear, entailing the repurposing of
shopping malls, train stations, traffic intersections, political rallies, concert halls, sports
arenas, libraries and lecture halls from passive to active spaces. In those spaces of action,
people can appear to each other and create an ‘impossible’ relation of unboundedness, a
moment of liberation. Black Lives Matter first stops the space of appearance from
moving on (in order to ignore what has happened) and then challenges us to be
unbounded, to break the frame, to shut it down. In that space, other matters become
visible, and other ways of ‘seeing’ become apparent. Can the space of appearance be
Who appears? While I was one of the participants in Black Lives Matter actions on
many occasions, I myself am not Black and I do not claim to speak for Black people or
Black experience. My goal is to speak for anti-anti-Blackness, for anti-racism, for
decolonial ways of seeing and against white supremacy. More particularly, I want to ask
what a space of appearance that begins by constituting itself as anti-racist and decolonial
would look like. During the course of Black Lives Matter, non-Black people have been
asked repeatedly to engage with white supremacy, to challenge it and to do the work of
thinking past it. This is part of one possible response to that challenge.
In the moment of appearance, people may or may not be marked as suspects, fugitives,
witnesses or protestors. To be unmarked is to be white, which does not mean that you are
unnoticed but that the police will interact with you verbally. This police does not hail the
Black person, as Louis Althusser once had it.4 Nor do they say, in the manner of Jacques
Rancière’s cops, ‘move on, there’s nothing to see here.’5 To be addressed in either
Appearance Unbound 77
modality is the mark of white privilege, perhaps how whiteness is now to be defined. To
adopt the words of Denise Ferreira da Silva, ‘[t]hat moment : : : between the release of the
trigger and the fall of another black body, of another brown body, and ano-
ther : : : haunts’ every moment of appearance.6 To be marked is to be visible to the police
as an actual or potential offender, designated now as it has always been in the post-
encounter Americas by skin color more than anything else. To the Black person, and on
some occasions to those gathered in solidarity with them, the police say ‘You are
nothing.’7 And this is not a speech act but the firing of a weapon. The spaces where the
marked appear to the police are often out of sight—there is no public there, not even the
all-seeing CCTV. To be unmarked, by contrast, is to be watched over and to know that
there are systems looking out for you. These spaces are segregated, or, more exactly, it is
the very purpose of segregation to separate the spaces where the marked and the
unmarked may appear. By purposefully and persistently disrupting that segregation in its
repeated and persistent actions to appear in that space where Black people and blackness
are not supposed to be, Black Lives Matter appears unbounded. In so doing, it reveals
what Fred Moten has called ‘the constitutive disorder of the polis,’ in which who can
appear and who cannot is the properly political question.8
When Black lives matter, the polis and its police are in question. Hannah Arendt
famously used the Greek city state as her model for ‘what we are doing’9 that she called
The Human Condition. The capacity for speech and action is the sole prerogative of
what she calls the ‘hero,’ a capacity of which ‘every free man was capable’ (but not by
implication, any woman, child or enslaved person) [186 n.10]. The hero reveals his
similitudo (likeness) but he does so in conditions not of his own choosing. His appear-
ance is enabled by his ‘daimon who accompanies each man throughout life, who is his
distinct identity, but appears and is visible only to others’ (193). Thus the audience and
chorus of Sophocles’ Oidipous Tyrannos see what is happening to Oedipus in a way that
he cannot. The possibility of making this identity visible to others only exists within ‘a
definite space : : : the space being the public realm of the polis’ (195). This is, to say the
least, a rather odd theory of appearance. It blends the medieval theology of similitude10
with ancient concepts of the good life and happiness (eudaimonia). The polis/police
produce the appearance of the heroic identity only for those enabled to see it. The
purportedly neutral ‘space of appearance’ in the Greek city state was founded (as she
herself attests) on the exclusion of women, children and enslaved human beings. Arendt
seems to adhere to the ancient theory that the ‘slavishness of slaves’ was manifest in their
lacking the courage to commit suicide (36 n.30). These enslaved were not Africans,
of course, and Arendt’s text never mentions African slavery. Writing in 1958, just after
Rosa Parks had defied segregation in public space and the successful Montgomery bus
boycott, that absence cannot be because she was not aware of the issue. In keeping with
one thread of Arendt scholarship, it might be said that the space of appearance was
understood this way as an articulation (conscious or not) of white supremacy.11
What if race were nonetheless to be foregrounded in the space of appearance? Not
because of a concern for the particular but precisely in order to understand the American
universal in which, as Ta Nehisi Coates has put it: ‘white supremacy is not merely the
work of hotheaded demagogues, or a matter of false consciousness, but a force so fun-
damental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it.’12 To do so, I
will interface Judith Butler’s recent repurposing of Arendt in light of the Arab Spring and
Occupy to create what she calls a ‘right to appear,’13 with my own concept of ‘the right to
look.’14 Such rights claims figure as part of a performative politics. For Arendt, there is
78 Nicholas Mirzoeff
an equivalence of the theatre and the polis in ancient Greece, in which ‘[g]reatness : : :
can only lie in the performance itself’ (206). For Butler, the performative claim to rights
that one does not have can be undertaken in what she calls the ‘assembly,’ derived both
from ancient democracy and the recent participatory democracy movements like M15 in
Spain or Occupy Wall Street. Black Lives Matter works in the intersection, both literally
as a space of action and performatively as a form of politics that Alexander Galloway has
called ‘a politics not of time or of space but of appearance.’15 Appearance is not rep-
resentation, either in the political or cultural sense, but the very possibility of appearing
directly. Such an appearance might become the practice of decolonized space. Butler
stresses ‘the highly regulated field of appearance’ (35) in present-day regimes, so that,
when people gather in protest, it is ‘the very public character of the space [that] is being
disputed’ (71). In the polis such spaces are always already constituted, ‘regulated by
norms of recognition that are themselves hierarchical and exclusionary’ (38). Implicit
here in Butler’s analysis is a change in register from Arendt’s political theory to Fou-
cault’s analysis of norms. Those who appear under the banner of Black Lives Matter
further refuse to be subject to recognition, knowing that, as Audra Simpson has put it in a
different context, ‘political recognition is a technique of settler governance.’16 Black
Lives Matter exists, to adopt Butler’s phrase, ‘in order to contest and negate the existing
forms of political legitimacy’ (85). That means suspending the regulation of the space of
appearance by norms, above all the norms of racial hierarchy, and then refusing to move
on out of that space.
For, as Butler has understood, ‘something more happens’ when political action takes
place outside the formal public square that is both an abstraction in her book and a
specific reference to the uprisings in Tahrir Square and Istanbul’s Gezi Square. She
remarks that what she calls ‘anarchist moments or anarchist passages : : : lay claim to the
public in a way that is not yet codified into law and that can never be fully codified into
law’ (75). There is an uncharacteristic hesitation here as to whether what is happening is
a disruption of time or space. A ‘passage’ can be a city space or it can be a voyage. In the
context of Black Lives Matter, I hear it as registering a re-memory of the Middle Passage
that brought Africans into enslavement. And it introduces a decolonial break into the
‘human’ of Arendt’s title, as Frantz Fanon, Sylvia Wynter and many others have long
insisted.17 That decolonial re-memory nonetheless also reminds us that ‘impossible
demands,’ like the abolition of the slave trade (if not of slavery itself), can be won.
Passage is also an expression of time. It is outside the law and not intended to become
law, transforming space, rights and the question of appearance. It is ‘anarchist’ because it
is outside and against state power, especially the police in its current form as the carceral
state, not because it is without direction or organization. The anarchist passage is the
possibility of a space of appearance that is at once political and not (yet) regulated by
exclusion. In this space, as Butler puts it when speaking of ethical action, ‘I am undone as
a bounded being.’18 Just as we are in love. What emerges is impossible space—
unbounded in the regime of control, non-hierarchical under the domain of white
supremacy—allowing for us to appear to each other in a space of appearance where
Black lives matter, before and after enclosure, as a first step towards decolonizing.
Such a politics of appearance is the negation of what James C. Scott has called seeing
like a state, where to see like a state is a descending hierarchy from territory to authority
to the human being as subject.19 In the Americas, that descending hierarchy is always
and already racialized to exclude Africans from the category of subject. Not seeing like a
state allows us to envisage a decolonial seeing in common, where we see each other and
Appearance Unbound 79
accept our vulnerability. Seeing in common is not recognition in the Hegelian sense. It
begins by listening. When you appear, I do not speak, which would be naming and
defining you. I listen. Even and especially if you do not speak. I allow you to invent me, to
make me something that I then discover is more precisely who I am, or who I would like
to be. That takes place in a look from me to you and back, where we see each other in the
eye, as we do in friendship, solidarity and love. The point here is not whether we actually
look directly at each other but that this is a way of describing how a form of mutual
appearance that cannot be represented may be experienced. However, to think of
appearance as friendship and love is to realize that it is not a spontaneous recognition but
an encounter that has many obstacles to overcome. Unbounded appearance is, appar-
ently, impossible. Yet it happens. To borrow a term from Brian Massumi, it is a ‘field of
emergence’ which he describes as ‘open-endedly social.’20 In such a field, new ways of
social being and being social can emerge.
Making that happen is no simple matter. The space of appearance is more readily
formed in order to make colonization possible. Arendt presumed that it enabled Greek
colonization and that the power by which it was constituted further enabled small
numbers to dominate much larger groups (198–200). Visuality in the Atlantic world was
assembled as a technology of colonialism in the slave labor camp and as part of European
settlement worldwide.21 These complexes of visuality created what Frank Wilderson III
has called ‘unspoken grammars : : : of antagonism’ that continue to underpin present-
day encounters.22 While we may be aware of these antagonisms, trying to articulate and
decolonize them produces what Marisol de la Cadena and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro
name as ‘equivocations,’ that is to say, ‘a type of communicative disjuncture in which,
while using the same words, interlocutors are not talking about the same thing and do
not know this.’23 Such conversations may even happen across the human/non-human
divide, whether between people and spirits or animals, or perhaps between people dif-
ferently configured in relation to the human.

To counter these modalities of appearance takes an assemblage more than an assembly, in
order to create impossible spaces, which can become spaces of freedom.24 In what fol-
lows, I examine how Black Lives Matter has assembled technologies of appearance,
comprised of assemblages of (digital) co-presence, persistent looking and embodied
protest. Digital co-presence allows a certain by-passing of physical and social constraint.
It has sustained a persistent looking at what white supremacy would rather keep out of
sight and risks harm to do so. This ‘looking’ is not simply visual, in the manner of the
surveillance camera, or the state’s eye view. It has entailed a set of embodied techniques,
such as ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ and the die-in to repurpose actual intersections into real
assemblages. You might call this cumulatively ‘fugitive movement,’ defined by Moten as a

movement of escape, the stealth of the stolen that can be said, since it inheres in every
closed circle, to break every enclosure. This fugitive movement is stolen life, and its
relation to law is reducible neither to simple interdiction nor bare transgression.25

It is an equivocation. It is a modality of tragedy where the space of appearance does not,

as in the idealized Greek city state, sustain an equivalence between the space of politics,
that of the theater and that of being human but rather expresses its antagonisms.26 Black
80 Nicholas Mirzoeff
Lives Matter brings fugitive movement into the regulated space of appearance from the
hold and thereby disrupts it. The movement is always already in passage, always
potentially or actually fugitive, always vulnerable rather than protected.
This possibility was enabled because the spaces where the marked appear are newly
visible, or more exactly networked, via cellphone video, Facebook, Instagram, Snap-
chat, Twitter and Vine in a set of interactive and intersensory relays, which create a co-
presence between physical and digital spaces. The ‘space’ in which we might want to
appear has at least two modalities in common temporality. In this sense, the long-
standing sociological concept of co-presence, meaning face-to-face interaction, has been
updated for the digital era.27 Such digital co-presence has been defined as ‘the diverse
ways in which people maintain a sense of “being there” for each other across distance.’28
There are now multiple spaces in which we can ‘appear,’ while also maintaining a sense
of presence. While that is true for any space, Black Lives Matter is clearly doing some-
thing more. The report Beyond the Hashtag showed that #Blacklivesmatter (written this
way in the report) was what the authors call a ‘weak’ network, meaning that there were
relatively few links between nodes in the network. However, this apparent weakness was
a consequence of its focus on disseminating news, which enabled people to create de-
centered actions in their localities.29 Once people had got the hang of it, a social media
posting relating to another killing would spark different events across the United States
without anyone having co-ordinated them. Even as a formal movement, #Black-
LivesMatter is a decentered collective of autonomous chapters. It too began online,
when people located each other using the hashtag. And then it became interactive
between online information sharing and physical actions in the streets. Activist Deray
McKesson described what followed in August 2014 and immediately thereafter: ‘In
those early days, we were united by #Ferguson on Twitter : : :. And once the protests
began to spread, we became aware of something compelling and concise, something that
provided common language to describe the protests: the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter : : :.
Many of us became friends digitally, first. And then we, the protestors, met in person.’30
This possibility was an articulation of the way in which Twitter, in the words of com-
munications scholar Andre Brock, enables ‘a discursive, public performance of Black
identity.’31 In this sense, engaging in protest is the outcome of participating in what has
become known as Black Twitter.32 A performance can be in 140 characters but it can also
be in the streets. In either modality, it created a dialog about what it is to be ‘Black’ and
how Black lives matter.
This co-presence made it possible to form a space of appearance where people and
their visualized data interact, in which ‘the material environment is actively reconfigured
and refunctioned.’33 That is to say, first, that it is white supremacy that is being
refunctioned; and next that whatever media and mediations we make are also part of
whatever it is to be ‘the people’ and make a common space of appearance.34 Creating one
space of freedom engenders others, sometimes with surprising speed and reach. This
work of liberation appears to be spontaneous, to those residing in the seats of judgment.
More precisely, after long restraint and rehearsal, which we can now name as ‘for-
mation’ thanks to Beyonce and her song/video of the same name, what is deemed
impossible by the regulatory norms overflows the enormous material and physical
constraints set against it at moments of intensity. It is love, surplus, beyond the frame.
The limited space of appearance becomes an open place of interaction. It is what Negar
Mottahedeh has called ‘collective sensorial solidarity online.’35 Such solidarity is not
utopian but site-specific, as in #Ferguson, which was used an astonishing 21.6 million times
Appearance Unbound 81
from June 2014–May 2015.36 The ‘collective’ it creates is not universal but forms a new
entity, whether it was the Iranian resistance or the Black Lives Matter movement. Because
it makes common a way to be in the future, outside the enclosure, it is always becoming,
always in formation, while being site-specific. That the moments keep coming, in which
the energy contained in social and visual frames breaks out of the restraints imposed by
and as the society of control, which is itself now notably out of control, I take to be the
condition of the present and the hope for future years ahead. What is the name of this
impossible space? It recurs everywhere under neo-liberalism from Zapatismo, to ACT UP,
and #Nuit Debout. It is where Black lives matter.

Persistent Looking
Digital co-presence has sustained a persistent look at what white supremacy keeps out of
sight, off stage and out of view. Black Lives Matter uses persistent looking to refuse to look
away, creating a deliberate engagement with the loss of so many through reenactment. It is
comprised of a set of grounded, distributed, repeated but not traumatic actions in which
media constitute one of the grounds for action. It calls for everyone to see what there is to
see, to be vulnerable, but not to be traumatized. Looking here is both witnessing and the
embodied engagement with space. Persistent looking engages with the prohibition against
looking on the ground by those deemed black at those denoted as white. Such perform-
ances are about the recurring present that people choose not to escape, and continue to
record in digital media. Persistently, they choose to keep looking against the prohibitions of
the carceral state and to feel the presence of the absent bodies of those fallen, from Michael
Brown and Eric Garner to Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and so many
more. Repetition matters here, as a means both of instilling the urgency of the situation in
others and for the participants to overcome their first shock in order to understand what
has actually happened. The formal similarity and repetition of the actions move them from
being simply protests—meaning an indexical call to the state or other authority to remedy a
wrong—and become instead invocations of articulated assemblage.37
There is a history of the United States within this looking. Under slavery, the look of
the enslaved at an overseer or owner was known as ‘eye service,’38 and was immediately
punishable. It was a particular feature of being ‘reckless,’ any activity by the enslaved
that might bring them to the attention and violence of the overseer and his drivers.39
During the Jim Crow period (1877–1954), the charge became by condensation ‘reckless
eyeballing,’ with the connotation of forbidden desire across the color line that author-
ized fatal violence in response. Although it was never formally part of the legal code, such
looking was used to aggravate assault charges to rape as recently as 1952 in the case of
Matt Ingram.40 ‘Reckless eyeballing’ remains part of the informal codes of the prison
industrial complex both inside institutions and as part of law enforcement. To cite just
one example, in a 2013 case in Florida, a man’s conviction was upheld on appeal in part
because a female corrections officer testified that he had performed ‘reckless eyeballing’
against her.41 Remember Freddie Gray in Baltimore. His only offence was that he met the
look of a police officer in the eye, leading to an assumption of guilt for which he ended up
dead. He appeared always already marked in the space where police believed themselves
to be sovereign. To meet the police gaze was, as bell hooks named it in a different context,
‘uppity’ in the language of racialized encounters.42 All the trials of the police officers
involved in the death of Freddie Gray resulted in acquittals, with subsequent charges
being dropped, as if no-one but Gray could be responsible for his death.
82 Nicholas Mirzoeff

Figure 6.1 St Louis Medical Examiner’s Office. Photograph entered into evidence in Grand Jury
hearings State of Missouri v. Darren Wilson. Public domain

Notably, Black Lives Matter protestors have described the experience of the move-
ment as a coming-to-meet the police gaze. In Ferguson, Missouri, Johnetta Elzie, who
tweets as @Nettaaaaaaaa and became a key voice in the movement by acquiring over
200,000 followers, described how: ‘I decided to dare the police to look at the faces of the
babies and children their dogs were so ready to chase down. As more people began to
look directly at the police and yell their grievances, the more aggravated they became.’43
That look was recorded later, when in November 2015, photographer John J. Kim took a
picture of then-sixteen-year-old protestor Lamon Reccord confronting a police sergeant
in Chicago. Each stares at the other, directly in the eye. Reccord stands fully committed
to his right to engage the police as public servants. Despite his age, Reccord is claiming
full citizenship, something that the equally engaged return look of the police seeks to
deny him. That police sergeant is African American, just as three of the six police officers
responsible for the death of Freddie Gray happened to be. Racism is systemic not indi-
vidual, enforced by the agents of that system regardless of their own personal identifi-
cation. Who has the right to appear in urban space? Whose streets, people ask on
protests? This is what it now means to be intersectional: who gets to hold the intersec-
tion? When is appearance unbound?

Articulations in Black
At this point it is first necessary to specify what it means to situate this articulated space
of co-appearance as ‘Black’ before analyzing specific embodied practices of fugitive
Appearance Unbound 83
movement. ‘Black’ is what Stuart Hall used to call an articulation.44 That is to say,
‘blackness’ is a specific formation of the visible and the sayable, produced by the con-
nection of particular but not essential components. As Alexander Weheliye usefully
defines it, ‘blackness designates a changing system of unequal power structures that
apportion and delimit which humans can lay claim to full human status and which
humans cannot.’45 Those with full human status are designated white, a category that is
not always correlated to skin pigmentation. This analysis reminds us that the human/
non-human relation, so much discussed of late, is always already part of the formation of
the space of appearance in the Americas. People have been and are seen as non-human.
When then-Officer Darren Wilson encountered Michael Brown that day in Ferguson he
saw him as a ‘monster.’ The color line divides the continent and any possible spaces of
appearance and overwriting the always-stolen Amerindian space of appearance.
Black in the specific context of digital co-presences affiliates specifically with Alicia
Garza’s account of the #BlackLivesMatter project that she co-founded with Opal
Tometti and Patrisse Kahn-Cullors:

#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important—it means that Black
lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to
your liberation : : : .When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualiza-
tion of Black people and end the poverty, control, and surveillance of Black people,
every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When
Black people get free, everybody gets free.46

Which means that, unless Black people get free, nobody gets free. This understanding has
consistently motivated abolition and civil rights movements. Unbound appearance
would be the result of a set of intersecting and interactive liberations to produce a
decolonized space of appearance.
Black Lives Matter has also been decoded, again in Hall’s sense, in bad faith as the
means to understand the increase in homicides and the alleged but in fact not happening
increase in killings of police officers. Spokespeople for the police are calling this the
‘Ferguson effect,’ meaning that the police claim not to be able to do their jobs if subject to
being videoed or photographed. When Black lives matter, the social space of appearance
has changed, meaning that the police do not control how events are viewed. This
resentment against Black Lives Matter has in part sustained Trumpism, the digitally
enabled modality of white supremacy. Trump had 3.2 million followers on Twitter in
August 2015. By November 2016, he had over 12 million. Now that he is president, he
has over 24 million followers, albeit still far behind Barack Obama’s 84 million or Justin
Bieber’s 91 million. Don’t think he isn’t counting. Nonetheless his 140-character
character assassinations won him first the nomination and then the presidency, which he
continues to direct from his Twitter posts. To follow @realdonaldtrump has been to push
back at #BlackLivesMatter and to reclaim the space of appearance for white supremacy.
It is to assert that leadership is more important than collective organization, and that to
make America great again requires subjugation.

Technologies of Appearance
Co-presence, persistent looking and the articulation of Black and blackness came
together in performed action as a set of technologies of appearance, especially after the
84 Nicholas Mirzoeff
murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. The defiant per-
formance of vulnerability in the face of state-supported violence became an assertion of
common strength in fugitive movement. #BlackLivesMatter mobilized political bodies
from vulnerable bodies that can be harmed and can die in order to sustain a movement.
Ruth Wilson Gilmore has defined racism as the ‘production and exploitation of group-
differentiated vulnerability to premature death.’47 By appropriative reversal of this
vulnerability, these embodied performances reclaim the right to existence. This vul-
nerable and fugitive movement creates a dynamic co-presence whereby those following
or watching feel actively engaged, whether online or locally. It calls to the witness and the
watcher to become engaged first through bodily mimesis and then by making your body
political. Political bodies oppose themselves by their repetitions to the representation of
the state by the police. The signature gesture of the Ferguson movement was the new
action ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.’ This performative protest formed spaces of appearance
at and around the scene of Michael Brown’s death and in their digital co-presence.
‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ emerged from the existing vernacular of Black protest.
In 2013, Los Angeles residents took to wearing T-shirts saying ‘Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Not
Chris Dorner,’ referring to the shootings of three civilians by the LAPD during the pursuit
of their former officer.48 A year later, in February 2014, Washington Post columnist
Eugene Robinson wrote a widely circulated piece under the headline ‘I’m Black, Please
Don’t Shoot Me’ in response to the shooting of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn because
the latter found Davis’s music to be too loud. The events in Ferguson transformed this set
of associations into a new form of embodied protest. Although ‘Hands Up’ flowed from
what was believed to have happened, it was not a simple recreation of the scene of the
murder. The gesture of raised hands did imitate those made at the scene, such as those of a
white contractor, caught on a cell-phone video.49 He stood with his hands raised in a
gesture that clearly asks: ‘why did you shoot, his hands were up?’ It expresses puzzlement
and confusion as much as rejection. On the first evening after the shooting, protestors at
the scene came together to hold a vigil at the request of Michael Brown’s mother Lesley
McFadden. Confronted by police with dogs, as if it was suddenly Birmingham in 1963,
they responded by raising their hands, documented in a Vine videoclip posted by
Antonio French, a local councilor.50 The action was a montage of the isolated and
vulnerable body of Michael Brown and their own resistance into a common identifi-
cation—for they knew that any one of them could have been killed as Brown had been.
The next day, the chant ‘don’t shoot,’ attributed by now to Michael Brown, was added to
the gesture and performed by itself at the Canfield Green housing complex as part of the
ongoing protests, again captured by Councilor French on Vine. A press photograph
taken on the following day shows a handwritten poster displayed in front of Ferguson
police station, in which the phrase ‘Hands Up’ was added to create the full statement.
Three days after Michael Brown’s death, activists were already circulating printed flyers
with the slogan ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,’ seen in press photographs from Ferguson.
These words were combined with the action of raising hands as a call-and-response
marching action: ‘Hands up?’ ‘Don’t Shoot!’ It calls to people to join in, to become part
of the action. I have never experienced a more effective and affective embodied political
protest. At the same time, ‘Hands Up’ is a command to the police that says ‘when people
have their hands up, don’t shoot.’ In itself, this would be—or should be—an unre-
markable statement. But it follows: ‘our hands are up, you don’t dare to shoot.’ By not
only displaying vulnerability but admitting to it and doing so in numbers, the per-
formance gains a paradoxical strength. ‘Hands Up’ was not in this sense addressed to the
Appearance Unbound 85

Figure 6.2 Still from Vine posted by Antonio French, September 8th, 2014

police at all but to the protestors, naming political bodies that can be wounded, even die,
but do not submit and are open to others. The feminist implication of this vulnerability as
strength became clear when women formed the #SayHerName project. Because the
space of appearance is normatively masculine, there was an unequal response at first to
the deaths of African American women at the hands of the police. Naked to the waist in
articulated decolonial affiliation with West African traditions, Black women blocked
traffic in San Francisco with their bodies to force the connection between their visibility
and the forgotten names of women killed by police: Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Keyla
Moore, Shelley Frey, Joyce Curren and many more.
‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ pauses the action at the crucial moment, when any
‘reasonable person’ (to use the legal phrase) would have ceased firing. It concentrates our
attention on the vital moment (in the sense of living as well as essential) before the
definitive violence. The action prevents the media from its usual call for closure, healing
and moving on. Protestors choose to remain in that moment that is not singular but has
already been repeated, refusing for those people who have died to die again, and prohibit
any future shots. ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ is the first product of the interaction of the
Snapchat/Selfie generation with direct action in the streets because it created a new self-
image of the protestor.51 It is not a simple reenactment. It is a protest at the killing of an
unarmed child and all the other operations of the prison industrial complex by those who
in fact have most to fear from it: people placing themselves in situations that can be
deemed non-compliant, allowing the police to claim the right to shoot.
This emptiness calls us to reclaim space, to continue to make impossible demands, to
resist closure. It used to be said of liberty that, once seen, you could never go back. I’m not
so certain of that now. What has happened is a double negative. For those who did not
86 Nicholas Mirzoeff
fully know, but should have known, the span that goes from Michael Brown and Eric
Garner to the inauguration of Donald Trump as president has been the time to learn to
unsee the unseeing imposed on the space of appearance by white supremacy. It renders
blackness visible as what Simone Browne calls ‘that nonnameable matter that matters
the racialized disciplinary society.’52 For Black lives to matter, that matter must be the
point of departure for all visual activist projects, or simply for how we see America.

1 Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, introduction by Margaret Canovan, 2nd ed. (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, [1958], 1998), 199.
2 Black Lives Matter was a web project created in the aftermath of the killing of Trayvon Martin
in 2012. It became used as a hashtag after the murder of Michael Brown in August 2014, which
in turn prompted the Black Lives Matter group to constitute a non-hierarchical chapter-based
organization. The prominence of both the hashtag and the group has led the protest movement
that has followed the deaths of Martin, Brown, Eric Garner and many others to be known as
Black Lives Matter. It is in this last, broad sense that I use it here.
3 Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Edges are also interfaces,” Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and
Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 200), 10.
4 Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investi-
gation),” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly
Review Press, 1971), 174.
5 Jacques Rancière, Thesis 8 in “Ten Theses on Politics,” trans. Davide Panigia and Rachel
Bowlby, Theory and Event 5(3) (2001).
6 Denise Ferreira da Silva, Toward a Global Idea of Race (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 2007), xi, ellipses in original.
7 I have appropriated the phrase ‘you are nothing’ from Jesmyn Ward’s remarkable memoir
about the African American South Men We Reaped (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 249. Since
then, Marc Lamont Hill has used the term ‘nobody’ for the same situation of African Amer-
icans, in his Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable from Ferguson to Flint
and Beyond (New York: Atria Books, 2016).
8 Fred Moten, “The Case of Blackness,” Criticism 50(2) (2008): 177–218, 205.
9 Arendt, The Human Condition, 5 [subsequent references in the text].
10 Aquinas used the term to mean ‘an agreement or communication in form,’ which Liska glosses
as ‘the means by which a knower is aware of essences,’ Antony J. Liska, Aquinas’s Theory of
Perception: An Analytic Reconstruction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 293–94.
11 See Robert Bernasconi, “The Invisibility of Racial Minorities in the Public Realm of Appear-
ances,” in Phenomenology of the Political, eds. Kevin Thompson and Lester Embree (Am-
sterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), 169–87; Danielle Allen, Talking To Strangers:
Anxieties Of Citizenship Since Brown V. Board Of Education (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2004); and Kathryn T. Gines, Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 2014).
12 Ta Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” The Atlantic,
archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/ (accessed June 2014).
13 Judith Butler, Notes on a Performative Theory of Assembly (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2015), 26.
14 ‘The right to look is not about seeing. It begins at the personal level with the look into someone
else’s eyes to express friendship, solidarity, or love. That look must be mutual, each person
inventing the other or it fails. As such it is unrepresentable. The right to look claims autonomy,
not individualism or voyeurism, but the claim to a political subjectivity and collectivity: “the
right to look. The invention of the other.”‘Nicholas Mirzoeff, The Right to Look: A Counter-
history of Visuality (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 1.
15 Alexander R. Galloway, “Black Box, Black Bloc.” A lecture given at the New School in New
York City on April 12, 2010. Posted at:
Appearance Unbound 87
16 Audra Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2015), 20.
17 See Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove, 1967) and Sylvia Wynter, “No
Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues,” Forum N.H.I.: Knowledge for the 21st
Century, 1(1) (1994): 42–73.
18 Butler, Notes, 110.
19 James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition
Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998). Please note that I am not intending to
critique Scott’s formation—on the contrary.
20 Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham: Duke Uni-
versity Press, 2002), 9.
21 Mirzoeff, Right to Look, 44–76, 196–231.
22 Frank Wilderson III, Red, White and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 5.
23 Marisol de la Cadena, Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice Across Andean Worlds (Durham:
Duke University Press, 2015), 27. She draws on Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, “Perspectival
Anthropology and the Method of Controlled Equivocation,” Tipitı́: Journal of the Society for
the Anthropology of Lowland South America 2(1) (2004): Article 1. Available at: http:// The colonial context of such “equivocation” is
intentional to my meaning here.
24 Weheliye uses the concept of articulated assemblage in Habeas Viscus; Jasbir Puar’s section
“Intersectionality and Assemblage,” in her Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer
Times (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 211–15 was important to this whole section.
25 Moten, “The Case of Blackness,” 179. On the hold, see Moten and Stephano Harney, drawing
on Frank B. Wilderson III, in The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study,
(Wivenhoe, New York, Port Watson: Minor Compositions 2013), 93–94.
26 See Allen Feldman, Archives of the Insensible: Of War, Photopolitics and Dead Memory
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 296–301.
27 Shanyang Zhao, “Toward a Taxonomy of Copresence,” Presence 12(5) (2003): 445–55.
28 Loretta Baldassar, Mihaela Nedelcu, Laura Merla, and Raelene Wilding, “ICT-based
Co-Presence in Transnational Families and Communities: Challenging the Premise of Face-
to-Face Proximity in Sustaining Relationships,” Global Networks 16(2) (2016): 133–44.
29 Deen Freelon, Charlton D. McIlwain, and Meredith D. Clark, Beyond the Hashtags: #Ferguson,
#Blacklivesmatter and the Online Struggle for Offline Justice (Washington: American
University, 2016), 15–17.
30 Deray Mckesson, “Ferguson and Beyond,” The Guardian,
2015/aug/09/ferguson-civil-rights-movement-deray-mckesson-protest (accessed 9 August
31 Andre Brock, “From the Blackhand Side: Twitter as a Cultural Conversation,” Journal of
Broadcasting & Electronic Media 56(4) (2012): 537.
32 Freelon et al., Beyond the Hashtags, 35.
33 Butler, Notes, 72.
34 Ibid., 20.
35 Negar Mottadeh, #iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life
(Stanford: Stanford Briefs, 2015), 16.
36 Freelon et al., Beyond the Hashtags, 21.
37 See Alexander Weheliye, Habeas Viscus (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 42–53.
38 Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cam-
bridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2013), 168.
39 Sarah-Jane Cervanak, Wandering: Philosophical Performances of Racial and Sexual Freedom
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 66–67.
40 Mary-Francis Berry, “‘Reckless Eyeballing’: The Matt Ingram Case and the Denial of African-
American Sexual Freedom,” The Journal of African-American History (2008): 227–30.
41 Keith Lamont Peters, Appellant, v. State of Florida, Appellee. No. 4D11-607.
42 Bell Hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation (Abingdon: Routledge, [1992] 2015), 168.
43 Johnetta Elzie, quoted by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Lib-
eration (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016), 156.
88 Nicholas Mirzoeff
44 Stuart Hall, “Race, Articulation and Societies Structured in Dominance,” in Sociological
Theories: Race and Colonialism (Paris: UNESCO, 1979), 305–45.
45 Weheliye, Habeas Viscus, 3.
46 Alicia Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement,” The Feminist Wire, www. (accessed 7 October 2014).
47 Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag, 28.
48 (accessed 27 November 2014).
49 For a full account of the events at the scene, see Mirzoeff, “The Murder of Michael Brown:
Reading the Grand Jury Transcript,” Social Text 126 (Spring 2016): 46–71.
50 Social media collected by Deray Mckesson in #Ferguson at
beginning (accessed 27 November 2014).
51 On the selfie, see Mirzoeff, How To See The World: An Introduction to Images from Selfies to
Self-Portraits, Maps to Movies and More (New York: Basic Books, 2016), 29–69.
52 Browne, Dark Matters, 9.
7 Photography, Politics and
Digital Networks in a
‘Post-Truth’ Era
Marco Bohr

This chapter critically investigates the relationship between photography and politics in
a so-called ‘post-truth’ era. According to Oxford Dictionaries, the term ‘post-truth’ finds
its roots in an essay by the Serbian–American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation
magazine, though it was Ralph Keyes’ 2004 book The Post-truth Era: Dishonesty and
Deception in Contemporary Life that brought the term to wider attention.1 In the book,
Keyes defines ‘post-truth’ as the following:

Even though there have always been liars, lies have usually been told with hesitation,
a dash of anxiety, a bit of guilt, a little shame, at least some sheepishness. Now, clever
people that we are, we have come up with a rationale for tampering with truth so we
can dissemble guilt-free. I call it post-truth. We live in a post-truth era. [original

It was not, however, until the year 2016 that the term gained wider public attention
as journalists, politicians, political commentators and comedians appropriated the
term to describe claims made by the then presidential candidate Donald Trump. An
analysis on Google Trends, which tracks how frequently a particular search term is
entered into the search engine, shows a steady rise throughout 2016, spiking dramati-
cally on the 15th of November when Oxford Dictionaries declared it the word of the year.
Trump became President Elect a week earlier, further underlining that the term is closely
associated with his political ascendency. Closely linked to ‘post-truth’ politics is the rise
of the term ‘fake news’, which has been appropriated by a wide variety of different
stakeholders describing ‘unauthorized’ news circulated online as false. However, ‘fake
news’ has also been applied to the mainstream media in cases where news stories were
erroneous, were not substantiated by credible sources or were later retracted. The
interlinked discursive formation ‘post-truth’ and ‘fake news’ are primarily focused on
the written word, the published news item, or the spoken word, such as a politician
speaking at a press conference. As I will reveal in this chapter, in parallel to this dis-
cursive formation, the medium of photography too – as a form of visual communication –
has been increasingly entangled with notions of ‘post-truth’ and ‘fake news’. This
chapter critically investigates the role of photography in the era of so-called ‘post-truth’
politics and the rise of populism in the years 2016 and 2017. The chapter will reveal that,
in the heated political and ideological battles of this period, photographs have, quite
literally, been pushed onto the centre stage of the political agenda. With this increased
90 Marco Bohr
attention towards the photographic image also came an increased amount of scrutiny:
when is a photographic image ‘real’ and when is it ‘fake’? The chapter will point to a false
dichotomy that the terms ‘post-truth’ and ‘fake news’ have assumed in relation to the
photographic image.
In this chapter I am specifically focusing on photography – a medium, as pointed out
by David Bate in this volume (Chapter 1), utterly transformed by the shift from analogue
to digital image capturing, the ubiquity of mobile phone technology and the sharing of
photographs online. As I will highlight in this chapter, in parallel to this evolution we also
see how political battles are fought through photographs. In other words, photographs
have become a type of political weaponry – used for offensive and defensive purposes,
but also for deception and manipulation. In this chapter it is not my aim to analyse the
rise of populism per se, or to provide commentary on different politicians. Rather, my
focus is specifically on the role photographs have played in relation to the rise of ‘post-
truth’ and ‘fake news’. Arguments and counter arguments, attacks and forms or
resistance, one-upmanship and political dissent are now increasingly played out via

The Spicer Press Conference

The first White House press conference of the Trump administration, held on the 21st of
January 2017, a day after the inauguration, was characterized by Press Secretary Sean
Spicer using a combative, temperamental and even aggressive tone towards the assem-
bled press. This stands in stark contrast to the more friendly and calm appearance
previous Press Secretaries might have developed when standing in front of the White
House press corps. Spicer’s tone therefore marked a break from well-established tra-
ditions and it appears to have been a strategic choice by the Trump administration to
precisely give off this appearance. The event signalled that the rules of the past do not
apply anymore and that from hereon the business of politics will be conducted quite
Other than its unusual tone, however, the press conference also stood out in terms of
its main subject matter, which was two cases where photography played a key role. The
first case relates to a claim by a White House reporter that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr,
or MLK, had been removed from the Oval Office by the Trump administration. The
claim turned out to be untrue, was retracted, and the reporter in question apologized via
Twitter. On the day of his first press conference, at 10:47 am, Spicer issued a warning to
the journalist in question via Twitter: ‘A reminder of the media danger of tweet first
check facts later’ [sic].3 Three minutes later, at 10:50 am, Spicer tweeted an image of the
MLK bust with the following text: ‘Thanks to White House Chief of Staff for this
wonderful picture of the MLK bust in the oval’ [sic]. The exact timeline, the tweeted
image and the relationship between image and text is rather important because it shows
an attempt to use photography as a way to prove that the bust has, in fact, not been
removed from the Oval Office. Here, photography is used as a form of visual evidence, or
a type of visual fact checker, to defend an untrue claim. The introduction of Spicer’s press
conference was dedicated to this case, whereby a screen grab of the tweeted photo of the
MLK bust was displayed via a projector. By projecting the image and the tweet as it
would appear on a Twitter feed, Spicer signalled that photography and the dissemination
of photographs on social media have already become part of the on-going battle between
the press and the Trump administration.
Photography in a ‘Post-Truth’ Era 91
The second case as well as the main subject discussed in Spicer’s press conference
relates to a perception circulating on social media at the time that Trump’s inauguration
on the previous day was poorly attended. This perception emerged via a set of two
photographs that were combined by the news agency Reuters and which were published
on the inauguration date with the following caption: ‘A combination of photos taken at
the National Mall shows the crowds attending the inauguration ceremonies to swear in
U.S. President Donald Trump at 12:01 p.m. (L) on January 20, 2017 and President
Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, in Washington, DC.’4 Both images were taken at
a similar time of day (shortly after 12 pm) and from the same position at the top of
the Washington Monument. The image from 2009 shows a large crowd of people
attending Obama’s inauguration, which, in comparison to the image on the right
from 2017 appears to outnumber the amount of people attending Trump’s inaugura-
tion. This simple photographic comparison was circulated on social media and through
likes, shares, comments and re-tweets gained so much traction that it became a viral
The suggestion made in this photographic comparison is that Trump had far fewer
people attending his inauguration. It is important to stress that this suggestion can only
be made via comparison, that this comparison is particularly effective because it relies on
the immediate juxtaposition between one image and the other – between the past and the
present – and that this juxtaposition is visually so effective that it requires very little
commentary other than date, time and place. What this suggests, then, is that the
photographic juxtaposition provides prima facie evidence that one crowd size is bigger
than the other. This evidence requires no explanation in itself because it is there, for
everyone to see, at first sight. The visual effectiveness and the viral popularity of the
photographic juxtaposition published by Reuters clearly caught the attention of the
Trump administration, which considered it an affront. To counter this, Spicer did
something in his first official White House press conference that would not have been out
of place in a practical photography course: he attempted to conduct a visual analysis of
the photograph in question in order to interrogate why the image from 2017 appears to
show a smaller crowd size. Spicer said:

: : : photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in

one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the
National Mall. This was the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings
have been used to protect the grass on the Mall. That had the effect of highlighting
any areas where people were not standing, while in years past the grass eliminated
this visual.5

Spicer’s intervention stunned the assembled press and was widely ridiculed on social
media. Though it also revealed an important aspect about the new administration that
must be emphasized in this context: it is not necessarily the size of the crowd that seems to
be the most important, but rather how this crowd is represented photographically, how
frequently it is shared on social media and what impression this representation gives to
the public. In other words, the size of the crowd is less a matter of numbers but is a matter
of photographic perspective and public perception.
If Spicer’s press conference further hardened the battle that the Trump administration
now engaged in with the press, this battle more specifically is concerned with the notion
of perspectives, how things can look differently from one perspective compared
92 Marco Bohr
with another.6 Photography, it appears, plays a key role in this debate as nearly half of the
5 minute 30 seconds press conference was concerned with the dissemination and critique
of photographs. At the heart of this debate is the question of truth. More specifically in
this context, how a false claim can be countered by a photograph such as the case with
the MLK bust, but also how the ‘truth’ of one photograph can be countered with the
‘truth’ of another photograph. What this suggests, then, is the formation of a new
ideological discourse whereby photographic truths can be in competition which each
other, that perhaps one truth is more truthful than another or that the truth must be
questioned for the sake of another truth. Stuart Hall has argued that from the discipline
of cultural studies there is no objective truth humans can identify, but rather that ‘truth’
is a shifting discursive practice that is historicized.7 Referencing the work of Michel
Foucault, Hall writes that ‘in each period, discourse produced forms of knowledge,
objects, subjects and practices of knowledge, which differed radically from period to
period, with no necessary continuity between them.’8 The ‘regime of truth’ described by
Hall is a discursive formation that is unfixed and that relates to specific political,
ideological or cultural contexts. In the same way that ‘truth’ is not fixed, the meanings of
photographs are not fixed and are interpreted differently at any one moment in time.
Spicer’s press conference points precisely to the frictions that differing interpretations of
photographs, as well as differing conclusions about ‘truth’, can create. Though the press
conference also relates to the notion that the changing perceptions about ‘truth’ are
discursively produced as well as challenged via photographs.

‘Post-Truth’ and Photography

Following on from Stuart Hall’s arguments about the unfixed and shifting nature of a
‘regime of truth’ that is discursively produced in specific historical contexts, we can see
the flaw in Ralph Keyes’ definition of a ‘post-truth’ era, which assumes that ‘truth’ is an
attainable and identifiable notion that is passed down from one generation to the next.
Inasmuch as there is no fixed notion about ‘truth’, the same is also true for the antithesis
of ‘truth’ such as lies, fakery, deception or indeed ‘post-truth’. In other words, ‘post-
truth’ too is a discursive practice that relates to the knowledge, representation and power
of the historical context in which it emerged. The term ‘fake news’ helps to identify the
source of this power as the term is most commonly shared by corporate-owned media
networks to describe information shared on niche websites, blogs and internet forums
that goes counter to the prevalent media narratives at the time. Like ‘post-truth’, the term
‘fake news’ is problematic because it sets up a highly reductionist binary between news
that is ‘fake’ and news that is supposedly ‘real’ – or a news that is simply concerned with
reporting ‘facts’ that are immune to innuendo, ideology or selective editing.
Further to this, the emergence of the ‘post-truth’ discourse in 2016 assumes a binary
with regards to temporality: that ‘post-truth’ is a symptom of the populism of Donald
Trump and his political ascendency which was preceded by an era of ‘truth’, namely the
presidency of Barack Obama. The terms ‘post-truth’ and ‘fake news’ thus feed into a
highly partisan discourse where the world, and the perception of it, is divided into two
categories: ‘fake news’, ‘post-truth’, populist, non-mainstream media as signified by
Trump (e.g. the present) versus the ‘real news’, ‘truth’, facts, liberal, mainstream media as
signified by Obama (e.g. the past). In contemporary photographic discourse this splitting
between the past and the present is precisely underscored by the aforementioned image
juxtaposition created by Reuters: on the left of the image is Obama’s well-attended
Photography in a ‘Post-Truth’ Era 93
inauguration and on the right is Trump’s lesser-attended inauguration. These types of
juxtapositions have now emerged as one of the key political memes on social media,
whereby photographs from the Obama presidency are contrasted with those of Trump’s.
Recent examples include image juxtapositions of the respective presidents holding
babies, how they publicly engage with their wives, standing next to Pope Francis or
meeting Little Miss Flint. All these juxtapositions have in common that they represent
the past as a happy and idyllic time, whereas the facial expressions of those photo-
graphed more recently are somewhat gloomy. The splitting between the past and the
present is precisely underlined as well as reinforced by this type of photographic
The reductionist binaryism that the term ‘post-truth’ implies is particularly crude
with regards to theoretical discussions on photography. Since the very invention of
photography in the 1830s and 1840s, artists, photographers, scientists and writers
questioned and indeed subverted any preconceived notions about a photographic
truth.9 The renowned art photographer Edward Steichen, who was a key figure in the
early 20th century, wrote that ‘every photograph is a fake from start to finish, a purely
impersonal, unmanipulated photograph being practically impossible.’10 As Steichen
recognized, there is no such thing as one photographic truth as a photograph is always a
subjective representation highly dependent on a number of variables. Alan Sekula puts
it this way:

The only ‘objective’ truth that photographs offer is the assertion that somebody or
something – in this case, an automated camera – was somewhere and took a picture.
Everything else, everything beyond the imprinting of a trace, is up for grabs.11

In the absence of a singular photographic ‘truth’ or photographic ‘objectivity’, and in

order to appreciate how vantage point, optics and the subjective framing of an event
shape an interpretation of this event, we can return to Reuters’ inauguration jux-
taposition already discussed above. Both photographs were taken with a telephoto lens –
commonly referred to as a ‘long’ lens – which tends to visually flatten the distance
between foreground and background. What this means is that objects that are physically
quite far removed actually appear closer to each other in the photograph. In his first press
conference, rather than depicting the image juxtaposition that went viral on the
inauguration day, Spicer projected another image, taken from the completely opposite
direction: not from the top of the Washington Monument but from the perspective of the
United States Capitol. This image was taken with a wide-angle lens – commonly referred
to as a ‘short’ lens – which does the opposite to a ‘long’ lens as it tends to exaggerate the
distance between foreground and background. A photograph of a crowd taken with a
‘short’ lens can make it appear that people in the background of the image are further
away, which also makes the size of the crowd appear bigger. As with the photograph of
the MLK bust presented at the beginning of the press conference, Spicer presents this
photograph of the inauguration, taken from the opposite perspective and with a
different type of lens, as a form of visual evidence. It’s an attempt to question the
photographic meanings signified in the Reuters juxtaposition. In this simple example we
can already see a distinct subjectivity afforded to the photographic apparatus, mainly
triggered by a combination of optics, vantage point and subjective framing. The Reuters
photograph of the Trump inauguration and the image presented in the Spicer news
conference tell different stories about the same event.
94 Marco Bohr
Further complicating any preconceived notions about a photographic truth is the vast
network of professionals, agencies, organizations and media outlets involved in facil-
itating the production, editing and publishing of photographs. A photograph published
in a news outlet is not merely the result of clicking the shutter. Rather, it goes through
various layers of briefings, commissioning, editing, cropping, captioning, post-
production and so forth. This division of labour debunks the myth that a photograph
published in a news outlet – each with its own political and ideological agenda – is the
result of a truth uncovered by one person. Instead, a photograph published in a news
outlet is the result of a series of decisions, originating from and made by the media
industry, where photographs feed into specific editorial narratives. In their ground-
breaking book Manufacturing Consent, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
described this form of shaping the news as a ‘propaganda model’, which ‘suggests that
that the “societal purpose” of the media is to inculcate and defend the economic, social,
and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the
In this ideological context a certain type of photographic truthfulness can be shaped
and bent. To that extent one must also consider the things that are not photographed, or
perhaps things that have been photographed and not chosen by photo editors. Long
before the rise of ‘fake news’ or a so-called ‘post-truth’ the selective editing and even
staging of photographs has been used to manipulate the public. With regards to
photographic discourses at least, we have always lived in a type of ‘post-truth’ era
whereby images are used for specific political, ideological, economic or even geopol-
itical purposes. With regards to the latter, we also have the state apparatuses involved in
the production and dissemination of photographs. In his book Japan on Display:
Photography and the Emperor, Morris Low for instance provides a detailed reading of
the iconic photograph of Emperor Hirohito standing next to General Douglas
MacArthur and how the meaning of this image played into the wider narrative of
Japan’s defeat in World War II.13 The image can thus be seen to fit into a larger, geo-
political re-orientation of the world map in the post-war period. The ‘truth’ of the
image, namely that McArthur casually towers over a diminutive-looking emperor who
was brought down to earth from his godlike status, suited a specific agenda at a crucial
historical junction in world history. In this example, too, it should be emphasized, the
photographic truth that Hirohito is significantly shorter than MacArthur can only be
established through juxtaposition as the two men stand next to each other in the US
Embassy in Tokyo in 1945.
Just as we need to be mindful of specific truths that are produced for specific purposes,
we also need to consider the exact opposite: what truths are not being promoted at a
specific moment in time. The countless number of photographs of newsworthy events
that are taken every day by professional photographers and photojournalists are
increasingly supplemented, as pointed out by Stuart Allan, by citizen journalists.14 This
trend has been facilitated by the on-going synchronization of digital photography,
mobile phone technology and social media networks. We are looking at a vast database
of millions of images produced every single day, though it is only a tiny fraction of them
that will ever gain public attention. What this suggests then is that the ‘regime of truth’
described by Stuart Hall is also a process of selection and de-selection of images so that
they fit into specific narratives at any one point in time. The ‘regime of truth’ is not only
underpinned by the images that we see, but it is also propped up by the images that we do
not see, nor even know that they exist.
Photography in a ‘Post-Truth’ Era 95

The Social Media President

The selection process of images, or shall we call it the de-selection process of images, used
to be the sole domain of the press. Yet, with the introduction of social media platforms
such as Facebook in 2004, a new dimension has come into play as the mass production
and consumption of images increasingly impacts the popularity of images. In order to
appreciate the complex intersection between politics, social media and photography, it is
important to highlight the role that the Obama administration has played in unlocking
the powerful dynamic between social media and the promotion of specific political
goals. Obama has been described as ‘The Social Media President’, whose team has
mastered the art of digital engagement.15 One aspect that sometimes gets overlooked in
such analysis is the role that photography has played in fostering a specific type of image
of Obama as icon. The ‘marriage’ between politics, social media and photography
promoted by the Obama administration is perhaps best exemplified by a photograph of
the presidential couple hugging each other as they celebrate Obama’s re-election in
2012. At the time it was the most re-tweeted tweet in history.16 Other images, many of
which were taken by Obama’s designated White House photographer Pete Souza, frame
the presidency in similarly iconic terms. Megan D. McFarlane for instance writes about
the ‘increasingly visual aspect of the rhetorical presidency’ created, promoted and fos-
tered by the Obama administration.17
This strategic approach to photography, continuously improved and indeed perfected
since Obama’s election in 2009, is now a global benchmark for politicians and has
turned into, to borrow a term from Donald Richie, a type of ‘image factory’.18 The
administration of the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for instance has appro-
priated the Obama image formula, though we can also see how this strategy has been
appropriated by celebrities. One of the goals of this strategy is to make politicians more
touchable in a digital sense. As per Twitter’s terminology, people can ‘follow’ politicians
(in some rare cases they might even be followed back) to receive regular updates as well
as photographs. The rather personal notion that one can ‘follow’ the president is
reinforced by framing politicians in the first instance as human beings, rather than the
political office that they represent by using terms such as ‘dad’, ‘mom’, ‘husband’ or
‘wife’. Such representations of political power are framed and disseminated through a
very specific and strategic approach to photography where politicians are depicted as
smiling, hugging, playing with children, talking to elderly people – though they can also
be serious and determined if the situation requires it. Photographic depictions of Obama
in particular run the full gamut of emotions in order to underline his humanity.
Another dimension that needs to be addressed in relation to the triangulate
relationship between politics, social media and photography is that the aforementioned
division of labour is even greater as a whole new layer of technologically savvy indi-
viduals enters the image production line. In the digital age, these individuals now include
data analysts, social media consultants, PR advisors, image consultants, fashion con-
sultants, search engine optimization specialists and so forth. Indeed, the image factory is
expanding to such a degree that it includes individuals entering the production chain
whose role is so new and innovative that an official job description for them does not
exist yet. This production line in the image factory has the purpose of promoting highly
selective facts about individual politicians for the purpose of specific political goals – one
of these goals, and perhaps the most obvious of them, is how to increase the popularity of
a politician. With this strategy in mind the selective truth about a politician is being
96 Marco Bohr
broadcast via social media for the clear purpose of political gain, whilst other truths,
ones that are perhaps less popular, are not fed through this image production chain. This
image production is a serious and rigorously maintained business that is tightly con-
trolled. Timothy Gleason and Sara Hansen point out that, during Obama’s presidency,
photojournalists increasingly had difficulty accessing official White House events,
leading them to argue that this type of ‘image control’ stands in contrast to the openness
of government once heralded by Obama.19
The common perception about photographs shared on social media is that Internet
users come across such images on their feed or their timeline and they choose to respond
through likes, comments, shares and re-tweets. This in turn increases the viral popu-
larity of such an image, with the likelihood of it appearing on a friend’s timeline or a
follower’s feed increasing according to a specific algorithm. This perception assumes
a type of popularity contest of images whereby visually striking images, such as the
one showing the Obamas hugging, are shared the most and unpopular images, ones
that receive few likes, shares and comments, quietly and slowly retreat on social
media networks. Internet technologies, according to this perception, are passively
involved in presenting this image to the user who, in turn, actively controls the popu-
larity of this image.
In their rigorously researched book Softimage, Ingrid Hoelzl and Remi Marie produce
a convincing counter argument whereby it is not so much the user who controls the
image, but that in the digital age we are now entering a new era whereby images
increasingly impact user behaviour.20 In their analysis Hoelzl and Marie point to the
power of Internet giants such as Google and how they actively shape Internet users’
digital experience through images. Hoelzl and Marie write: ‘It is not only that we are
operating the world through Google’s images, it is also and primarily that in generating,
with each user query/navigation, huge amounts of user data linked across its different
services, Google’s image are operating us.’ (original emphasis)21 The dynamics descri-
bed here in relation to Google’s image databases such as Google Maps also apply to
social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. This new dimension
introduced by Hoelzl and Marie has a very powerful theoretical implication: the Internet
user is an integral part of the production line in a politician’s image factory. In other
words, the user, too, is standing on the metaphorical conveyor belt of the image factory,
further promoting and disseminating images through likes and comments. These
photographs are operating us. Social media networks and Internet corporations have
made these factories highly efficient. The increased bandwidth as well as the ever-
growing storage capacity of cloud computing thus facilitates and indeed reinforces the
political power of images. What this means, then, is that, through a strategic approach
on social media, photography has accumulated an enormous degree of political agency
which can be harnessed, stored and unleashed.

Since its very inception, photography has always navigated around questions about
truthfulness, fakery, selective editing, manipulation or being staged. Terms such as
‘post-truth’ or ‘fake news’ misleadingly imply that, compared with previous eras,
photographs are more vulnerable to manipulation and fakery since the rise of the
populist politics of the 2016 US election campaign. Photography has always had this
vulnerability. The new phenomenon that emerged in 2016 is, therefore, not based
Photography in a ‘Post-Truth’ Era 97
around notions about a photographic truth, but is based on the various means with
which this truth is being produced, presented, consumed and indeed questioned such as
through the traditional media, alternative media, social media or a politician’s PR team.
The complexities of this shifting territory and how they relate to image production and
dissemination are only just becoming apparent, such as when social media networks
encroach on traditional media (the Reuters inauguration photographs going viral on
social media) or, vice versa, when traditional media encroach on social media networks.
We are now entering a critical period in the evolution of the image whereby the
difference between press photographs, photo ops staged by politicians, photographs
from private social media accounts and images from potential influencers are becoming
increasingly blurred.
The coming together of photography, social media and politics has powerful impli-
cations for the future. Increasingly, images are not passive forms of representation, but
rather they have become like highly charged visual devices, channelled through and
boosted via digital networks in order to create the maximum public impact for specific
and well-timed political purposes. In the search for the ‘truth’, the opinions of ‘the
crowd’ via social media networks are increasingly coming into play. What this means is
that digital connections on social media networks affect an individual’s perception
and experience of truthfulness. Though much like the traditional media, the publicly
listed corporations that run the social networks such as Facebook or Twitter will have
their own political, ideological and economic aims and agendas. If photographs have
such a huge potential to inflict damage on a political opponent, or if photographs are
used to promote specific political messages, this raises the question of whether the viral
popularity of images is in itself vulnerable to manipulation through paid-for content, a
change in the algorithm or interventions by moderators. In other words, can the viral
popularity of certain images be wholly disassociated from the agendas of Internet cor-
porations? It cannot be assumed that the popularity of images on social media is merely a
democratic reflection of what people ‘like’, but rather that this popularity is in itself a
perpetuation and promotion of a ‘regime of truth’.
This chapter explores the notion that the evolution of the photographic image will
continue to be tied in with the evolution of digital networks. In this context it is worth
remembering how recent Internet technologies are affecting nearly every aspect of our
daily lives – a phenomenon that emerged within less than a generation. It is likely that,
also within less than a generation, the definition of what actually constitutes a photo-
graph is in the process of transformation: from a physical and tangible object (the
photograph as a photographic print) to a visual sensation experienced on smartphones,
tablets or computer screens (the photograph as a series of digital codes). If, as I am
proposing here, the evolution of the photographic image is not just linked to but is even
dependent on digital infrastructures, we need to consider the notion that those who own
these infrastructures will, as they already do, seek to control how photographs are
produced, archived, shared and monetized. With regards to the public’s perceptions
about photographic truthfulness, the corporate ownership of digital infrastructures is
critical: since the 2016 presidential election, governments have started to urge afore-
mentioned corporations to warn about, filter or even eliminate ‘fake news’. The decision
as to what is ‘truth’ and what is ‘fake’ is now, increasingly, handed over to corporations.
Not only does this development continue to instil the false dichotomy of ‘truth’ and
‘post-truth’, but it raises the spectre that the very definition of these terms is deeply
connected to corporate interests.
98 Marco Bohr
1 (accessed 31
May 2017).
2 Ralph Keyes, The Post-truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life (New
York: St. Martin Press, 2004), 12–13.
3 Cleve R. Wootson Jr., “The Perfect Meme for the ‘Alternative Facts’ era: #seanspicersays”
facts-era-seanspicersays/?utm_term=.4cb6c54e491d (accessed 31 May 2017).
4 Daniel Trotta, “Crowd Controversy: The Making of an Inauguration Day Photo” www.reuters.
com/article/us-usa-trump-inauguration-image-idUSKBN1572VU (accessed 31 May 2017).
5 “Statement by Press Secretary Sean Spicer”
21/statement-press-secretary-sean-spicer (accessed 31 May 2017).
6 The Senior Advisor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, would later reaffirm this new strategy
with her now infamous gaffe on ‘alternative facts’.
7 Stuart Hall, “The Work of Representation,” in Representation: Cultural Representations and
Signifying Practices, ed. Stuart Hall (London: Sage, 1997), p. 46.
8 Stuart Hall, “The Work of Representation,” 46.
9 Mia Fineman, Faking it: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop (New York: The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012).
10 Mia Fineman, Faking it: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop, 224.
11 Alan Sekula, Photography Against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works, 1973–1983 (Halifax:
Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design), 57.
12 Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of
the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon Books, [1988] 2002), 298.
13 Morris Low, Japan on Display: Photography and the Emperor (London: Routledge, 2006).
14 Stuart Allan, “Witnessing in Crisis: Photo-Reportage of Terror Attacks in Boston and
London,” Media, War and Conflict 7(2) (2014): 133–151.
15 James E. Katz, Michael Barris and Anshul Jain, eds. The Social Media President: Barack
Obama and the Politics of Digital Engagement (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
16 Victor Luckerson, “These Are the 10 Most Popular Tweets of All Time”
4263227/most-popular-tweets/ (accessed 31 May 2017).
17 Megan D. McFarlane, “Visualizing the Rhetorical Presidency: Barack Obama in the Situation
Room,” Visual Communication Quarterly 23(1) (2016): 3–13.
18 The term ‘image factory’ also plays on Chomsky’s notion of manufacturing consent in the
media. Donald Richie, The Image Factory: Fads and Fashions in Japan (London: Reaktion
Books, 2003).
19 Timothy R. Gleason and Sara S. Hansen, “Image Control: The Visual Rhetoric of President
Obama,” Howard Journal of Communications 28(1) (2017): 55–71 (Barack Hussein Obama
20 Ingrid Hoelzl and Remi Marie, Softimage: Towards a New Theory of the Digital Image
(Bristol: Intellect, 2015).
21 Ingrid Hoelzl and Remi Marie, Softimage, 102.

Stuart Allan, “Witnessing in Crisis: Photo-Reportage of Terror Attacks in Boston and London,”
Media, War and Conflict 7(2) (2014): 133–151.
Mia Fineman, Faking it: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop (New York: The Met-
ropolitan Museum of Art, 2012).
Timothy R. Gleason and Sara S. Hansen, “Image Control: The Visual Rhetoric of President
Obama,” Howard Journal of Communications 28(1) (2017): 55–71 (Barack Hussein Obama
Stuart Hall, “The Work of Representation,” in Representation: Cultural Representations and
Signifying Practices, ed. Stuart Hall (London: Sage, 1997).
Photography in a ‘Post-Truth’ Era 99
Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the
Mass Media (New York: Pantheon Books, [1988] 2002).
Ingrid Hoelzl and Remi Marie, Softimage: Towards a New Theory of the Digital Image (Bristol,
UK: Intellect, 2015).
James E. Katz, Michael Barris and Anshul Jain, eds. The Social Media President: Barack Obama
and the Politics of Digital Engagement (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
Ralph Keyes, The Post-truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life (New York:
St. Martin Press, 2004).
Morris Low, Japan on Display: Photography and the Emperor (London: Routledge, 2006).
Megan D. McFarlane, “Visualizing the Rhetorical Presidency: Barack Obama in the Situation
Room,” Visual Communication Quarterly 23(1) (2016): 3–13.
Donald Richie, The Image Factory: Fads and Fashions in Japan (London: Reaktion Books,
Alan Sekula, Photography Against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works, 1973–1983 (Halifax:
Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design), 57.

Victor Luckerson, “These Are the 10 Most Popular Tweets of All Time”
4263227/most-popular-tweets/ (accessed 31 May 2017).
Daniel Trotta, “Crowd Controversy: The Making of an Inauguration Day Photo” www.reuters.
com/article/us-usa-trump-inauguration-image-idUSKBN1572VU (accessed 31 May 2017).
Cleve R. Wootson Jr., “The Perfect Meme for the ‘Alternative Facts’ era: #seanspicersays www.
seanspicersays/?utm_term=.4cb6c54e491d (accessed 31 May 2017).
“Statement by Press Secretary Sean Spicer”
statement-press-secretary-sean-spicer (accessed 31 May 2017). (accessed 31 May 2017).
8 Posthuman Photography
Daniel Rubinstein

1 Introduction: the Photographic Message

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of
Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those
moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
(Replicant Roy Batty’s Tears in the Rain monologue,
in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, 1982)

Before its electrical support system was switched off for the last time at 09:00
Universal Coordinated Time on 27 July 2014, the Philae lander sent several photo-
graphs from its landing site on the face of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko to
Earth. And, while Philae’s scientific mission was cut short when its solar panels failed
to recharge, the images that reached planet Earth are immediately recognisable as
snapshots. They are rectangular, black and white, lacking detail in shadows and
highlights (one of two extra f-stops would not go amiss) and carelessly composed to
include Philae’s own feet in the foreground. Gazing into these likenesses one experi-
ences a mixture of wonder and tedious familiarity: who knew that a rock is a rock, a
shadow is a shadow and perspective works just the same whether you are on the face of
a comet or in your own back yard. Here and there photography erases all differences in
scale and location in favour of representations designed to be viewed by a human eye.
The near and the distant, the micro and the macro are rendered by the photographic
camera all the same.
The photographic treatment consists of producing representations of whatever hap-
pens to be in front of the lens, reflecting the whole world as if in a mirror, bestowing a
comforting uniformity on everything that appears in its field of view. Even a picture of a
comet 300 million miles away confirms to the familiar logical construct of a model
represented in a copy. No matter how remote or alien the model is, photography can be
trusted to show it to us as familiar, and we can be trusted in turn to interpret the
photograph as relating to our own sense of a temporal and spatial reality. We do this by
projecting onto the photograph our experience of time as chronological and linear, and
of space as continuous, three-dimensional and populated by distinct objects.
The common denominator of the astonishing variety of pictures that are delivered
daily to our desktops, laptops and smartphones is the photographic apparatus that is
specifically designed to produce pictures that humans can comprehend. All these images
have one, and only one subject: us, the onlookers for whom photography toils day and
night, producing images for consumption by the human eye.1
Posthuman Photography 101

Figure 8.1 Photograph: CIVA/Philae/Rosetta/ESA

The message of photography is not only that comets look a bit like roadworks, but also
that human vision is the universal and homogeneous mode of access to reality in all its
forms. Almost 500 years since Copernicus declared that the Sun rather than the Earth is
the centre of the universe, we are still welded to the world view that sees us, the human
species, as the Sun that is holding together all that there is in the world. The message of
photography is that we, the humans, are species apart, because we possess the rational
view of the world; we own the vantage point from which everything can be observed as a
reflection, a copy and a representation.
The photographic treatment of reality is dovetailed with the belief in the binary
opposition of model and copy, underpinned by the dialectics of subject and object, that
posits a universal subjectivity as a cornerstone of the human-centric world view. In
particular, this view asserts that the thing represented is completely distinct and inde-
pendent from the mechanism of representation.2 And even as we are now entering the
age of the Anthropocene, in which the extinction by humans of other species expands to
the self-extinction of humanity, our faith in the dualisms enshrined by photographic
representation remains unperturbed.3
It is the aim in this essay to outline another photography, that is more suited to the
tasks of our time than the humanist, representational approach. I name this pho-
tography posthuman not only to distinguish it from the previous epoch, but also to
underscore its rejection of the model-copy paradigm, and the subjective modes
engendered by it. Posthuman photography is concerned with the photographic image
that is based not on the patriarchal politics of identity and subject–object dualisms but
on establishing the multiversal: a binary code, constructed from a rhizomatic assem-
blage of interconnected fragments with the addition of continuous repetition (0+1),
which, when taken together, form a picture of what it means ‘to be’ in the digital age.4
Posthuman photography is not asking what things in the world look like, but what it
means to live in the world of interconnected and networked entities that create
102 Daniel Rubinstein
meaningful objects without recourse to the universal values ‘god’, ‘absolute’, ‘index’,
signifier’ and ‘sign’.

2 The Rhizome, the Frame

Is it possible to speak of photography from any perspective other than the represen-
tational? Yes, of course it is. Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of the rhizome allows us to
think of photography as a multiple, proliferating structure that reproduces itself through
exponential multiplication, simultaneously engaging in visual, economic, social and
political production.

In contrast to centered (even polycentric) systems with hierarchical modes of

communication and preestablished paths, the rhizome is an acentered, non-
hierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing
memory or central automaton, defined solely by a circulation of states. What is at
question in the rhizome is a relation to sexuality – but also to the animal, the vegetal,
the world, politics, the book, things natural and artificial – that is totally different
from the arborescent relation: all manner of ‘becomings’.5

A rhizomatic approach to photography does not begin from a distinction between model
and copy or subject and object; instead it makes connections between various points
across temporary proliferating arrangements, branching out, creating networks, always
multiplying and sprouting in new directions. Conceived as a rhizome, a photograph is
understood as connected to other photographs, as well as to objects, entities, processes
and organisms, forming a network that continually evolves through expansions and
contractions. What is at stake is that the rhizome is taking account of the fact that
meaning and knowledge are not derived from picturing and representing but from
connections between bodies and their direct material engagements with the world.
Representation of pre-existing reality is not the be-all and end-all of photography. As
Foucault observed, space itself has a history.6 The unified, ordered, geometrical space of
the photograph belongs squarely with the conception of space as measurable and cal-
culable, in which every point is identical to every other point. This rational, perspectival
space was invented by scientists, artists and philosophers of the Enlightenment, who
attempted to produce a logical picture of the world. Photography, however, stands on a
threshold of a new era, populated not by representations, but by networks, webs and
grids, and defined not by the subjectivity of the observer but by the relationships between
interconnected points and entities that have no fixed and stable identities, but produce
meaning by association, through dissemination, processing and sharing via online sys-
tems. In what follows I will show that, in the age of post-truth and fake news, pho-
tography does not cease to make pictures, but confronts the eye with images that emerge
at the limits of representation, questioning the supremacy of human vision, and ques-
tioning the claims of representationalism for objectivity and realism.
One side of photography is no doubt representational and signifying but to say that
photography is only this, is not only to legitimise forms of mastery and domination
contained with the ‘master-copy’ paradigm, but also to overlook the material processes
of reproduction, copying, distribution and dissemination that operate within and
around the image. No semiotic analysis can grasp what is going on at the moment of
looking, because nothing in this situation can be reduced to stable, meaningful signs.
Posthuman Photography 103
The photograph is situated at a cross-roads between complex systems, each one of
which has its own specific parameters and its own consistency. A photograph simul-
taneously interlaces several layers of (co)existence: 1) Rational world view based on
mathematical foundations. 2) Technical know-how capable of translating this world
view into material objects. 3) Economic systems capable of producing and distributing
these objects. 4) Collective imagination and desire for the consumption of these objects.
5) Political agendas that release the capital required for the distribution and public
consumption.7 However, the amalgamation of these forces is far from harmonious or
seamless: desires, politics, economics and reason are at war with each other and the
photograph is not the setting of their happy union but the site of the hand-to-hand
combat of energies that are barely contained within its rectangular frame.8
The image in Figure 8.2 (and any other image for this purpose) is not only a recording
of a scene, but also an assertion of a centring and selective gaze that legitimises certain
viewing and political practices that cohere around the demand for objectivity, rigidity
and hegemony.9 To say the same thing slightly differently, the correspondence between a
photograph and the world is dependent on the presumption of the subjectivity of the
observer on the one hand, and the objectivity of the ‘out there’ on the other. This pre-
sumption is sustained by means of ignoring all those aspects of the picture that do not fit
within this representational schema. Our very insistence to see photographs as rep-
resentations of past events has consequences for the way we see ourselves as passive
onlookers for whom the world is a spectacle. To illustrate the way photography produces
specific forms of subjectivity, where technical, optical, economic and political mech-
anisms play a dominant role, consider what happens to me during the act of looking at a
photograph. We can recall here Felix Guattari’s analysis of looking at a TV screen.10
When I look at a photograph I exist at an intersection: 1. I am fascinated by the content of

Figure 8.2 Mont Blanc Observatory Deck, France, Marco Bohr, 2006
104 Daniel Rubinstein
the image, whether shocking, entertaining or arousing. 2. I am associating the spatial–
motor–temporal dimensions of my world to the photograph, recognising it as situated in
a specific chronological and geographical relation to myself. 3. I am also at the same time
daydreaming, fantasising or thinking in ways that are only partially (if at all) triggered by
the event of looking a photograph. And, finally, 4. I am already anticipating the next
image, that will reveal itself after a click, a swipe or a tap on the screen. How can there be
a cohesion between these fragments that pull me in different directions?
The frame is a constant reminder that the photograph struggles to maintain an
equilibrium between its claim for realism and the obvious fact that it is detached from the
real. The photograph endeavours to depict continuity and homogeneity, but these fragile
qualities can only be sustained for the price of ignoring an obvious truth: a photograph
looks nothing like the reality it purports to represent. For one thing, reality is not con-
tained within a frame, it has no border, no limit, no edge. For that reason, the edge of the
photograph must be summarily ignored in order to maintain the illusion of similarity
between the photograph and the world. The edge of the photograph simply drops out of
any and all discussions of photography; nobody seems to ask what part of the real the
edge corresponds with. But perhaps these questions must be asked: who and for what
reasons decided that the edge is not important and must be ignored? Why and when was
it established that the edge is less important than the middle? And finally, what can the
edge of the photograph reveal about the geometrical optics of representation and the
construction of identity engendered by it?
Shifting the attention from the content of the image to the edge that encloses it is
a strategic move that disregards the common-sense notion of what a photograph is for.
The usual view that sees the photograph as a representation is based in the fantasy of an
authentic present, from which we look back at a fixed and immobile past. As Karen
Barad has shown, the activity of boundary making is an essential attribute of anthro-
pocentric, representationalist tendencies, because representationalist attitude is founded
on the premise that images mediate between the known and the knower.

Refusing the anthropocentrisms of humanism and antihumanism, posthumanism

marks the practice of accounting for the boundary-making practices by which the
‘human’ and its others are differentially delineated and defined.11

The trust in the power of photography to mirror a pre-existing state of affairs is an

attribute of a status quo that believes in the triumph of objectivity and reason over the
darker, more ambiguous aspects of human nature.
Drawing on the figure of the philosopher-king as the upholder of universal values, the
photographer-king provides a model of rational human conduct by being attached to a
world-wide system of image-making and the universally applicable logic of reflection, in
which subjectivity is seen as the privileged means of access to reality. The rationality of
the photographic procedure is connected with the idea of subjectivity as a real-life
practice of relating to the world through images on the one hand, and on the other with
the overarching metaphor of photography as reflection: the image is always conceived as
a reflection of something that is external to it. Straight away we are justified in registering
a concern, a grievance even, for is it not the case that reflection presupposes the existence
of original (the one being reflected) and copy (the reflection), and with them the notion
that the former is more genuine then the latter, has greater rights to call itself ‘authentic’
and generally lord it over the lesser entity that is relegated to the position of a copy, a
Posthuman Photography 105
replica or a clone?12 According to the logic of reflection, the world is populated by clones
that bear visual resemblance to ‘originals’ but have none of the vital characteristics of
authentic beings. Understood as a reflection photography is not only a visual regime but
also an ideology that believes in the notions of authenticity and originality, as well as in
the subordination of the copy to the model. Reflection-photography does not only
provide us with images of the world, it also shapes our thinking about the world by
emphasising hierarchical structures and modes of subjectivisation that are engendered in
the idea of reflection as a visual methodology.
Simply put, the whole point of reality surely must be that it cannot be contained in a
frame and, equally, that anything framed has already lost touch with the real. Photo-
graphic practice is taking for granted the notion that the real can be diced and sliced,
packaged in neat little rectangles that are supposed to contain a grain of truth about
the world that is out there. Notice that here we are already dealing with two assump-
tions, two separate levels of truth: 1. The world is true, and 2. The picture of the world is
also true.
Representation takes this separation between the image and the world as founda-
tional; it divides the real into things on the one hand, and images on the other, and
maintains that they are fully distinct from each other.13 The representational approach
to photography asserts that there are only two kinds of entities: there are bodies and
there are images. Bodies are entities fixed in space and time, while images are not even
entities; they are merely clones of objects. From this perspective a photograph has
truth value because it corresponds to something out there; however, correspondence
demands the presence of an individual who is qualified to recognise the resemblance
between the real and the image. For that reason, representation brings with it a con-
ception of nature that is objectified and of a subject who is viewing the world through a
logical and rational prism.
Making a small shift from the centre of the image to its edge, I will discuss below
another way of looking, which does not involve the bear hug of the master-copy para-
digm. The edge of the image is formed from the same elements that make the image, but it
also contains the additional sense of a limit, a threshold or a cut. Considered on its own
merits, the edge of the photograph is the non-signifying part of the image, yet it manages
to speak of the experience of depth that, in the words of Maurice Blanchot, ‘does not
surrender itself face to face; it only reveals itself by concealing itself in the work’.14 To
show what kind of work the edge does, Blanchot recalls the myth of Orpheus who
descended to hell to bring Eurydice back from the dead. Photography is like Orpheus,
tirelessly rescuing people, events and situations from disappearing into the darkness,
preserving in a snapshot the likeness of that which is no more. Like Orpheus, pho-
tography can only perform this task on the condition that it does not turn back to look at
the rupture out of which the image emerges. The edge is not a sign or a symbol but a
physical mark in the physical world, yet formed entirely from the materials of the image;
as such the edge is both material and immaterial, both an appearance and a reality.
The whole Platonic distinction between the model and the copy hinges on the com-
plete distinction between the two;15 yet here, within the edge of the image, the eye
encounters something that is both true and false at the same time, an apparition. This
state of undecidability of the edge (is it an image? is it a thing?) points not towards
identity between images and things, but towards an altogether different image economy
that does not relate at all to the true / false opposition; instead the edge exposes this
opposition itself as untrue. In place of an opposition, the edge presents us with
106 Daniel Rubinstein
superpositionality. As Barad explains, superpositions are the embodiment of inde-
terminacy.16 Where is the edge of the image? Where the image ends? It is a question that
opens the door to an approach to photography that is not based on the logic of reflection
but on an engagement with images that is in equal parts material and semiotic.17 The
edge of the image has its own superpower: one looks at it and the picture dissolves and
disappears and in its place another truth is being revealed, the truth of the other image,
produced not by the visual resemblance, and not even by the photograph’s edge but by
the strange rhythms created by the continuous reproduction of this rupture.
The edge of the photograph points to the exact location where representation finds its
limit, where the content of the image gives way to the material conditions of imageness.
The edge is the self-referential fragment that appears again and again in every photo-
graph, indicating in a simple and unambiguous manner that an image is being made. As
far as the edge is concerned, there is no question of representation, only of the presence of
the statement ‘it is an image’. However, it also gets complicated, because the frame
implies a content that constitutes the object of the image, a content around which the
frame frames. Nevertheless, the object has to be suspended for the frame to be articulated
and come into view. The object does not come before the frame; the frame in that sense
does not frame the object but dissolves it. Vision here is faced with the almost impossible
task of facing the ground zero of vision: the limit of visibility. The frame dissolves not
only the object but also the dialectics of subject and object, form and content.
When we are committed to establishing a correspondence between a photograph and
the world, we are prepared to overlook, ignore and blank out the edge of the picture for
the sake of reassurance in the translatability of the real into images. In other words, in
our haste to establish an equivalence between the photograph and the world we agree to
overlook all those attributes that do not match, but through which another dimension of
the image (and of the world) is being made visible.

3 The Constriction of Photographic Identity

By giving every member of society a recognisable and recordable face that could be
preserved in a family album, stored in a police file and exhibited in a gallery, pho-
tography acts as a catalyst for the creation of the modern individual as someone who
spends their life as a passive spectator of flickering images while at the same time being
exposed to universal procedures of recording and surveillance. The determining factor
here is that, both as a form of mass entertainment and of social control, photography is
marked by a rational and logical relationship among images and the world they allegedly
represent. In what follows I will suggest that, when the engagement with photography is
limited to questions of recognition and resemblance, it stifles our experience of the world
and directs us towards monotonous homogeneity in which everything can be rep-
resented in a photograph, and a photograph is always a representation of something or
other. And yet a photograph has the potential to move our gaze beyond representation of
events and situations in a way that allows us to penetrate the appearance of things and to
sense their inner truth, rather than act as a mere illustration.
As two brief examples, we might think of the photograph in a passport that is used to
verify the identity of its owner when the border control (human or facial recognition
algorithm) compares the resemblance between the image and the person; and then, in a
different (but connected) manner, the video recording made by Diamond Reynolds of the
aftermath of her boyfriend, Philando Castile, being shot by police officers, which was
Posthuman Photography 107
viewed by millions of people online, and acted as a catalyst to the ‘Black Lives Matter’
movement.18 In the first case, the passport photo speaks not only about the similarity
between the image and the person, but also about a system of power and control that
attributes a legal status to visual resemblance, and legitimises the passing of judgement
that is based on visual appearance. In the second example the cameraphone recording
captures the moment when visual appearance gets someone killed. Here the video
footage frames the car window as a screen within a screen on which a situation unfolds
that transcends the logic of recognition, as we see a black man bleeding out after being
shot by police. Representation here is subjected to a violent reality check: this is not a
police drama played out on a screen in front of my eyes; rather I am witnessing the extent
to which the visual (on all its virtual, optical, political and racial components) forms the
peculiar materiality of the everyday.
What is presented to the viewer through the images and the voices that the camera
captured is not only a documentation of an event, but also the perception of a reality that
is bigger and more complex than any representation. Rather than being a faithful
documentation of something that happened, this footage acquires a certain autonomy
from the event it recorded, releasing from it a force that is haunting and scarring the
viewer. While we can never feel what it was like to be in that car during that shooting, the
jittery recording of the car window that frames the policeman on an ubiquitous sidewalk
shouting hysterically, combined with the narration by Diamond Reynolds, who is
talking both to the officer and to us, simultaneously obeying the orders to show her
hands and reporting her boyfriend’s death and her own arrest, suggest that violence,
racism and fear are both everyday occurrences in suburban America and that they have a
specific visual form that this video recording managed to capture.
In both examples discussed above the image acts not only as a rational representation
of an external reality, and its authority and agency are anchored not only in our naive
belief in photography’s ability to simply record a world of people, objects and events just
as it is. Rather, what we are able to glimpse is the autonomy of the photographic image
(both moving and still), and its ability to expose the power of the image qua image to
shape and intervene in the world around us. What we are witnessing is not a represen-
tation of pre-existing reality, but the photograph allows us to intuit that the visual image
is endowed with unique power, and that the power of photography lies not in its ability to
represent, but in asserting the materiality of visual perception.
The assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey during the opening of a
photographic exhibition, captured by the professional photographer who was there to
document the diplomat’s visit to the gallery, provides another glimpse into the complex
network that interlinks political and visual situations.19 Reality here appears produced
by photography, rather than being recorded by it. Besides being a visually striking
recording of a historical event, these images may also be seen as a rhizome, suggesting
that photography and reality are not two separate and distinct entities. Instead this
image implies that reality itself is like a photographic collage in which political violence
operates through images, and the ‘shooting’ of photographs is already a violent act. The
photograph of the assassination in a photographic gallery appears to capture the ability
of photography to transform reality. Framed by the photographs on the gallery walls,
this recording of the moment and the aftermath of a killing suggests that politics, viol-
ence and philosophy are not clearly separate from the visual field, but co-exist within it
via a complex mesh of intra-connections. Even when we look at this image for the first
time our experience is framed by other images of violence, some real and some fictional.
108 Daniel Rubinstein
It is filtered through both the collective and the personal memories of, for instance, the
cinematic iconography of Quentin Tarantino and the execution of a Viet Cong prisoner,
and, while this image can be seen as a simple manifestation of our ability to make
records and to document, it is also a philosophical meditation on the specific power of
visuality, and its unique ability to shape ethical, moral and aesthetic perceptions.

4 From Representation to Materiality

How might we begin to think about the materiality of photography in a way that frees it
from a dependence on representation? Consider for instance the slideshow REM (2016)
by Kenta Cobayashi: the sequence is dominated by a continuous movement through an
imaginary landscape constructed from parts of photographs, liquefied billboards and
morphed walls, surrounded by a reflective, water-like surface. Floating through this
world one might think of gliding along the canals of Venice, or of Ridley Scott’s panning
shoots of the post-apocalyptic New York in Blade Runner (1982). And yet in REM every
solid composite that first appears to the eye as a billboard or a wall of a building is
revealed to be nothing more (or less) than a surface: the camera pierces each surface in
turn, revealing another surface behind it, that – like the previous one – appears solid at
first, but has no other substance than the data it is made of. What this work allows us to
experience is that beyond the compositional elements of an image lies its material
condition of continuous repetition, copy and self-replication. Jean-Francois Lyotard
named this condition ‘The Great Ephemeral Skin’. In Libidinal Economy he proposed
that the role of the artist is to lay bare the mechanisms of representation, to show that, if
there is anything real about representation, it is because there also exists a fully real
virtual domain constructed not from objects and things, but from intensities, desires and

The representative chamber is an energetic dispositif. To describe it and to follow its

functioning, that’s what needs to be done. No need to do a critique of metaphysics
(or of political economy, which is the same thing), since critique presupposes and
ceaselessly creates this very theatricality; rather be inside and forget it, that’s the
position of the death drive, describe these foldings and gluings, these energetic
vections that establish the theatrical cube with its six homogenous faces on the
unique and heterogeneous surface.20

In REM photography is being revealed not as a ‘representative chamber’, but as an

infinite movement of surfaces that continuously self-replicate and morph into each
other. The laws of matter in a three-dimensional world do not apply to the great eph-
emeral screen on which images proliferate, as on this screen the logic of Euclidian
geometry is replaced by the evolving symmetry of fractal geometry. This is not because
photography here is rejecting a reference to reality, but because reality itself is under-
stood as photographic and for that reason indefinitely signified, continuously recurring,
subject to the logic of technology, mass production and the perpetual reformulation of
commodities for new markets.
In its traditional form photography expresses the potential for representation located
within the capitalist organisation of society. But when photography is detached from its
ability to produce representations and considered as a flow of image data, one arrives at
another fully real force that springs from photography’s ability to produce rhythms and
Posthuman Photography 109

Figure 8.3 Kenta Cobayashi, Slideshow ‘REM’, 4 min 49 sec., 2016. Collaboration with media
artist God Scorpion and track maker Molphobia

not forms, reproduce and not represent, proliferate and not identify, self-replicate and
not copy. As a process of instantaneous distribution, photography is being detached
from objects in space as it poses a question about the condition of seeing as such. Instead
of evaluating images on the basis of their similarity to actual events or situations, instead
of re-examining their indexical or symbolic content, what is required is to inquire after
the conditions that make something like an image possible. By exploring the rules of
engagement that govern the use of images, it might be possible to free thought from its
dependence on the Platonic opposites of image (eikon) and Reality (eidos), and from the
binary dualisms that follow from it.21 For, as long as the rule of this binary model per-
sists, it is impossible to escape what Deleuze branded as ‘the four iron collars of rep-
resentation: Identity in the concept, opposition in the predicate, analogy in judgment and
resemblance in perception.’22
The work of Daisuke Yokota can be considered in this light, as an attempt to draw
attention away from representation, to the process that can make a picture possible. By
working with aspects of image production, Yokota approaches the visual via a series of
transformations that tend to obscure, obliterate and deface the optical surface while
simultaneously creating an image that exposes the strategies of image making. Yokota’s
works could be read as a critique of traditional photography’s anti-photographic ten-
dencies: by privileging sharpness, clarity and realism photography modelled itself on how
the human subject wants to see the world, rather than insisting on a view of the world that
is inherently photographic. The camera lens is not the same as a human eye, and the
chemical or algorithmic processing is not the same as the processing of visual stimuli by the
human brain. Because the camera is not a human prosthetic limb, it can create images that
are divorced from the way the world presents itself to a human subjectivity. Crucially,
photography can show us the world not as it appears to a spectator, but as a collection of
110 Daniel Rubinstein

Figure 8.4 Daisuke Yokota, Interception, 2009

perceptions of intensity, before they are submitted to the logic of representation. To say the
same thing slightly differently, it is not me who is making images of the world; rather, by
encountering the world as an image, I become who I am. In the famous opening para-
graphs of Matter and Memory, Henri Bergson explains:

Here I am in the presence of images, in the vaguest sense of the word, images
perceived when my senses are opened to them, unperceived when they are closed. All
these images act and react upon one another in all their elementary parts according
to constant laws which I call laws of nature, and, as a perfect knowledge of these
laws would probably allow us to calculate and to foresee what will happen in each of
these images, the future of the images must be contained in their present and will add
to them nothing new. Yet there is one of them which is distinct from all the others, in
that I do not know it only from without by perceptions, but from within by
affections: it is my body.23

Externally I might see a tree, a dog or a house, but internally all I can sense is images and I
experience my own body as an image. Photography then is not an accidental invention or a
random discovery of the technological age, but rather it is rooted in the very process that is
making human beings out of animals and political subjects out of humans. The photo-
graph is giving us an image of the world that is not human because it is not constrained to
Posthuman Photography 111
the subjective processes of representation. Instead, the photograph interrupts the
relationship between us and the world, producing familiarity and repetition on the one
hand and openness towards new, previously unknown forms of experience on the other.
All this means that photography is not a tool that is making us look further, remember
better and record everything for posterity; rather, it is a way of experiencing reality as a
layered amalgam of data connected through processes of repetition, self-replication and
copy. The power of photography, its enduring fascination and mystery, is that it allows us
to see the world not reduced to the view of the human eye.

1 On the construction of a different photographic apparatus that does not succumb to the
rhetoric of single point of view and perspectival geometry, see: Azoulay, Aı̈m Deüelle Lüski
and Horizontal Photography.
2 Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and
Meaning, 46.
3 Colebrook, “Death of the PostHuman: Essays on Extinction, Vol. 1.”
4 Johnny Golding, “Ecce Homo Sexual; Ontology and Eros in the Age of Incompleteness and
Entanglement,” Parallax 20(3) (2014): 217–230. See also: Johnny Golding, “Fractal Philos-
ophy, Trembling a Plane of Immanence and the Small Matter of Learning How to Listen:
Attunement as the Task of Art,” in Deleuze and Contemporary Art (2010).
5 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 21.
6 Foucault, The Essential Works of Michel Foucault, 1954–1984. Vol. 2, Aesthetics, 175–176.
7 Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-aesthetic Paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian
Pefanis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 47–48.
8 On ‘hand-to-hand combat of energies’ see Massumi, A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizo-
phrenia, 146.
9 ‘Conceptualisation does not simply create hierarchies of thought; rather it serves to legitimate
or justify certain visual, linguistic, social, and political practices that developed around the
demand for intelligibility, rigidity, and hegemony.’ Olkowski, Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of
Representation, 25.
10 Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-aesthetic Paradigm, 16.
11 Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and
Meaning, 136, see also the talk by Professor Karen Barad with the title: “Troubling Time/s,
Undoing the Future,” (accessed January
15 2017).
12 Haraway, 199.
13 Colebrook, 1999.
14 Maurice Blanchot, The Gaze of Orpheus, and Other Literary Essays, ed. P. Adams Sitney.
Trans. L. Davis Barrytown (New York: Station Hill Press, 1981), 100.
15 Plato, “The Republic,” 1124–1125 (504d–505b). See also Jeffery A. Bell, Philosophy at the
Edge of Chaos (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 69.
16 Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and
Meaning, 265.
17 On posthuman/non-human strategies of mediation see: Donna Haraway, “Tentacular Think-
ing: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene,” E-flux 75 (2016): 1–17.
the_moments_after_philando_castiles_murder_partner/ (accessed February 26 2017).
19 Russian ambassador to Turkey shot dead by police officer in Ankara gallery, The Guardian.
in-ankara-shooting-attack (accessed January 15, 2018).
20 Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, 3.
21 Plato, “The Republic,” 601 b-c.
22 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 330.
23 Bergson, Matter and Memory, 17.
112 Daniel Rubinstein
Ariella Azoulay, Aı̈m Deüelle Lüski and Horizontal Photography (Leuven: Leuven University
Press, 2014).
Karen Michelle Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement
of Matter and Meaning (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).
Jeffry A. Bell, Philosophy at the Edge of Chaos (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006).
Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory. Translated by Nancy Margaret Paul and Scott Palmer (New
York: Zone Books, 2005).
Maurice Blanchot, The Gaze of Orpheus, and Other Literary Essays, Edited by P. Adams Sitney.
Translated by L. Davis Barrytown (New York: Station Hill Press, 1981).
Claire Colebrook, Ethics and Representation: From Kant to Post-structuralism (Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press, 1999). Web.
Claire Colebrook, “Death of the PostHuman: Essays on Extinction, Vol. 1,” in Death of the
PostHuman (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, University of Michigan Library, 2014).
Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton (London: Continuum,
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Translated by Brian Massumi (London:
Continuum, 2003).
Michel Foucault, The Essential Works of Michel Foucault, 1954–1984. Vol. 2, Aesthetics, Edited
by Paul Rabinow. Translated by Robert Hurley and others (London: Penguin, 2000).
Johnny Golding, “Fractal Philosophy, Trembling a Plane of Immanence and the Small Matter of
Learning How to Listen: Attunement as the Task of Art,” in Deleuze and Contemporary Art,
ed. Stephen Zepke and Simon O’Sullivan (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010).
Johnny Golding, “Ecce Homo Sexual: Ontology and Eros in the Age of Incompleteness and
Entanglement,” Parallax 20(3) (2014): 217–230.
Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-aesthetic Paradigm. Translated by Paul Bains and Julian
Pefanis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995).
Donna J. Haraway, Modest Witness@Second Millennium. FemalemanÓ Meets OncomouseTM
(New York: Routledge, 1997).
Donna Haraway, “Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene,” E-flux 75
(2016): 1–17.
Jean-Francois Lyotard, Libidinal Economy. Translated by Iain Hamilton Grant (London: Con-
tinuum, 2004).
Brian Massumi, A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and
Guattari (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992).
Dorothea Olkowski, Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation (Berkeley, Los Angeles,
Oxford: University of California, 1999).
Plato, “The Republic,” in Complete Works, ed. D. S. Hutchinson and John M. Cooper. Trans-
lated by G. M. A. Grube (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub, 1997).
9 Smart [Phone] Filmmakers >>
Smart [Political] Actions
Max R. C. Schleser

Camera rolling, sound rolling, action. Within this chapter, ‘action’ will be understood as
a collaborative approach creating opportunities for social change. This chapter will
analyze mobile and smartphone films1 in connection to self-representation and ques-
tions of identity. Moreover, the role of digital moving images in the creation and pro-
motion of new forms of agency and identity within the wider field of visual culture will
be examined. Mobile and smartphone filmmakers are connected internationally
through screenings and festivals such as MINA, the Mobile Innovation Network
Australasia, and social media such as communities of interest on Vimeo, YouTube and
Twitter. This chapter surveys the past six MINA International Mobile Innovation
Screenings2 as a case study and outlines the developments and directions that frame our
contemporary understanding of mobile and smartphone video, film and moving image
productions in the context of political action and the digital self.
MINA was set up in 2011 to showcase creative approaches and innovation in mobile
and smartphone filmmaking. Following an open call for submissions I curated the
annual MINA screening program in collaboration with fellow mobile and smartphone
filmmakers3. Elsewhere I outlined the alternative approach offered by the mobile-
mentary (mobile documentary)4 and examined its potential as beyond an emerging
technology and now an emerging industry. In 2000 mobile camera phone technology
was introduced and this allowed for a new mobile media aesthetic to surface in the
timeframe from 2004 to 2008. These key characteristics, the experience of location and
notions of personal, immediate and intimate qualities still resonate in the works dis-
cussed in this chapter5. In order to continue to investigate the aesthetic refinement and
continuous innovation in mobile-specific production processes, MINA as a research
project endeavors to map out this dynamic field and explores new directions in smart-
phone filmmaking.
For this chapter I choose three works that address the construction of the digital self in
relation to political engagement as exemplified in three smartphone films: Reel Health:
Tanzania (2012), Spirit of Rangatahi Mobile Filmmaking Workshop (2014) and In
Response We Closed Flinders (2015). In order to further develop the argument of mobile
media and smartphone’s positioning in an alternative space and to provide a case of
collaborative approaches creating opportunities for social change, Reel Health:
Tanzania by Tigo, Remedee, Think/Feel and Touch Foundation exposes how smart-
phones as a communal tool can create smart actions through filmmaking. The context of
a community-engaged workshop model and its development towards smart actions for a
114 Max R. C. Schleser
Pacific community is further explored in the Spirit of Rangatahi Mobile Filmmaking
Workshop that I conceptualized and conducted in New Zealand/Aotearoa. Alex Dick’s
In Response We Closed Flinders provides an exemplary case of a local community taking
political action in Australia and illustrates how social media can be used to engage and
embrace digital communities. These three films are chosen, not to represent the MINA
screening programs with their diverse international backgrounds, inspirations and
influences, which range from video art, ethnography, interactive documentary and
experimental filmmaking to activism, but to address more specifically the evolution of
images in the context of digital communities. Furthermore, the three mobile and
smartphone films characterize the key term in this chapter, namely smart action6, and the
theoretical underpinning, which will be explained in further detail in the last section of
this chapter, Towards Smart (Political) Action.
As a matter of course, self-representation was present prior to the proliferation of
mobile and smartphone filmmaking, but this emerging filmmaking form that developed
from independent experimentation to an international movement embraces diversity
and provides access to creative tools for self-representation. Smartphone filmmaking
more generally, as much as the chosen case studies, developed through the creative drive
of filmmakers who also believe in their agency and passion to capture voices from
around the world. Writing in times where ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ create a
public discussion, smartphone filmmaking can be seen as an intervention to repressive
and elitist discourses. As I seek to establish in this chapter, smartphone filmmakers
demonstrate an emerging form of agency that critically interrogates representation and
brings images from the periphery to the center.

A Brief Overview of Early Mobile and Smartphone Films

In order to explain the contributions and specific qualities mobile and smartphone
filmmaking has made to filmmaking and in relation to this book in the wider field of
visual culture, one needs to understand early mobile media aesthetics. In 2000 Sharp
launched the first mobile phone equipped with a camera in Japan. The SH-04 for JPhone
instantly matured from a gadget to a standard feature in mobile communication7 and by
2002 the first camera phones entered the market in Europe and the US8. The first film
festivals that paid attention to mobile media were the Big Digit (USA, 2003), Nokia
Shorts (in collaboration with Raindance Film Festival, UK, 2003) and Tampere Film
Festival (Finland, 2003). These film festivals featured calls for mobile short film pro-
ductions. In the case of Nokia Shorts, mobile videos were limited to only 15 seconds in
duration. In order to understand the potential of mobile and smartphone films it is key to
explore mobile and smartphone films as a filmmaking form and/or genre of its own.
One of the earliest examples of mobile film art produced on a mobile device is Speech
Marks (2004), by the British artist Steve Hawley. In 2004, he won a special prize at the
VAD Digital Arts Festival in Girona, Spain for his three-minute mobile video. He cap-
tured fragments of everyday life which were digitally composed into a ‘collage of moving
images’9. Hawley used the mobile video’s limitation actively to create his mobile video.
Also in 2004, Melissa Bliss produced e-state, a 90-second film for mobile devices, which
portrays flows of mobile communication in an East London housing estate. The mobile
film production involved teenagers from the location as cast and crew.
The first festivals that focused on exclusively showcasing mobile phones as a creative
tool were the MobileFest in Brazil from 2006 to 201010, Pocket Film Festival in France
Smart [Phone] Filmmakers 115
from 2005 to 2010 and FILMOBILE in the UK from 2006 to 200811. The exhibitions
and screenings featured works of artists, designers and filmmakers utilizing the con-
finement of smartphones in creative ways and developing original approaches specific to
mobile media. In 2011 the iPhone 4S was introduced, which featured 1080p video. This
meant that mainstream broadcasting and the film industry suddenly started to consider
smartphone filmmaking, about eight years after the first works were exhibited and
screened at festivals and exhibited in galleries. Also in 2011 the first narrative smart-
phone feature film premiered in Hollywood12.
The FILMOBILE exhibition13 in the London Gallery West included these early mobile
phone films. Alongside the exhibition, I curated the first ever cinema screening for
mobile feature films in the Lumière Cinema in London in 2008. Since 2011 MINA has
presented a public screening program at the New Zealand Archive of Film, Television
and Sound Ng a Taonga Whitiahua Me Ng a Taonga K orero in Wellington, New Zealand.
The MINA DVD and eBooks14 provide a record of the developments in this dynamic
field. Smartphone filmmaking is a constant innovation process. Beyond the technical
advancement in video technology and capability to record 2.3 and 4K on smartphones
and pocket cameras15, one can observe a shift from a predominantly visual aesthetic to
one of collaboration and participation16. Submissions to the MINA screening in 2015
indicated a growing number of smartphone filmmakers internationally, with a signifi-
cant increase in submissions from countries like India and Iran.17 Here the questions
around access to filmmaking technology are paramount. Two examples will be discussed
in this chapter that demonstrate the use of mobile and smartphones to create self-
representations in communities where digital video cameras would be otherwise difficult
to access: smartphones enabled nursing and medical students in Tanzania and Pacific
youth in New Zealand to develop smart actions. In combination with the opportunities
of social media and video-streaming sites, filmmakers around the world have the
potential to connect with their peers and audiences internationally18. The majority of the
projects presented in the MINA programs depict personal experiences, subjective
filmmaking or autobiographical approaches, rather than narrative constructs. Rather
than being driven by entertainment values, mobile and smartphone filmmakers rep-
resent their engagement with the world. Hence mobile and smartphone filmmaking is
anchored in the domain of documentary theory and practice as well as experimental
film. The omnipresence of mobile devices unlocked the entry point for independent
filmmakers or, to describe my argument in the words of Karl Kane, Research Director of
Design and Democracy, as democratic filmmaking19.

Case Study: Smart [Phone] Films >> Smart [Political] Actions

Reel Health: Tanzania depicts the situation in hospitals in Tanzania. The United States
has one doctor for every 300 people; in Tanzania there is one for every 30,000 people.
Ten Tanzanian medical and nurse students share their experiences using a mobile phone
to create a platform from which to control their self-representations in the context of
civic media and democratic practices. Think/Feel is a multidisciplinary creative col-
lective based in Brooklyn and LA. They tell stories, create meaningful visual experiences
and strive to communicate in innovative ways through film and media. Reel Health is an
example for a community to create digital self-representations and distribute their
agendas in a connected world. The mobile-mentary showcases how mobile phone
filmmaking workshops engaged the community of medical and nursing students and
116 Max R. C. Schleser

Figure 9.1 Reel Health: Tanzania (2012). Courtesy: Mara Abrams

enabled them to create awareness for their ‘messages’ about reaching out to patients,
informing patients about the significance of vaccination, providing hope for families and
health prevention through informing communities about hygiene standards. The short
video documents the community engagement, smartphone filmmaking workshop sessions
and interviews with the nursing and medical students, and provides insights into their day-
to-day business. As well as showing the hospital conditions that the students and patients
face, the short documentary gives these nursing and medical students an opportunity to
share their motivations and why they chose to become medical practitioners. The young
nurses and doctors reveal their passions to help people, insights about their country and
inspire hope that the video will support their work in this crisis situation. Two filmmakers
from Think/Feel, a New York creative collective, taught the students documentary film-
making fundamentals. Using these new skills and the mobile phones, they told their smart
actions. The creative collective provides an example of how smart action can enable a
community and, according to the project’s aim, ‘ultimately better lives through mobile
technology’20. Rather than making a film about the medical crisis themselves, the film-
makers trained the medical students and thus became facilitators of smart actions. The
medical students thus learn about mobile filmmaking and transferable knowledge to
reapply and continue to advocate for raising awareness, an ongoing implementation into
their medical practices. In this context one can point to the work of Eugenio Tisselli, a
programmer and digital artist exploring the use of mobile phones for knowledge sharing in
Africa, who argues that smartphones in Africa are communal tools, as opposed to ‘mass
self-communication’21. Tisselli found that the shared usage of smartphones, as also pre-
sent in Reel Health, created a sense of compromise within the group: whenever it was
somebody’s turn to use a smartphone, that person felt the responsibility to document
things that could be relevant and meaningful to all22. The Reel Health video documents
this process and shows the medical practitioners learning smartphone filmmaking.
Smart [Phone] Filmmakers 117

Figure 9.2 Spirit of Rangatahi Mobile Filmmaking Workshop (2014). Courtesy: Joan Buchanan
and Max Schleser

This self-representation empowers the medical students to speak from their point of view.
The Reel Health video features extracts from the medical students’ smart actions. They
filmed each other stating their names and ‘this is my story’, leading into their issue of the
health crises they are endeavoring to change. Raising awareness for the situation and
creating videos for their local communities is the first step forward to creating change from
within a community23.
The community project Spirit of Rangatahi demonstrates how young Pacific people
can use smartphones as creative tools and learn digital storytelling in order to create
digital self-representations24. The video features short examples by youths about their
everyday life, including stories and journeys about friendship, their futures and their
local community, expressed in music and video. These young creatives produced their
films using mobile phones during a school holiday program run by Spirit of Rangatahi
Charitable Trust. Staff from Massey University’s College of Creative Arts (NZ) and
myself introduced smartphone filmmaking techniques to them and guided them through
the production process. Porirua, north of Wellington on the Kapiti Coast, has an eth-
nically diverse community and higher unemployment rate than the greater Wellington
region. The workshop encouraged and enabled young people to celebrate their creativity
and heritage. The workshop video features short extracts that illustrate how young
people conceptualized their self-representation, filmed their smart actions and edited
them on smartphones, revealing their everyday struggles, such as peer-pressures or
environmental issues, or more broadly their daily life journeys. The videos displayed
their creative endeavors, which offset stereotypes about this community. When people
think of Porirua, they often think of the lower-income, state-housing areas of Porirua
East25. A recent article in the New Zealand newspaper The Dominion summarized it in
this way: ‘the crime stats were never over the top about fights and assaults – we know it’s
a safe place to come to – but the negative perception was still there’26. For young people
in a low-income and low-employment area the smartphone filmmaking workshop
provided an opportunity for them to celebrate their creativity. As part of the youth
leadership program young people could visit Massey University and learn more about
opportunities in Media, Art and Design. The talent of the young people become evident
when it came to selecting music for their short mobile-mentaries. Some groups decided to
sing and perform their own music rather than choosing creative commons licensed
118 Max R. C. Schleser
works. The editing sessions during the smartphone filmmaking workshops also
impressed the team. The young filmmakers used the editing application Splice27 with a
pace that reminded the facilitators of video action games. The Spirit of Rangatahi Mobile
Filmmaking Workshop video showcases these smart actions. The next case study illus-
trates how significant these skills can be in creating a public discourse and subsequently
self-representation. A young filmmaker and citizen with smartphone filmmaking skills,
Alex Dick produced a video showcasing how digital self-representation can lead to
community and political engagement, as summarized in this chapter through the notion
of smart action.
In 2015, rallies were held in the City of Melbourne, Australia, against the govern-
ment’s plans to close indigenous communities. Activists and citizens gathered at Flinders
station, which is one of Melbourne’s busiest train stations and transport hubs. In
Response We Closed Flinders (2015) captures the electric atmosphere of that day. The
opening credits and the documentary’s subtitles are depicted in Facebook announce-
ment and text-messaging style. This mobile-mentary reveals the filmmaker’s experience
and connects the filmmaker’s point of view to the audience. The mobile camera did not
catch the attention of the policemen nor the protesters and, with a phone in his pocket,
Alex Dick was able to use the microphone to record sounds. He used this strategy dis-
creetly to get up close to his subjects without creating inhibitions. Alex Dick described
his observation as being ‘invisible’ in a crowd, and yet providing a unique perspective
from the point of view of the person holding the camera. The images presented bring one
closer to the level of observer, while the soundtrack plays on the incoherency and con-
fusion of being in a large crowd, where nothing is at the forefront, but where the barrage
of color and sound becomes the focus. The use of slow motion helps put some of the more
surreal moments under the microscope, bringing one further into a personal experience
of the event28. The notion of smart action crystallizes in this work: the filmmaker cap-
tured his experience and shared this on social media, involving his smart action with and
on behalf of a local community. In Response We Closed Flinders demonstrates how
individuals can use smartphones for filming and disseminate their mobile-mentaries via

Figure 9.3 In Response We Closed Flinders (2015). Courtesy Alex Dick

Smart [Phone] Filmmakers 119
social media. By means of using editing apps filmmakers can edit on location and further
craft their smart actions before disseminating these online. This is significant as one can
embed footage with a context as one would like to position or present it, rather than
upload the work unedited, which could then be online without little context and could
more easily be appropriated in unintended ways.

Cultural Shift: Towards Smart [Political] Action

In Thinking Through Digital Media, Dale Hudson and Patricia Zimmerman argue for an
approach beyond the claims of mediation (realism) and immediacy (truth) signaling the
limitations of visual evidence29. Digital media, including databases, network and online
media, shift the analysis from fixed modes (expository, observational, personal) towards
open modes (collaborative, reflexive, interactive); ‘structures tend to be modular rather
than linear: meaning is produced by relationality rather than causality. Mobile phone
movies have the potential to dislodge expectations of high production values without the
apolitical relativisms of DIY30 discourses’. Within this media ecology Hudson and
Zimmerman state that meaning becomes mobile in the sense of contingent and pro-
visional, that is, speculative rather than conclusive ‘ : : : meaning as always in process, as
something that can be subjected to another layer of analysis and interpretation rather
than something fixed and settled’.31
Mobile and smartphone filmmaking developed in interdependency with the rise of
video streaming websites, the recognition of ‘user-generated content’ and more gen-
erally the World Wide Web. As much as the theoretical framework of media conver-
gence has been studied as a social form of interaction32 and not just a technological
infrastructure, this chapter approaches the notion of smart action beyond the tech-
nological connotations. Connectivity is thus understood not only as a technical
infrastructure for mobile and smartphones, but also in the social construct. Reel
Health supports the case of the medical and nurse students and provided means to gain
support for their cause. This smartphone video illustrates how the students dis-
seminated their messages and actions to a global audience. Spirit of Rangatahi enabled
the young people to celebrate their ethnic backgrounds and cultural identity. And In
Response We Closed Flinders further developed the community aspect by showing
how people connected via social media to raise an issue in the interest of the public.
These smartphone films and smart actions demonstrate potential to create self-
representations for communities. These digital artefacts contribute to the formation of
identity projects and showcase that individuals collectively can create change. The
active process in creating representations, rather than being told what to believe in, is
part of the evolution of images within visual culture. Within this discussion it is key to
implement the understanding that the mobile filmmaking examples discussed focus on
exploration of the digital self and political action as community-based, rather than
broadcast affordances. Community refers here to people who together work towards
realizing a vision that they share. In this context smart action operates on a micro level
and speaks to everyone that the community can reach through their smart (and
political) actions. Smart is thus embracing the creative practices associated with
mobile and smartphone filmmaking. Smart actions capture a moment or experience
and embed this moment of change in one’s identity. The terminology of smart action
further expand Jenkins’ understanding of a cultural shift through the ‘consumer’s
active participation’33. He defines this as collective intelligence and argues that these
120 Max R. C. Schleser
constructs should be recognized as ‘an alternative source of media power’34. The
discussed mobile-mentaries made a difference within their community – whether
sustainable skills for social action, imaginative or affective explorations or docu-
mented events that otherwise would not have been talked about, these videos had an
impact on the filmmakers, participants and/or the audience. Moreover, filmmakers
and creative collectives shared their skills working with trusts, community groups and
social enterprise to advocate for social change. As a consequence, different political
and social issues representing the creator’s agency and points of view resulted in a
With the emergence of video-sharing platforms (such as YouTube in 2005) and
smartphones as filmmaking devices, one can perceive a development towards a dynamic
media ecology. As a contemporary phenomenon, self-representation is intimately
entwined with digital culture35. Writing in Self-Representation and Digital Culture,
Nancy Thumim attempts to define digital culture, pointing to the ‘affordances and the
constraints resulting from digital technologies that shape everyday life across its multiple
facets’36. It is of interest to note that Self-Representation and Digital Culture neither
engages nor mentions mobile devices or smartphones. On the contrary, in Mobile Media
Making in an Age of Smartphones (2014), Berry and myself comment that one should
consider that most people on a global scale access the Internet on smartphones rather
than desktop computers. The emergence of apps and social media is intertwined with
digital communities and developing creative practices (such as iPhoneography, mobile-
mentaries and mobile social media) that surfaced on the Internet, significantly con-
tributing to self-representation and digital culture. Smart action embraces the idea that
engagement through creative practice is produced to be shared and is ephemeral37 in
nature. The early mobile media aesthetics that emerged from 2004 to 2008 illustrated
how low-tech cameras and small lenses create meaningful connections to audiences.
Smart actions further developed this authentic self-representation, providing us with the
agency to set our agendas. Without a curated screening, such as the MINA screenings,
that puts the spotlight on smartphone filmmaking, these celebrated alternatives could
easily be overshadowed by entertainment and standard industry production approaches.
As a new genre and format, mobile filmmaking has achieved international recognition.
In an interview in the Next Web38 I stated that mobile innovation that aims to be sus-
tainable should aspire and strive to establish strong social interactions and links through
engaging local communities. This chapter illustrated the social aspect of innovation in a
trajectory as community artists or photographers have developed through activist,
community art projects or photo voice methods. While the filmmaking tools become
more accessible and simultaneously provide broadcasting quality video in our pockets,
the challenge is now to convince institutions, social enterprise and creative industries to
embed this new form of creative practice and storytelling into their agendas, policies and
day-to-day business. Following the omnipresence of video on the net with all its facets
ranging from live video to 3608 video, HTML5 and AR (Augmented Reality), the
framework of engagement becomes key. This chapter exemplified three smartphone
videos and their processes in order to inspire and interact with smartphone filmmaking.
In this context one should not only consider mobile and smartphone media as screen
media, such as TV or desktop computers, but as a social interactive and multi-nodal
network media that links to communities and provides new insights for filmmaking,
while providing access in many respects to a global audience. The notions of sociability
and connectivity are and will be key in the future of smartphone filmmaking.
Smart [Phone] Filmmakers 121
This chapter outlined three mobile and smartphone films. These digital artefacts con-
tribute to the discussion of the evolution of the moving image, as mobile, smartphone
and pocket filmmaking has now reached a critical mass, as I have outlined in this chapter.
Mobile and smartphone filmmaking embraces open frameworks including more
collaborative and reflexive storytelling approaches. The chosen examples illustrate how
representations are crafted in a modular fashion and examine how meaning is produced
in transnational environments and locative places. Through mobile, smartphone and
pocket filmmaking workshops, communities can create self-representations through
their agendas such as health crises in Tanzania, celebrating diversity in New Zealand/
Aotearoa or documenting an event ignored by mainstream media. By creating awareness
about their situations, their voice can be heard. Moreover, smart action as demonstrated
in the film In Response We Closed Flinders can capture snapshots that might otherwise
not be recorded or could be portrayed in a different light by mainstream media. As
mobile filmmaking as a genre of its own is quite diverse and undergoes a constant
innovation process, this chapter explored a glimpse of the various approaches in an
international context. Mobile and smartphone filmmaking allows local voices, ideas and
agendas to be shared within communities globally. As a creative practice it can connect
people and embrace connections among filmmakers and audiences. Thus smartphone
filmmaking can support digital constructs of identity and agency, which are more
important at this time than ever before. This chapter illustrated the evolution from
mobile filmmaking’s aesthetic development of personal and intimate representations
towards developing smart political actions in the form of self-representation through
community-engaged projects. These representations in the form of smart actions can
make audiences reconsider opportunities, reflect on a moment of change or ignite a new
direction for filmmakers and participants themselves. Smartphone filmmakers can be
the inclusive and responsible social agent who, in connection with their peers, can
produce, create and share smart actions that afford an evolution of images, which in turn
can fast-forward (>>) towards a cultural shift.

1 Within this chapter the terminology mobile phone film and smartphone film are used. Works
prior to 2001 are referred to as mobile phone films and after 2011 as smartphone films.
2 M. Schleser, “International Mobile Innovation Screenings”, 2011–2016,
3 See or for details about
screening programs and screening committees.
4 M. Schleser, Mobile-Mentary. Mobile Documentaries in the Mediascape (Saarbrücken: LAP
Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011).
5 C. Baker, M. Schleser, K. Molga, “Aesthetics of Mobile Media Art,” International Journal of
Media Practice 10(2) (2009): 01–122.
6 Our contemporary understanding of smartphone refers rather to the GS88 device that
Ericsson introduced in 1997 (McCarty 2011 online –
2011/12/06/the-history-of-the-smartphone/#.tnw_RqrAIVnl). Within the context of this
chapter the development of camera phone technology is briefly outlined in the section A
Brief Overview of Early Mobile and Smartphone Films. In order to place an emphasis on
creativity and filmmaking, smart action is developed as a terminology as an intervention
beyond a technological and/or an industry discourse. I chose the term smart action to point to
the political implication and community engagement, which is outlined in detail in the last
122 Max R. C. Schleser
two sections of the chapter. In psychology, management and health care, among other fields,
a smart action planning model means specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound
action. This chapter investigates the engagement through creativity and thus adds a new
perspective to these approaches.
7 M. Schleser, 2011 ILIB 58.
8 In Europe the Nokia 7650 and in the US the Sanyo SCP-5300 camera phone gained popularity
quickly and shot in 640x480 pixels with 0.3-megapixel cameras.
9 Hawley in Schleser 2011 ILIB.
10 F. Duarte and De Souza e Silva “, Mobilefest and the Emergence of a Mobile Culture
in Brazil,” in The Routledge Companion to Mobile Media (London: Routledge).
11 M. Schleser, ‘FILMOBILE’ NODE.London Reader II (2008) Published by NODE. London,
under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 England & Wales License.
12 The first smartphone feature film Olive (2011 by Patrick Gilles and Hooman Khalili)
filmed on a Nokia smartphone applied Hollywood production means (full lens sets, cast
and crews, scripted drama standard production means and financing) with the exception to
exchange an Arri camera with a Nokia image-capturing device. While technical standards
and production values might have been archived, this film adds no contribution to the
specifics and values of mobile and smartphone filmmaking and thus is not a reference for
13 The FILMOBILE exhibition included works such as Speech Marks (Steve Hawley, 2004, UK),
Being There (Anders Weberg and Robert Willim, 2006, Sweden), Dance into Action (Henry
Reichhold, 2006, UK), Dark Glass (Clio Barnard, 2006, UK), Yours and Mine (Anne Massoni,
2007, USA). Schleser 2008.
The FILMOBILE screening featured Nausea (Matthew Noel-Tod, 2005, UK), Max with a
Keitai (Max Schleser, 2008, Japan/UK) and SMS Sugar Man (Aryan Kaganof, 2006/2007,
South-Africa). With the exception of SMS Sugar Man these early mobile films belong to the
domain of experimental film and documentary (Schleser 2011, 116).
All of these works relate to the discussion of this chapter revealing tendencies of self-
representation, first-person filmmaking, diversifying voices and introducing filmmakers’
subjective viewpoints beyond the mainstream.
14 Schleser, MINA eBook (online). 2012,
Schleser MINA eBook (online). 2013,
15 Alongside smartphone filmmaking, pocket cameras emerged. An example of this is the Hero3+
from Go Pro that featured 1080p video, which was released in 2013. The term pocket camera
references the Pocket Film Festival and it is worth noting that, technically speaking, the video
capacity of small-scale cameras is now comparable in terms of video formats. As Go Pros
connect to smartphones via apps there is a mutual connection with smartphones. The filmmak-
ing practices of pocket cameras are also interrelated with the qualities of mobile and smart-
phone filmmaking.
16 M. Berry and M. Schleser, eds. Mobile Media Making in an Age of Smartphones (London:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
17 Submissions: May 2015–July 2015: 346
2 Afghanistan, 2 Algeria, 1 Argentina, 4 Australia, 1 Bangladesh, 1 Belgium, 2 Bosnia and
Herzegovina, 3 Brazil, 1 Bulgaria, 10 Canada, 5 China, 1 Columbia, 1 Cyprus, 2 Egypt,
9 France, 4 Germany, 1 Hong Kong, 28 India, 1 Indonesia, 25 Iran, 5 Ireland, 2 Israel, 8 Italy,
1 Japan, 1 Kazakhstan, 3 South Korea, 1 Kosovo, 3 Mexico, 1 Moldova, 1 Morocco, 1 Nepal,
3 Netherlands, 1 Nigeria, 1 Norway, 4 Pakistan, 1 Peru, 1 Philippines, 1 Portugal, 6 Russia,
1 Serbia, 1 Slovenia, 3 South Africa, 12 Spain, 1 Sri Lanka, 2 Syria, 2 Taiwan, 2 Thailand,
6 Turkey, 1 United Arab Emirates, 15 UK and 26 USA.
Jan 2016–June 2016: 54
14 Australia, 2 Belarus, 5 Canada, 1 China, 1 Columbia, 7 France, 1 Germany, 1 Italy,
1 South Korea, 1 New Zealand, 1 Norway, 1 Poland, 2 Russian Federation, 1 Spain, 1 Sri Lanka,
1 Sweden, 3 United Kingdom, 9 USA.

The difference in overall submissions is based upon the introduction of a small submission/
administration fee. Not all films submitted in 2015/2016 were mobile and smartphone films
Smart [Phone] Filmmakers 123
and did not qualify for the screening; thus the total number may vary. The point for consider-
ation is the international diversity, which is also reflected in the screening program.
18 ‘ : : : we are witnessing nothing less than the emergence of new production systems generated
within communities of interest, not nation states or companies’ (Uricchio in Grainge 2011,
32). Uricchio, W. (2011) “The Recurrent, the Recombinatory and the Ephemeral” in Grainge
(ed.) Ephemeral Media. London: BFI / Palgrave Macmillan.
19 In a presentation about smartphone filmmaking at the Antipodes Symposium at Massey
University, Karl Kane, Director Design + Democracy research unit at Massey University’s
College of Creative Arts, New Zealand tweeted a picture of my mobile experimentation from
2006: @karlwkane ‘The mighty @MaxMobile drops some democratic filmmaker wisdom at
20 Reel Health in Schleser 2011 ILIB.
21 Tisselli in Berry and Schleser 2014, 91, ILIB.
22 Tisselli in Berry and Schleser 2014, 91, ILIB.
23 Tigo Corporate Social Responsibility supported the video. Tigo is part of Millicom Inter-
national, a network provider for Africa and Latin America.
24 I conceptualized and led the MINA mobile filmmaking team who ran a two-week mobile
filmmaking program as part of the Local Vibe – Spirit of Rangatahi in Cannons Creek,
Wellington, New Zealand / Aotearoa. The project developed a framework for Youth Lead-
ership and developing sustainable digital literacy skills that enable these young people to
consider their agency. The young filmmakers, aged 11 to 17, were invited to be part of the
International Mobile Innovation Screening at Ng a Taonga Sound & Vision in Wellington in
28 Dick in Schleser 2015 online ILIB.
29 D. Hudson and P. Zimmerman, Thinking Through Digital Media: Transnational Environ-
ments and Locative Places (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). 101 ILIB.
30 Do it yourself.
31 Hudson and Zimmerman, 2015, 102, 104 ILIB.
32 H. Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: NYU Press,
2006). 3 and 21.
33 Ibid.
34 Jenkins 2006, 4 ILIB.
35 N. Thumim, Self-Representation and Digital Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan,
36 Thumim 2012, 10 ILIB.
37 P, Grainge, Ephemeral Media: Transitory Screen Culture from Television to YouTube
(London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
38 T. Sterkenburg, “What does the future hold for the mobile industry?” in The Next Web
(online), 2012,
10 Am I Seen? The Reciprocal
Nature of Identity as
Leo Selvaggio

‘Am I seen?’ is a question I have been asking myself for several decades now. As a young
boy with white skin trying to embody the culture of his immigrant Colombian family, as
a queer teenager who could pass as straight, and as an artist examining the materiality of
his own identity, if, how and when am I seen have been integral questions in both
developing my creative research and making practice. What I have recognized over
the years is that there is a tenuous relationship between the identity that refers to the
self – the conglomeration of thoughts and values I have about myself as an individual –
and the perceived identity others have interpreted and adopted. The image I have of
myself is not always the image that is seen. When thinking about this relationship, I am
reminded of a quote by John Berger from the beginning of his seminal work on the nature
of the image as object, Ways of Seeing:

Soon after we can see, we are aware that we can also be seen. The eye of the other
combines with our own eye to make it fully credible that we are part of the visible

Identity is a product of our own internal creation, but it is also created in the perception
or ‘eye’ of an external other, and this relationship is reciprocal. My identity, ‘Leo,’ exists
in multiplicity, within the perceptions and memories of several others. Who I am is
relative. This thinking has led me to pursue the notion that identity is flexible, mutable
and ultimately collaborative.
When viewed through this lens, to answer my opening question with a binary ‘yes’ or
‘no’ seems illogical. A better question would be, ‘How much of the identity I create and
present is seen, and how can I actuate or control the manner in which it is seen?’ This
question is more pressing with the advent of social media platforms. The technologies
behind Facebook, Twitter and other social media have shifted the makeup of indi-
vidual identity dramatically towards the external. The presentation and thus con-
struction of identity now occurs on a global scale, and authorship over one’s persona
on the Internet is decidedly distributed. Data mining by marketing companies, prac-
tices like Twitter doxing2 and facial recognition photo tagging are all examples of
this relatively new trend of external media and information generation about the
While this may sound like a nightmare, there is hope in models like artist Roy Ascott’s
1983 piece La Plissure du Texte. In this telematic artwork, Ascott collaborated with
artists from around the world to simultaneously author a single text from multiple
Am I Seen? Identity as Technology 125
locations. In his essay ‘Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?’ he describes how both
the internal and external can exist collaboratively:

Telematic culture means, in short, that we do not think, see, or feel in isolation.
Creativity is shared, authorship is distributed. Telematic culture amplifies the
individual’s capacity for creative thought and action, for more vivid and intense
experience, for more informed perception, by enabling a participation in the
production of global vision through networked interaction with other minds,
other sensibilities, other sensing and thinking systems across the planet – thought
circulating in the medium of data through a multiplicity of different cultural,
geographical, social, and personal layers.3

In Ascott’s view, the relationship between the individual and technology is a positive
one. This relationship between the self and technology became the foundation for my
research, not only because I agree with Ascott, but because my approach to technology
is the same as it is to identity: a reciprocal relationship between the internal and
For the purpose of this chapter, I will consider technology to be the externalization of
an internal human process or ability into a ‘tool’ to be used by an other. For example,
language is the externalization of thought for the purpose of communication with an
other. The abacus is a tool that physically demonstrates an internal mathematical pro-
cess. Therefore, technology can be thought of as a means by which we ‘share’ with others
by externalizing that which would normally come from an internal self through
invention. Take the journal – or more appropriately, the blog – for instance, which allows
us to commit our internal thoughts to paper. By doing so, we are able to externally store
what would otherwise require considerable memorization, allowing our mental
capacity free for other tasks. In this way, technology acts as a prosthesis of sorts.
The best example of Ascott’s theory on distributed authorship in the modern day is
open-source culture. ‘Open-source’ is the practice and belief that technology’s fullest
potential is achieved through community-oriented collaboration rather than the cor-
porate pursuit of proprietary production. This practice, which is prominent in software
development, starts with an individual software engineer sharing a base program,
known as a kernel, with a community. The community is encouraged not only to use the
kernel program but to modify, add to and even rewrite the program either to make it
better or to tailor it to a particular need. In that same spirit, when a member of the
community enhances or changes the kernel program, they share it again so that it can be
used, modified and developed by others. Through this collaborative and iterative pro-
cess, a more complete, inclusive and thoughtful program is created.
The connections between self, perception and the collaborative possibilities of
technology lead me to wonder what might occur if a process like open-source was
applied to identity. In other words, if an identity could be treated as ‘kernel,’ what
might that person become when shared openly with a community? In 2011, this line of
inquiry led me to create, which has laid the groundwork for my creative
research over the last six years. is an interactive online artwork in
which I invite others to use my data and online identity as tangible material to
manipulate, develop and even destroy. I did this by publishing all of the usernames and
passwords to my online social media accounts, as well as providing contexts for how
126 Leo Selvaggio
others might interact with my identity. Visitors were prompted to write biographical
texts based on images of me, to tweet as me, to get me more friends on Facebook, to
digitally alter my images in Photoshop, to take over my avatar in Second Life, to email
as me, etc. (See Figure 10.1).
While initially concerned with the collaborative capacity of self-representation on
digital platforms like social media, the work eventually became entangled with political
aspects of digital identity, such as our relationship to personal data. I wanted to examine
what exactly others would do with open access to my digital self. I was interested not
only in the tension between public and private information, but also in the performance
of carefully curated online identities. How do social technologies like Facebook shape
the way we present ourselves, and how do we go about editing the realities of our lives for
online consumption? And if we create or recreate ourselves through our technologies,
how can we activate those identities and use these digital platforms to leverage systems of
power? had various results. One participant used my Twitter account to
publicly denounce the University of Illinois after it rescinded the tenured appointment of
Professor Steven Salaita (See Figure 10.2).
Another visitor flirted with one of my ‘friends’ on Facebook, leading me to a very
awkward conversation. Oddly, the most significant occurrence happened offline. I was
discussing hairstyles with a friend when they very assertively stated that they would like
to see me with a mohawk. Though ‘IRL’ or ‘in real life’ performance was not an intended
part of the project, I decided to pursue the suggestion, despite being concerned about
how I might be perceived in the workplace. Through that experience, I learned some-
thing about myself that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I would have never chosen to get a
mohawk on my own, and yet it has become one of the best expressions of my self, and one
of the best examples of distributed authorship and the reciprocal relationship between
self and perception, to this day. Another person turned their perception into an action,
and that action became part of my self-image.
Through, I built a conceptual framework that establishes my identity
as a material with the potential to become something other than a self-referential image.
In every example produced by the project, ‘Leo Selvaggio’ became a container or conduit
for some external purpose other than presenting myself outwardly to the world. In other
words, asserts that my identity, and thus any identity, is capable of being
a technology.
I spent the next several years, from 2011 to 2014, parsing through what this could
mean and developing this framework through experiments and artworks. In early 2014,
I returned to my initial question and the relationship between seeing and being seen,
which led me to an examination of surveillance culture. Specifically, I was drawn to the
use of facial recognition technology in large surveillance systems like Chicago’s Virtual
Shield, because the face is arguably the most recognizable aspect of an individual’s
identity. Oddly enough, another word for ‘face’ is ‘visage,’ from the Latin ‘videre’ – ‘to
see.’ Surveillance provided me a context in which to use my identity as a technology for
socially engaged political action against an over-reaching and unjust governmental
At this point, it would be worth explaining how facial recognition works and my
approach toward jamming such a technology. Facial recognition is an image-based
algorithmic approach in which a system compares the image it obtains from a surveil-
lance camera with a reference image it has stored in a database. It does this through a
Am I Seen? Identity as Technology 127
process called feature detection, wherein it analyzes the relationships between facial
features, such as the distance and proportional scale between eyes, cheeks, lips, chin, etc.
When the system determines a match, it can then attribute the data attached to the
reference image (such as name, gender, race, etc.) to the face in the surveillance video or
Rather than trying to disrupt the image-gathering or facial recognition functions
of surveillance systems, I decided to embrace the working model of facial recognition
so that I could subvert that design. All design makes some assumptions about
the user, interface and environment, and those assumptions can often be exploited.
Taking a cybernetic approach, I began to ask what lends the facial recognition
process the authority to identify an individual on camera. If I accept that facial rec-
ognition matches faces in camera-based documentation reliably with faces in image
databases, then what, if any, assumptions are made that enable this technology to be
statistically valid and accurate? The answer to this question is that facial recognition
systems make the assumption that faces are inherently reliable indicators of individual
While this is a logical conclusion, my current ongoing work, URME Surveillance,
operates by asking, ‘What if that assumption were false? What if faces were not reliable
indicators of individual identity?’ The word ‘face’ is related to the Latin ‘facere,’
meaning ‘to make or do.’ It became apparent that my goal was not simply to understand
the face as a way of seeing identity, but to activate the face as a site of resistance, and so I
began to create the conditions in which the assumption that faces are reliable indicators
of identity would be false.
Attacking this assumption provided me with a very simple solution: present the system
with a face that was not connected to the identity of the body being surveilled. In May of
2014, I launched URME Surveillance, a project in which I invited participants to wear a
photorealistic 3D printed prosthetic of my face in public spaces. This caused facial
recognition systems to attribute the wearer’s actions to me. By publishing my own face
for public use, I enabled the wearer to subvert highly networked surveillance through the
creation and proliferation of disinformation about the identity ‘Leo Selvaggio.’ (See
Figures 10.3 and 10.4)
Through the URME Surveillance Identity Prosthetic, I was able to do two things.
The first was to protect the wearer’s identity from identification by facial recognition
systems. The second, which is theoretical in nature, is that, with the communal par-
ticipation of wearers on a large-enough scale, with enough ‘Leos’ running around, we
could collectively produce enough disinformation about ‘Leo Selvaggio’ to call into
question facial recognition systems’ ability to accurately determine the true identity of
a face captured in camera-based documentation.
What I had not anticipated from working on URME Surveillance was the profound
effect it would have on my internal identity. When asking others, specifically self-
identified women and people of color, to put on a male-presenting prosthetic made of
‘white skin,’ I had to confront the entanglement between surveillance (seeing, being
seen and the self), the history of patriarchal power and, ultimately, my implication in
both. What I discovered was that, despite the fact that I identify as queer and Latino,
because of my ability to ‘pass’ as identities of privilege, my perceived identity had
become my lived reality. Others have always afforded me all the privilege of a white,
hetero-normative, male identity, and so, despite my own self-identification, I am
essentially that.
128 Leo Selvaggio
I would be remiss not to mention that reflecting on my adopted white hetero-
normative privilege also set me down a different line of inquiry. URME Surveillance
has proposed a conceptual framework in which privilege could be distributed or
externalized through the use of prosthesis. While it is not within the scope of this
chapter to explore the various implications of such a claim, I argue that, by donning the
prosthetic, the wearer is, in essence, performing white male hetero-normative priv-
ilege. In this way, my identity, the one created by others and internalized, has the ability
and responsibility to become a technology for the benefit of others. I do not pretend to
claim that the URME Surveillance Prosthetic is a panacea, nor that it necessarily
accomplishes what I have just proposed, but if we cannot see a future in which privilege
is extinguished, then URME Surveillance, however fantastic, paints a dream in which
that privilege might be accessed by anyone. This fantasy is the future my practice strives
to realize.
Within the first month of its release, URME Surveillance went viral, and with it, my
face and identity became a topic for countless blog readers, YouTube watchers and
Twitter users. In that first month, of the 150 or so mentions of either myself or URME
Surveillance on the Internet, I had been contacted only three times for an interview. The
writers were crafting their own stories about me. To some, ‘Leo Selvaggio’ was a freedom
fighter. To others, ‘Leo Selvaggio’ was an idiot. To some, I am egotistical; some have
pointed out my work’s similarities to BDSM because of the willingness with which I
submit my identity. Over the last three years, my face has become a metaphor for privacy
rights, criminal activity and even beauty (or lack thereof.) What struck me most was how
quickly my face was appropriated and assimilated for others’ political use. In 2015, just a
year after URME Surveillance launched, a friend sent me a link to a Google image search
of the word ‘face.’ Mine was the 31st result, only two results behind that of President
Barack Obama (See Figure 10.5).
I have pictures from all over the world of people wearing the paper version of my
mask that they either downloaded for free from or
picked up at an exhibition, and I am a different person to each one of them (See Figures
10.2 & 10.6).
So: am I seen? The answer would have to be a resounding ‘no,’ at least not in the way I
had originally asked it. Instead, I would say that we, Leo Selvaggio, are seen, and I can’t
wait to see who we become next – to see if the community of tens, hundreds, or thou-
sands that wear my face will change this world for the better.
Figure 10.1 Untitled Digital Compilation of Screenshots, captured in April, 2011, Chicago IL
Figure 10.2 Untitled Digital Compilation of Various Twitter and Facebook Feeds, all digitally
captured on April 16th, 2017
Figure 10.3 Urme Surveillance Identity Prosthetic in 4 Views with Original Source Material,
May, 2014, Chicago IL

Figure 10.4 Untitled Documentation of URME Surveillance Identity Prosthetic on Wabash Ave,
May, 2014, Chicago IL
Figure 10.5 Untitled Google ‘Face’ Search Screenshot, captured on October 9th, 2015

Figure 10.6 Untitled Documentation of Art Souterrain, February, 2015

Am I Seen? Identity as Technology 133
1 John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: Penguin Books, 1973), 9.
2 ‘Doxing’ refers to the Internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting private or ident-
ifiable information (especially personally identifiable information) about an individual or
3 Roy Ascott, “Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?” Art Journal 49(3) (1990): 243.

Roy Ascott, “Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?” Art Journal 49(3) (1990): 241–47.
John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London, Penguin Books, 1973).
11 The Future Evolution
of the Image
Ingrid Hoelzl and Remi Marie

Intro: From the kino-eye to the Electric Man

‘Machine vision’ is not an invention of the digital age; it dates back to the invention of the
photographic and filmic machine of vision where images were recorded automatically,
and it is logical to think that, at some point, these machines will no longer need us to
function or to look at their images or data. Already in the 1920s, experimental film-
maker Dziga Vertov imagined mechanical kino-eyes not only replacing human eyes, but
becoming autonomous. In this well-known passage from his Kinok manifestos, Vertov
lends his voice to such a camera-robot:

I am kino-eye, I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, show you the world as only I can
see it. Now and forever, I free myself from human immobility, I am in constant
motion, I draw near, then away from objects, I crawl under, I climb onto them. I
move apace with the muzzle of a galloping horse, I plunge full speed into a crowd, I
outstrip running soldiers, I fall on my back, I ascend with an airplane, I plunge and
soar together with plunging and soaring bodies. Now I, a camera, fling myself
along their resultant, maneuvering in the chaos of movement, recording
movement, starting with movements composed of the most complex combi-
nations. Freed from the rule of sixteen-seventeen frames per second, free of the
limits of space and time, I put together any given points in the universe, no matter
where I’ve recorded them. My path leads to the creation of a fresh perception of the
world. I decipher in a new way a world unknown to you.
(Vertov 1984 [1923]: 17f, emphasis ours)

Vertov’s manifesto – in line with other manifestos of the historical avant-garde,

from Futurism to Bauhaus – implies the idea of machine vision as not only auton-
omous, but also fundamentally superior to human vision: ‘We cannot improve the
making of our eyes, but we can endlessly perfect the camera’ (1984 [1923]: 15).
At what point will these ‘new instruments of vision’, as Bauhaus experimental
photographer László Moholy-Nagy called them ([1932] 2002), no longer be
‘enhancements’ of human vision (from optical glasses to the Google Glass) but repla-
cements (robotic eyes)? But before examining the latest developments of machine vision,
its consequences and the decisive choices we are facing, we want to show that the
very principle of the machine of vision dates back to the beginning of Modernity,
the 15th century.
The Future Evolution of the Image 135
Machine of Vision and the Programme of the Image
In our book Softimage (Hoelzl and Marie 2015), the word ‘programme’ appears within a
family of terms: algorithm, software, computation, processing, programming. If these
terms, all gravitating around digitalization, seem almost interchangeable, we are in fact
using the term ‘programme’ in a larger yet very specific sense, that of the programme of
the image, or the image as a programme1, which is not a condition that emerged with
digitalization, but one that dates back to the Renaissance. This first part will explore the
way the programme of the image developed in the 15th century in an intricate relation
with the political programme of the time and the birth of the humanist episteme.
The original Greek meaning of programma is ‘public proclamation or notice’ and
‘injunction’ (Liddell and Scott 1940), stemming from prographein or ‘setting forth as a
public notice’. The current meanings of ‘plan or scheme’, ‘set of measures or activities’,
appear much later; programme in the sense of ‘software instructions’ in the 1940s.
Programme thus comes to mean both the announcement itself and its content: a political
programme, for instance, means both the series of actions that a given party proposes if
elected and the very announcement of this series of actions. Pro-gramm (‘to set forth’) is
closely linked to pro-ject (‘to throw forth’), whose meaning evolved from the Latin
projectum, ‘something prominent’, to the modern ‘plan’, ‘preliminary drawing’ and
‘tabulated statement’ (ibid.). Likewise, programme (in its original sense of pro-gramma)
can designate written or drawn inscriptions/injunctions – no distinction here between
the literal and the visual. Projection in the sense of ‘estimate, forecast’ has a similar
significance of futurity as programme and project. But it also has a more technical
meaning of both the method to represent a 3D space on a plane surface and its result (a
perspectival drawing or painting; a map).
When we are speaking of the programme of the image, we are speaking about an
epistemic revolution of which the perspectival image, in the 15th century, was one of the
principal instruments, the geometric and mathematical representability of the world
allowing its objectivation, its possession and mastery (Hoelzl and Marie 2015: 132). In
the Renaissance, the imaging of the world coincided with the project of modernity, or, as
Martin Heidegger put it in 1938 at the eve of World War II, ‘the fundamental event of
modernity is the conquest of the world as picture’ ([1938] 1977: 132–134). As a striking
synthesis of the etymology of programme and project as ‘setting’ or ‘throwing forth’,
Heidegger defines ‘picture’ not in mimetic terms, but in the sense of ‘to set out before
oneself and to set forth in relation to oneself’, the event of the world becoming picture
coinciding with the event of ‘man’s becoming subjectum in the midst of what is’
(emphasis in text). As a result, world picture and world view – ‘the position of man in the
midst of all that is’ – are closely linked. Human action conquers the world as picture, and
this ‘world picture’ in turn acts upon man. The image, then, is both representation and
action; it is both set out before oneself, appearing at a distance, and set forth in relation to
oneself: image and man relate to each other as part of ‘what is’ – image praxis and praxis
(enactment, embodiment) are intertwined.
But there is another dimension of the programme of the image in the humanist era that
we want to explore before extrapolating the results of this analysis to the current
posthumanist era. It is the dimension of the programme that is implicit in the image,
apparent but nevertheless unseen. What we have elsewhere called the photographic
paradigm of the image (Hoelzl and Marie 2015: 94–95) is the tacit assumption of the
136 Ingrid Hoelzl & Remi Marie
commensurability of representation and vision which forced their convergence in a
series of technological and perceptual adjustments: a machine of vision, and a powerful
one. One of the first operations due to this machine (and to the perspective protocol) is
the implementation of a new geometrical world view where the point of view of the
spectator coincides (on the picture plane) with the vanishing point, or the point of
infinity. The core of the perspective revolution, then, is less a reduction of the world to its
human (finite) dimensions as Panofsky (1991) and others have argued, but rather an
expansion of the human world into the infinite/divine space.2

From Geometry to Algorithm

The modern programme of the image, the principle of geometric projection of the world
scaled to human dimensions, has been running for about five centuries. It sustained the
programme of modernity that consisted in the ‘calculation, planning, and moulding of
all things’ (Heidegger [1938] 1977: 135). During this time, the convergence of vision and
representation has been continuously perfected, so that at the end of the 20th and at the
beginning of the 21st century, we make no difference between the way we see the world
and the photographic image3 – Augmented Reality works precisely because of this
common reference system of vision and representation. The modern machine of vision
and the modern machine of power have been functioning (and reinforcing each other) at
full speed. But the digital revolution brought a new dimension to the programme of the
image. Digitalization is not merely about the transformation of images into zeros and
ones, into bitstreams and pixels; it is about its algorithmization: compression and
decompression protocols such as JPEG or MPEG that reduce storage space/bandwidth
and Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocols regulating/routing its transfer
across digital networks etc.
With digitalization, the mathematics underlying the image is no longer merely geo-
metric but increasingly algorithmic: protocols that regulate when/how an image (or
image element) is displayed on screen, when/where/how it is being sent to/how it changes
if a user clicks on it (an ad for instance) or what is considered a suspicious visual pattern
and how it is detected etc. With navigable image databases, or rather databases that are
navigable as images, such as Google Street View, what the on-screen image actually
displays is subject to database updates, connection speed, screen resolution and nav-
igational options provided by the software and the real-time correlation with a given
user query or user location. This dynamic relation between data and data is the foun-
dation of the algorithmic paradigm of the image. No longer only a means or a medium of
human communication, the image today is a tool for human–machine and machine–
machine communication, and its new syntax is that of algorithms or finite sets of
instructions in which fixed values are replaced by variables.4 Algorithms are encoded
into programs, using computer languages, and are executed when running the program.
An algorithmic image, then, is de facto a (computer) program.
But, as we argued above, this paradigm shift (from geometry to algorithm) is actually a
paradigm superimposition, with the old paradigm (projection) being embedded into the
new paradigm (processing). This superimposition is made possible by the fact that
geometric perspective itself is a kind of algorithm: a finite series of instructions for the
construction (creating) and deconstruction (viewing) of images, an algorithm that is
based on, and generates, the (visual) commensurability of image and world. The real
revolution is then cybernetic: if the old algorithm of projection has fixed values, the new,
The Future Evolution of the Image 137
computational algorithms run in a real-time feedback loop with each action of the
viewer functioning as a new input. If the progressive convergence of vision and rep-
resentation has made possible the instrumentalization of the gaze since the 15th century,
its algorithmization has made of the image the centre of multiple operations: an ‘oper-
ative image’.5

From Hard- to Softimage

Are the two notions consecutive elements in a temporal/technological/ideological series?
The old hardimage, the solid image of a solid world, and the new softimage, the flexible
image of a flexible world? Let us examine this idea by going back to Renaissance
painting, where ‘hard’ (and we particularly think of mural painting and painting on
wood here) was the general mode of appearance of the image. Is The Ideal City (Veduta
di città idéale,1480–1484), the veduta (or view) of an ideal city commonly attributed to
Fra Carnevale (Figure 11.1), for instance, a hardimage?
The painting was most likely executed for the palace built by the Duke of Urbino
between 1470 and 1475. It is unclear whether the painting seeks to expose architectural,
urbanistic and humanist principles or rather the principles of perspectival represen-
tation. But most probably these principles are intertwined : : : The Ideal City is first of all
an ideal image, constructed following a strict protocol – that of central (one-point)
perspective. The power of this image that still captures us after five centuries resides in its
performativity where the accuracy of its protocol of representation and the accuracy of
what it represents mutually legitimate each other: the image is the geometric projection
of an ideal city constructed following an architectural programme of good governance
and in its ideal (geometric) construction mirrors that very political programme. Art
historians Hansen and Spicer argue that architecture stands as a metaphor for good
government (2005: 62–67). In fact, it is the representation of the Duke of Urbino’s
political programme where architecture is the arkhé, the beginning and foundation of
social order.6

Figure 11.1 Fra Carnevale (attributed), Veduta di città idéale, 1480–1484, oil and tempera on
panel, 77.4 cm 3 220 cm. Walters Art Museum Baltimore. Acquired by Henry
Walters with the Massarenti Collection, 1902. Donated to Wikimedia Commons
by the Walters Art Museum as part of a cooperation project
accessed 12 February 2017. Public domain.
138 Ingrid Hoelzl & Remi Marie
Is The Ideal City a hardimage? It is as hard as a painted panel can be, and its perfect
geometry displays solidity, even if it does not show an existing city, but an ideal city; even
if it is not an image of the world, but an idea of the world,7 not a view of a city, but a
political project. But a hardimage does not need to be a perfect copy of the world; in fact
it does not need to be a copy at all : : : Brunelleschi’s experiment carried out in 1420 is
usually interpreted as the proof of central perspective in the sense that it allows us to
perfectly align a 2D projection of reality with 3D reality. But the perspective protocol
operates in fact in reverse: it is not so much a projection of reality on a plane, but the
projection of our will on the world. The reason why The Ideal City is indeed a hardimage
is that its projection is a strong and sustainable one, a solid foundation for the humanist
project of the construction of a new subject, well located, well temporalized (and
tempered) and, most importantly, in view (in plain sight). What we have called a
hardimage is precisely the place for the construction of this subjectivity (through
painting and, later, photography), and it is the solidity of the subject that determines the
solidity of its representation, not the contrary.
But the perfect visibility of the modern subject allows her in turn to see, and to face (as
a solid group) her opponent: the enemy army, the state, the industry etc. It allows for the
dynamics of war or revolution taking place in the line of (human) sight, in what Lev
Manovich has called the ‘geometry of the visible’ (2006: 223), a dynamic that the control
society tries hard to undermine, taking over from their enemies the strategies of guerrilla
and asymmetric warfare: invisibility and latent threat of web and GPS tracking, RFID,
drones etc. The visible measures of surveillance (airport scans, CCTV cameras) are but a
camouflage of a system of total control, whose imperfection (invoked after each terrorist
attack) is only apparent because what the control society relies on is in fact permanent
insecurity (at work, in the streets and at home). In today’s Empire or global system of
power, in the words of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, where the multitude ‘both
sustains the Empire and calls for its destruction’ (2000: 61), the hardimage is replaced by
a softimage, multiple and invisible, ‘ever more “democratic”, ever more immanent to the
social field, distributed throughout the brains and bodies of the citizens’ (23).8

Dystopic Image
In short, if the project of modernity was based on the visible (panopticon) and the politics
of representation (The Ideal City), postmodernity is built upon representation as politics
and we seem to have entered a new epoch where the invisible (an-opticon) partakes in a
 zek 2009) of dissimulation. An interesting example of the dialectics of
post-politics (Zi
the visible/invisible can be found in the series Limit Telephotography (2006–2010) by
the American artist Trevor Paglen (Figure 11.2). For this series, Paglen employs high-end
optical systems to photograph top-secret military sites; sites that do not exist on the map
and whose existence and cost are not publicly disclosed.
This image claims to show the invisible: a military base that neither exists on the map,
nor in the official military budget of the US. Actually, the image doesn’t show much;
what it shows – three brown buildings with some unidentifiable white shapes in the
background – is the limits of vision, the border of the visible/invisible. Yet its caption –
Canyon Hangars and Unidentified Vehicle; Tonopah Test Range, NV; Distance approx.
18 miles; 12:45 pm – tells the invisible: the name and the kind of building, its location and
the distance from which it has been photographed, and, on his website, Paglen gives a
detailed account of its history as a base for stealth fighter planes (planes designed to be
The Future Evolution of the Image 139

Figure 11.2 Trevor Paglen, Canyon Hangars and Unidentified Vehicle; Tonopah Test Range, NV;
Distance approx. 18 miles; 12:45 pm, 2006, C-print, 30 3 36 in. Credit: Trevor
Paglen; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco

invisible to radar, visible light, radio frequency and audio), but cannot reveal any details
about current activities there, which seem to be both military and scientific.9
Compared with The Ideal City, this image exemplifies the new mechanics of the image
and of power that we mentioned at the beginning of this text: the former is a perfect
image of a perfectly ordered world, where everything is exposed in plain sight (even if the
popular buildings in the background are partly occluded). The latter is a blurry image of
a secret base where all parts of the image are equally underexposed. Hence, we have
moved from a regime of the visible and enlightenment to a regime of the invisible and of
obfuscation. Of course, the story of the two images is different and Paglen’s photo is not
a commissioned work for a prince of our times (nowadays artists rarely work on com-
mission anyway). But how tempting to imagine a large size print of The Tonopah Test
Range photograph hanging on the wall of Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s personal office at
the Googleplex in Mountain View – as a symbol of both secrecy and transparency:
secrecy of its algorithms and of its data centres (heavily guarded like military bases);
transparency of user data : : : or should we better imagine it hanging in Google X, a secret
research lab run in an undisclosed Bay Area location?
140 Ingrid Hoelzl & Remi Marie
Another scenario is drafted in feminist posthumanism and ecophenomenology where
‘posthuman’ goes beyond humans in the sense that it no longer assumes a superior
position among all species, with a right to exploit its weaker members, other species and
natural resources, but is engaged in a ‘worlding’ (Haraway 1997) with other species,
both biological and technological and the entire ecosystem in what David Abram calls
‘animate earth’ (1996).
Let us consider the new field of possibilities this line of research opens for the image. It
is logical to think that, just as the perspectival image has been a central element in the
formation and consolidation of the humanist episteme which elevated ‘Man’ as the
centre and sovereign operator of the world, the future image will probably play an
important role in a posthumanist episteme where humans/technologies/nature are no
longer seen as separate (or even antagonistic) but as co-evolving (Stiegler 2014) and
co-laborating (Haraway 2008). Leaving behind the dichotomy of objective (machinic)
versus subjective (human-bound), we can consider images (or imaging) as a collaborative
practice across species, that is, between machines/robots and humans/animals and any
intermediary forms (cyborgs, biomachines etc.). In an earlier text, we have called this
future scenario the ‘postimage’, defined as ‘the collaboration of visioning humans/
animals, data/algorithms and, increasingly, autonomous machines’ (Hoelzl and Marie
2017: 73). Instead of being a new form of collaboration and community – a sensus com-
munis that transcends/envelops the individual sentient being and its actions – interspecies
collaboration indeed risks partaking in an oppressive system of collective forced labor
where exploitation of natural resources will reach a new level (gene engineering; species
grafting etc.) and where robotics, bio-engineering and cybernetics will merge into one.
Consider for instance the latest state of the art in robotics, so-called ‘mixed swarms’
(Figure 11.3) comprising human, animal and machinic elements, each with their ‘cognitive
and motoric capacities’.10 These elements certainly ‘collaborate’, but even if such mixed
swarms may run autonomously, there is an instance of control built into them. This control
may be human (an emperor; an oligarchy), it may be algorithmic (with singularity being
achieved and computers having taken over), or it may be both (with humans still in
control). A good deal of funding is poured into this latter option of ensuring that the advent
of ‘superintelligence’ will ‘benefit humanity’.11 The problem here is the implicit definition
and measurement of human intelligence in computational terms, a fight lost in advance, as
well as the unquestioned paradox of the self-destructive telos of human technological
development: the creation of a machine that can do without humans : : : and images.
In short, the postimage will be what we will make of it, and this is an important
political debate to have, given that the future evolution of the image and of humans are
closely linked. In a book we are currently working on we plan to spell out the multiple
possibilities of the postimage, dystopic and utopian, and point out their epistemological
and political consequences. One of these is a radical shift of perspective, not from human
to non-human, but from Earth to Mars. We took inspiration from the last chapter of
Mike Davis’ text ‘Beyond Space Runner’ in his book Ecology of Fear (1998). The chapter
is titled ‘The Mars Fleet’ : : :

Martian Image
Davis starts from the idea that, since the American culture is built on the principle of
conquest, the next one can only be the conquest of space, real or fantasized. Davis’ text
The Future Evolution of the Image 141

Figure 11.3 ‘SWARMIX: Drones, Dogs and Humans Cooperating in a Search and Rescue
Operation’, Image created by the Laboratory of
Intelligent Systems at EPFL, Lausanne. Permission granted by SWARMIX
project leader Prof. Bernhard Plattner (ETH Zurich)

opposes the Californian dream of the 1960s with the harsh reality of the 2000s with a
percentage of imprisonment much higher than that of Martian colonies imagined by
science-fiction writers.12 It is unclear whether the idea of the conquest of Mars was already
in the air when Ray Bradbury wrote his Martian Chronicles (1950). What is known for
sure is that, since the 1952 Mars Project by Wernher von Braun, the inventor of the Nazi
V2 rocket, a plethora of scientific scenarios have been devised,13 complemented year after
year by science-fiction scenarios, whose screen adaptations populated the collective
imagination with ever new instances of Martian images, mostly dystopian.14
Sixty-five years after the project by von Braun, the conquest of Mars is still on the
agenda, this time commercial, for instance with the project Mars One (the second) by the
Dutch engineer Bas Landsdorp, who envisages installing a human colony on Mars from
2024 (issuing one-way tickets!), or that by Elon Musk, which consists of installing a
permanent colony of 80 000 people on the red planet from 2026. The political and
economic implications are enormous, but so are the cultural implications. And it is here
that the question of the image intervenes. Just as the humanist revolution transformed
the world view of pre-modern civilizations, in Europe first, and then across the globe, by
means of a powerful machine of vision, central perspective, the success of the Mars
colonization will depend on the success, philosophical as well as technological, of a new
machine of vision : : : one that we could call the Martian image. But what Martian
image? The photorealistic image, which, since the very first projects of von Braun and the
illustrations by ‘space artist’ Chesley Bonestell (http://www.outer-space-art-gallery.
com/chesley-bonestell.html), is at the forefront of the visualization of this conquest?
142 Ingrid Hoelzl & Remi Marie

Figure 11.4 Color Variations on Mount Sharp, Mars (White Balanced), November 10th, 2016.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, source:
catalog/PIA21256, accessed 12 February 2017. Public domain
Caption (excerpt): The foreground of this scene from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity
Mars rover shows purple-hued rocks near the rover’s late-2016 location on lower Mount Sharp. The scene’s
middle distance includes higher layers that are future destinations for the mission. Variations in color of the
rocks hint at the diversity of their composition on lower Mount Sharp. The purple tone of the foreground
rocks has been seen in other rocks where Curiosity’s Chemical and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument has
detected hematite. Winds and windblown sand in this part of Curiosity’s traverse and in this season tend to
keep rocks relatively free of dust, which otherwise can cloak rocks’ color. The three frames combined into
this mosaic were acquired by the Mastcam’s right-eye camera on 10 November 2016, during the 1,516th
Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars. The scene is presented with a color adjustment that
approximates white balancing, to resemble how the rocks and sand would appear under daytime lighting
conditions on Earth. Sunlight on Mars is tinged by the dusty atmosphere and this adjustment helps
geologists recognize color patterns they are familiar with on Earth. The view spans about 15 compass
degrees, with the left edge toward southeast. The rover’s planned direction of travel from its location when
this scene was recorded is generally southeastward. The orange-looking rocks just above the purplish
foreground ones are in the upper portion of the Murray formation, which is the basal section of Mount
Sharp, extending up to a ridge-forming layer called the Hematite Unit. Beyond that is the Clay Unit, which is
relatively flat and hard to see from this viewpoint. The next rounded hills are the Sulfate Unit, Curiosity’s
highest planned destination. The most distant slopes in the scene are higher levels of Mount Sharp, beyond
where Curiosity will drive. [ : : : ]

Bonestell’s images of an imaginary Mars conquest have allowed an entire generation to

project itself on Mars.15 But they did not suffice and will not suffice to give the necessary
elan for the emergence of a Martian episteme, that is, an ensemble of knowledges (or beliefs)
that would constitute the technological, social and cultural conditions of a migration to
Mars. Or maybe we need to think from a Martian perspective, and await the first
migrations and settlements to allow this new ensemble of knowledges to emerge, in which
case posing the question of the Martian image seems premature at this stage. But still : : :
What we have is a convergence of clues that all point towards space, the first being the
pervasive phenomenon of ‘offshoring’ (Urry 2014) rendered (in)famous by the recent
affair of the ‘Panama Papers’.16 The flight beyond the reach of political control by fin-
ancial and commercial enterprises (including Google’s recent plans to establish offshore
server farms) points towards the most radical offshore in a physical sense: outer space.
And the invisibility of these enterprises is another index of the future image and its
invisibility in an age of post-politics.
The term ‘Martian image’ refers, in a first move, to the images of Mars and of the life
on Mars proposed by the different colonization projects as well as the images collected by
The Future Evolution of the Image 143

Figure 11.5 ‘The L.A. Riot from Space’. In: Davis, Ecology of Fear (1998), p. 421
Source: Dousset, Flament and Bernstein, ‘Los Angeles fires seen from Space’ (1993), p. 34, Figure 1a.
Thermal infrared image taken by the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) aboard
the polar-orbiting satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration taken
on 30 April at 3:47 PDT (approximately 10 hours after the start of the riots). Public domain.

the spacecrafts and ground robots. In a second move, it refers to the images that may one
day be created on Mars by a human, transhuman or robotic population. In a third move,
and this is the most exciting one, the Martian image refers to the concept of the image
viewed from Mars, that is, at a time of our history where the conquest of Mars seems at
hand. In other terms the Martian image is the possibility of reinventing the image in view
of a possible (and ideal) settlement on Mars and the development of a Martian episteme.
What image for this new episteme? A purely sentient image, i.e. the combination and
synthesis of any kind of recordable data, visualized or not? Or a significant image,
capable of carrying (or creating) sense concerning the life on this planet? Are both forms
compatible? Could this compatibility be the key to the future evolution of the image?
Or should we think of the Martian image differently altogether, no longer in terms of
offshoring or conquest and colonization, which both suppose the existence of an
onshore or an earth base as point of reference, but in terms of a radical change of point
144 Ingrid Hoelzl & Remi Marie
of view and reference? If the aerial and satellite perspective still focused on the earth
(think of Google Earth), and if the images of Mars gathered by NASA explorations still
focus on human spectators (think of the Mars Exploration Image Gallery), we need to
accept the hypothesis that the future image may be one that has neither the earth as an
object nor the human as a point of reference. The future machine of vision may be a
machine of xeno-vision, a vision that is not only radically different from human vision,
however technologically augmented, but that is also radically indifferent to the earth
and earthlings : : :
The text by Mike Davis gives us a possible preview of this xeno-vision: In the same
chapter ‘The Mars Fleet’ that we mentioned earlier, Davis shows an infrared satellite
image with the caption ‘The L.A. riot from space’. (Figure 11.5) The image features an
untypically hot zone. He writes:

The large anomaly, researchers explain, ‘corresponds to south central Los Angeles,
where an average of three new fires were started each minute during the three hours
preceding the image.’ [: : :] In this fashion, the Rodney King riot, although composed
of tens of thousands of individual acts of anger and desperation, was perceived from
orbit as a unitary geophysical phenomenon, comparable to the eruption of Mount
Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 or the huge fires (also a form of arson) that
consumed Indonesian forests in 1997.
(1998: 421; 422)

So, and this will be our tentative conclusion, there are numerous scenarios for the future
image. And, even in the case of the Martian image, the incertitude is not so much a
technical one but a philosophical one. In fact, the future of the image will be also the
future of the world we live in. We will either continue creating an evil image (to para-
phrase Goffey and Fuller’s Evil Media), an image whose only aim is total surveillance
and control, and in fact this image is almost already in place. Or we will create a different
kind of image, an image that will allow the invention of a new : : : future. In fact, the only
thing that is for sure is that the future image will be plural.

1 See Softimage Chapter 5, the passage titled ‘the photographic paradigm of the image’ (94–95),
where we show that, if the digital image is a programmable database view, the image as
programme is not something new in the sense that the photographic paradigm of the image
is the very programme of aligning perception and representation.
2 In linear perspective, the vanishing point of the parallels perpendicular to the picture plane
corresponds on the picture plane to the oculus or eye point from which the image should be
viewed for correct perspective geometry. This point is also named the point at infinity of these
lines. In short, the point at infinity exactly coincides on the picture plane with the point of view,
with the viewer’s eye. Without wanting to start a theological discussion here, we can safely
argue that the infinite, in the Renaissance, was associated with the divine, and hence the point
at infinity with the eye of God. For more on the infinite and the divine in perspective painting
and theology see Carman 2016: 98–91.
3 We make reference here to John Berger’s seminal Ways of Seeing (1972). Nicholas Mirzoeff’s
How to See the World (2016) makes similar arguments about contemporary digital visual
culture (vernacular, scientific and medical), including phenomena such as astronaut selfies,
drone videos, climate change maps or brain scans. To this should be added automated warfare
as a new way of seeing (Farocki 2004; Gregory 2011; Chamayou 2015).
The Future Evolution of the Image 145
4 See in this context Lev Manovich’s argument of ‘the key effect of the computer revolution’
being ‘the substitution of every constant by a variable’ (2001: 234).
5 See the introduction to the online cluster, THE OPERATIVE IMAGE, curated by Ingrid
Hoelzl, which proposes five contributions that apply the term – originally coined by Harun
Farocki in 2004 in the context of automated warfare – to computer vision, neuronavigation,
cyberforensics and the computer interface (Hoelzl 2014).
6 There is a clear repartition of space in this painting: political power in the foreground (the
palaces of the dominant families), religion and entertainment in the middle ground (the Bap-
tistery and the amphitheatre) and labour in the background (a warehouse and possibly houses
for the popular classes). The ideal city (then and now) is one where the places of work and rest
of the popular classes are in the background (periphery) while the centre is reserved for housing
the leading families, religious ceremonies, amusement and theatre.
7 In fact, ‘image’ and ‘idea’ are conceptually intertwined: idea also means ‘mental image or
picture’ and has its root in the Greek idein (‘to see’).
8 ‘We should understand the society of control, in contrast [with the disciplinary society], as that
society (which develops at the far edge of modernity and opens toward the postmodern) in
which mechanisms of command become ever more ‘democratic’, ever more immanent to the
social field, distributed throughout the brains and bodies of the citizens.’ (Hardt and Negri,
2000: 23)
9 Paglen writes: ‘Although the stealth fighters moved to Holloman AFB, NM in 1992, the
base still remains active. It is unclear what kinds of activities are currently undertaken
at Tonopah. The Tonopah Test Range is jointly operated by Sandia National Laboratories,
the Air Force, and the Department of Energy.’
projects/nowhere/archive/tonopah_tr.htm, accessed 30 November 2016. In the second
of our series of online essays for Still Searching, titled ‘On the Invisible (Image and Algor-
ithm)’, we wrote: ‘This is the new programme of the image: that of invisibility and control,
a control typically masked behind “service”, “usability”, “security” etc.’ (Hoelzl and Marie
10 This description is taken from the website of the SWARMIX project at IDSIA Robotics Lab,
Switzerland:, accessed
30 November 2016.
11 See the home page of the Future of Humanity Institute directed by Nick Bostrom at Oxford
University. Bostrom, with a background in analytical philosophy and computational neuro-
sciences, is also the author of the bestseller Superintelligence (2014) recommended, among
others, by Bill Gates!
12 ‘Once upon a time—in the rocket summers of my childhood—it was widely believed that Los
Angeles’s ultimate suburb would be the planet Mars, not a maximum-security prison in the
desert. The outer edge of the “commuter belt” in Burgess’s diagram would become extrater-
restrial. If this now seems preposterous, it is only because our imagined futures have worn
poorly over the ensuing years. The 1990s in particular have been a funeral decade, interring
many of the hopes and fantasies of the earlier twentieth century. If today Eisenhower-era
images of the suburbanization of the solar system seem more than wacky, it would have seemed
equally absurd 40 years ago to have predicted that nearly two million Americans would greet
the next century from the insides of jails and prisons’ (Davis 1998: 418).
13 Among these: projects by General Electric, by North American Rockwell, different NASA
projects, the conference series The Case of Mars that would lead to the project Mars One and
Mars Direct, the SEI (Space Exploration Initiative) project initiated by President George H.W.
Bush and Mars Semi-Direct, which is a NASA remake of the project Mars Direct.
14 Among these: Rocketship X-M, 1950; Flight to Mars, 1951; Conquest of Space, 1955; It! The
Terror from Beyond Space, 1958; The Angry Red Planet, 1959; Total Recall, 1990; Escape
from Mars, 1999; Red Planet, 2000; Stranded, 2001; Ghosts of Mars, 2001; Doom, 2005;
Princess of Mars, 2009; Watchmen, 2009; John Carter, 2012; The Martian, 2015; and First
Man on Mars, 2016.
15 ‘“Bonestell did for space what Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran accomplished for the
American western frontier.” In addition to his famous illustrations for the Collier’s series on
space exploration, he worked on the art design for the 1953 film version of War of the Worlds
(Mars attacks downtown Los Angeles), and his images helped inspire the famous “Mission to
146 Ingrid Hoelzl & Remi Marie
Mars” ride at Disneyland’ (McCurdy 1997 quoted by Davis 1998). For his images see: http://, accessed November 2017.
16 See, accessed 12 February 2017, for a detailed and critical
account of the scandal, its background and implications, such as illicit capital outflows out
of Africa equaling the amount of foreign aid money, thus depriving the continent of natural
resources riches (diamonds, oil and precious metals used in smartphones).

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World (New York: Vintage, 1996).
Bostrum, Nick. Superintelligence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
Carman, Charles H. Leon Battista Alberti and Nicholas Cusanus: Towards an Epistemology of
Vision for Italian Renaissance Art and Culture (London: Routledge, 2016).
Chamayou, Gregoire. A Theory of the Drone (New York: The New Press, 2015).
Davis, Mike. “Beyond Space Runner”, in Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of
Disaster. (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company, 1998), pp. 418–422.
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abolition 28, 78, 83 Attwood, F. 28

abortion 62–5 see also Black Monday; Black augmented reality 120, 136
Protest Australia 21, 114, 118
Abram, D. 140 authenticity 105 see also representation
‘actant’ 56 authority 6, 29, 31, 64, 78, 81, 107, 127
action 1, 4–5, 7–9, 62, 64, 66–70, 76–8, 81, authorship 8, 124–6
83–5, 113–14, 116, 118–22, 125–6, 135, automation 3, 6, 16–17
137; communal 68; ethical 70, 78; political autonomy 36, 39, 107; denial of 36
1–5, 8, 62, 66–7, 69, 78, 113–14, 119, 126; avatar 126
smart 116–22 see also Schleser, M.; Aziz, F. 55–6
Sliwinska, B. Azoulay, A. 5, 38
activism 4, 54, 58, 114 see also visual activism
Agar, J. 14 Barad, K. 104, 106
agency 2–3, 6, 30, 32, 36–7, 55, 63, 96, 107, Barthes, R. 21
113–14, 120–1; ethical 70–2 Bartky, S.L. 37–8
‘agitational visual language’ 55 Bate, D. 6, 13–26, 90 see also camera phone;
Al Jadeed 44, 46–7 intimacy
Allan, S. 94 Baym, N. 4, 34
‘alternative facts’ 114 Beirut 6, 41, 44
Althusser, L. 6 belonging 5, 69, 73
‘anarchist passage’ 78 Berger, J. 34, 37, 124
Anatomy of a Scandal (2016) 6, 45–50 see also Bergson, H. 110
Kahil, R. Berry, M. 120
Anderson, B. 58 Bhalla, A. 34
anonymity 5, 48 binary 92, 101, 109, 124; dualism 72, 101,
anthropocentrism 104 109; opposition model 2, 29, 36, 58, 65, 101,
app 119–20 105, 109
apparatus 14, 18, 23–4, 68, 71, 93, 100 Binkley, T. 2
appearance 2, 90, 137, 105–7; friendship and Black Lives Matter 2, 76–86 see also
love 7, 76–86; decolonized 7, 76–86; Mirzoeff, N.
exterior 23; interior 23; modalities of 7, 76–86; Black Monday 62 see also Sliwinska, B.
technologies 7, 79, 83; unbound 7, 76–86 Black Protest 7, 62–4, 66–72 see also
see also Mirzoeff, N.; ‘right to appear’; space Sliwinska, B.
of appearance Blanchot, M. 105
Arab Spring 2, 77 Bliss, M. 114
Araki, N. 21 blog 125, 128
Arbus, D. 19 body 5–6, 18, 23, 110; docile 38; female 37,
Arendt, H. 76–9 41–9, 64, 70–2; political 77, 84; sexualised
Aristarkhova, I. 69–71 21, 38; technological 7, 67, 127 see also
art 3, 19–22, 44, 46, 48–50, 93, 120, 137; Burns, A.; Sliwinska, B.
mobile film 114; video 3, 15, 29, 47, 80, Bohr, M. 1–13, 41–50, 89–99, 103 see also fake
83–4, 106–7, 113–20, 127 news; photography; post-truth
Ascott, R. 124–5 Bonestell, C. 141–2
Index 149
Bonilla, Y. and Rosa, J. 56 Crow, J. 81 see also slavery
Bouffard, L.A. 32 ‘cultural liquidity’ 17
Bourdieu, P. 31, 33 ‘culture jamming’ 53
Bradbury, R. 141 cyber-bullying 6, 49
Braidotti, R. 72 cyberfeminism 62–3, 68
Brock, A. 80 cyberspace 6, 49
Brown, M. 81, 83–4, 86 cyborg 7, 62, 72; politics 72 see also
Browne, S. 86 Haraway, D.; Sliwinska, B.
Burgin, V. 30 ‘cyborg body’ 7, 62–73 see also Haraway, D.
Burns, A. 6, 27–40 see also Candid Forum; Czarny Poniedzia1ek see Black Monday;
creepshots see also Sliwinska, B.
Butler, J. 36, 77–8 Czarny Protest see Black Protest; see also
Sliwinska, B.
camera 2–3, 27–8, 30–1, 41, 79, 93, 100, 107–9;
camera obscura 2–3, 18, 67; film 16, 18–21, da Silva, D.F. 77
113; mobility 16–17, 113–15; phone 6, Darley, A. 3
14–26, 107; pocket, 113–15, 118–20 see also data analysis 53; mining 124
Bate, D. Davis, M. 140, 144
Candid Forum 6, 27–34 see also Burns, A. Deleuze, G. 8, 102, 109
Carnevale, F. 137 see also The Ideal City democracy movement 78 see also M15;
(Veduta di città Ideale) (1480–4) Occupy Wall Street
Cartier-Bresson, H. 19 Derrida, J. 69–70
cartoon 27, 51, 54 Dick, A. 114, 118
Castile, P. 81, 106 digital 14–15, 18–19, 47–51, 62, 66–7, 72–3,
Catholicism 63, 65, 71 79–84, 89–90, 94–7, 113–21, 126, 129–30,
censorship 6, 21, 46–7, 49 134, 136; age 4, 8, 95–6, 135; harassment 6,
Charlie Hebdo 53, 57 49; network 4; revolution 8, 136; self 1–2,
Chicago 8, 82, 126 4–5, 9–11, 113, 115, 117–19, 126; visuality
Chomsky, N. 94 55 see also digital platform
cinema 8, 18–19, 43, 108, 115 digital culture 3–4, 120
‘citizen photographer’ 17 digitalization 2, 135–6
citizenship 82; ‘acts of citizenship’ 55 discontent 51, 53–8; manifestation 50 see also
civil rights movement 83 march; see also protest; rally
Clark, L. 21 documentary 4, 8, 113–16
‘clickbait’ 46 Doerr, N. and Teune, S. 51
co-presence 7, 76, 79–84; assemblage of 79; Dresser, D. 53
digital 7, 76, 79–84, see also Mirzoeff, N.
Coates, T.N. 77 economy 105, 108; affective 67
Cobayashi, K. 108–9 edge 1, 5, 104–6, 142 see also frame
collaboration 4, 113–15, 124, 140 edge effect 1, 5
collective 8, 34, 56–8, 69, 71–2, 80–1, 83, 116, Elzie, J. 82
120; narratives 52–3; solidarity 80 embodied techniques 79 see also Black Lives
colonialism 79 see also technology of Matter; ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’
colonialism emoji 18 see also emoticons
communication 3–4, 9, 18, 52, 62, 70, 72–3, emoticons 18
102, 116, 125, 136; ecology 51; field 67; equality 7, 64–5
mobile 114; networks 14, 58, 67; ethnography 52, 114
structure 18; texting 14; verbal 14; Ettinger, B.L. 67
visual 14, 68, 89 exclusion 1, 65, 71, 77–8
community 34, 38, 113–21, 125, 128, 140;
imagined 51, 58; net-community 62, 67–73; Facebook 44, 46–7, 49, 62, 66–7, 80, 95–7,
online 6, 27, 29 118, 124, 126, 130
connectivity 68, 119–20 facial recognition 8, 106, 124, 126–7 see also
consent 27, 94 Selvaggio, L.
Cotton, C. 20 Fairey, S. 54
Cozen, B. 55 ‘fake news’ 7, 89–90, 92, 94, 96–7, 102, 114
creepshot 6, 27–39 see also Burns, A. see also Bohr, M.
150 Index
Fanon, F. 78 Hawley, S. 114
femininity 62, 69–72 Hegel, G.W.F. 70, 79
Ferguson 58, 80, 82–4 Heidegger, M. 135–6
fetish 24, 37 see also Freud, S. Herman, E.S. 94
film 113–21, 134; analogue 16, 18–20; Heterogeneity 63, 69–70, 72
festival 114; filmmaking 113–21; Hoelzl, I. 3, 8–9, 96, 98–9, 134, 144 see also
mobile 114, smartphone 30, 121 Marie, R.; ‘softimage’
see also Schleser, M. hooks, b. 81
FILMOBILE 115 see also film festival hospitality 62, 69–70, 73
forum 6, 27–39; online 6, 27–39 HTML5 120
Foucault, M. 6, 24, 35–6, 38, 92, 102 see also Hudson, D. and Zimmerman, P. 119
‘technologies of the self’ humanism 104
frame 49, 76, 80, 95, 102, 104–6, 113; ratio 19 Husinger, J. 4
see also photography; optics; Rubinstein, D.
Freud, S. 21, 29, 33 identity 1, 3, 5–9, 21, 24, 27, 34, 44, 46–7, 55,
Friedlander, L. 19 71–2, 77, 80, 101, 104–6, 109, 113, 119,
121, 124–8; collective 58; construction of
Galloway, A. 78 104; materiality 8, 124; privilege 127;
Garza, A. 83 photographic 106; representation 104, 113,
gaze 2, 6, 24, 28, 36–9, 81–2, 103, 106, 137; 126 see also Selvaggio, L.
fragmenting 37; glaze 24; identity politics 1
instrumentalization 137; police 81–2 image 1–9, 15–20, 22–5, 27–30, 37, 47–53,
see also Mulvey, L. 55–8, 63–6, 85, 90–9, 101–10, 113, 121–2,
gender 5–7, 27, 32, 34, 36, 39, 47–8, 57, 72, 124, 126–8, 134–44; algorithmic 109, 126,
127; dynamic 32 136, 140; analogue 2, 4, 8, 16, 18, 90;
geometry 68, 108, 136, 138 see also anti-image 51, 58; consumption 95;
photography database 96, 127, 136; digital 2–3, 9, 90;
Gerbaudo, P. 58 dystopic 138; ecology 1; economy 105; edge
Giannoulakis, S. and Tsapatsoulis, N. 56 105–6; evolution 1, 3–4, 7–9, 97, 114, 119,
Gill, R. 28 121, 134–5, 137, 139–41, 143, 145, 147;
Gleason, T. and Hansen, S. 96 formation 2; future 140, 142, 144; geometric
Goffey, A. and Fuller, M. 144 8, 135–7; hardimage 9, 137–8; lens 18, 25;
Goffman, E. 37 Martian 9, 141–4; materiality 49; mechanics
Goldin, N. 21–2, 24 37, 139; mobility 16–17; moving 15, 113,
Gómez Cruz, E. 6–7, 51–8 see also discontent; 121; photographic 3, 7, 17–20, 90, 97, 101,
Mexico; protest; rally; San Cornelio, G.; 107; picture 16–17, 18–19, 25, 27–8, 34, 44,
Vibra Mexico 46–7, 66–7, 90, 93, 100, 102–3, 105–6, 128,
Google 132, 134, 136, 139, 144; Image 49–50, 135–6, 139; political action 5; politics 2;
128; Maps 96; Trends 89 posthumanism 140; processing 16, 102,
Graue, E. 53 109, 135–6; production 95–7, 109;
Green, D. 38 programme 8, 135–6; sharing 5 see also
Guattari, F. 8, 102–3 ‘softimage’
Gürsel, Z. D. 57 ‘imagening’ 51–61; imagination 5, 51, 53–4,
103, 141 see also frame, Gómez Cruz, E. and
Hall, S. 83, 92, 94 San Cornelio, G.
‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ 79, 84–5 see also in real life performance 126 see also
Black Lives Matter Selvaggio, L.
Hansen, M.S. and Spicer, J.A. 137 In Response We Closed Flinders (2015)
Haraway, D. 7, 62, 140 see also ‘cyborg body’; 113–14, 118–19, 121 see also Dick, A.
‘matrixial borderspace’ In Your Home (2008–11) 6, 41–4, 46–7, 49
Hardt, M. and Negri, A. 138 see also Kahil, R.
Hardy, S. 28 inclusions 1; and exclusions 1
hashtag 6–7, 52, 55–7, 60–2, 64, 66–8, 80; Instagram 5, 49, 51–3, 56–7, 66–7, 80, 96
caption 52, 56–7; Ferguson 58, 80; followers instrumentality 36
56, 7; SayHerName project 85 see also Black intimacy 20–1, 25, 43–4, 70;
Lives Matter; Black Monday; Black Protest; mobile 20–1, 25; private 21, 43, 70;
Ferguson; Vibra Mexico public 21, 43
Index 151
Irigaray, L. 62, 70–2 Mexico 6, 51–8; Mexican Revolution 54;
Isin, E. 55 Monument to Independence ‘The Angel’ 54
Mexico Pulsating 6, 51, 56 see also Vibra
Japan 14, 94, 114 Mexico
Jordan, T. 53 ‘millennial’ 14
Juris, J. 55 Mirzoeff, N. 6–7, 28, 58, 76–88, 144 see also
appearance; co-presence; Black Lives Matter
Kahil, R. 6, 41–50 see also Anatomy of a Mitchell, W.J.T. 2
Scandal (2016); In Your Home (2008–11) Mobile Innovation Network Australasia 113
Kane, K. 115 see also Schleser, M.
Kant, I. 69 Moholy-Nagy, L. 134
Keyes, R. 89, 92 Moten, F. 77, 79
Kim, J.J. 82 Mottahedeh, N. 80
‘kino-eye’ 134 see also Hoelzl, I. and Marie, R. Mulvey, L. 29–30, 36–8
Musk, E. 141
Lacan, J. 36
Lampel, J. 34 narcissism 25
Landsdorp, B. 141 nation 58, 66, 91
lens 2, 3, 15, 18, 19–20, 22–5, 30, 44, 93, 100, Nazism 63–4, 141
109, 122, 124 network 14, 119–20; computer 3, 68; data 24;
Levinas, E. 70 digital 4, 7, 89, 97, 136; social media 94,
Liddell, H.G. and Scott, R. 135 96–7
Limit Telephotography (2006–10) 138 see also New Zealand 114–5, 117, 121
Paglen, T. Nieto, P. 54
Lister, M. 3 Nurka, C. 34
looking 2–3, 5–7, 22, 25, 27–9, 34–6, 38–40, Nussbaum, M. 36
46, 53, 57, 76–7, 79, 81, 83, 94, 102–5, 142;
eye service 81; gendered 6, 27–8, 36, 38; Obama, B. 54, 83, 91–3, 95–6, 128
modes 22; ogling 36; overseer 81; persistent objectification 29–30, 36–8
7, 76, 79, 81, 83; practices of 6, 27; scopic Occupy Wall Street 2, 78 see also democracy
activities 24; staring 27–8; watching 4, 28–9, movement
84 see also appearance; Mirzoeff, N.; ‘right open-source 8, 125
to look’; seeing; vision optics 3, 15, 18–19, 23, 25, 93, 103–4, 107,
Low, M. 94 109, 134, 138; framing 93; lens 25; vantage
Lyotard, J.F. 108 point 93, 101
‘Other’ 70
M15 78 see also democracy movement
machine 8–9, 14, 22, 72, 134–6, 140–1, 144 Paasonen, S. 28
Manovich, L. 138 Paglen, T. 138–9
march 6, 51–3, 64 Palmer, D. 29
Marie, R. 3, 8–9, 96, 134–46 Panofsky, E. 136
Mars 140–4 panopticon 138
Massumi, B. 79 Parks, R. 77
master-copy paradigm 101–2, 105 see also participation 34, 45, 51, 55–8, 68–9, 71, 73,
representation; Rubinstein, D. 125; active 119; online 5; performative 8;
‘matrixial borderspace’ 62, 67 see also social media 1, 58
Haraway, D. patriarchy 7, 38, 71
Mattoni, A. and Teune, S. 55 performativity 137
McFarlane, M.D. 95 perspective 2, 5, 8, 18–19, 50, 55, 67, 91, 93,
McKesson, D. 80 100, 102, 105, 118, 122, 136–8, 140–2, 144;
McLuhan, M. 6 geometric and mathematical world view 8,
media 1, 3–4, 6–8, 15, 28–9, 34, 39, 46–7, 50, 135; monocular 18
51–8, 62, 64, 66–8, 80–1, 85, 87, 89–97, perversion 29 see also Freud, S.
109, 113–15, 117–21, 124–6, 144; phallocentrism 67
digital 81, 119 ecology 119–20, mass 57; Philae 100–1
modes 119 phone 14–26, 113–21; cell 14–6, 18; mobile 3,
Melbourne 118 6, 8, 14–6, 20, 21, 90, 94, 114–15, 119;
152 Index
smartphone 15, 18, 22, 30, 113–21; visual Reccord, L. 82
15 see also Schleser, M. ‘reckless eyeballing’ 81 see also appearance;
photo tagging 124 see also Selvaggio, L. Mirzoeff, N.
photography 2–9, 14–25, 27–9, 32–4, 36–40, Reel Health: Tanzania (2012) 113, 115–17,
48–9, 52, 58, 89–97, 100–11, 138; amateur 119
20; digital 15, 94; disciplinary function 36; Reiche, C. 68
discourse 92; geometry 108; materiality 108; Remedee, T., ThinkFeel, Touch Foundation
original 49, 104; phone 14–15, 21; 113 see also Reel Health: Tanzania (2012)
paparazzi 21; ‘posthuman’ 8, 100–11, 140; Renaissance 2, 18, 135, 137
and power 27–39; practice 34; production representation 2, 4, 7–9, 11, 15, 18, 23, 40, 43,
18; reflection 104–6; REM 108; secretive 29; 48–9, 53, 55, 62, 66–8, 84, 91–3, 97, 101–2,
as visual evidence 7, 90, 93 see also Bohr, M.; 104–11, 113–14, 117–18, 120–3, 126,
creepshot; forum; Rubinstein, D. 135–8; apparatus 68; copy 101–2, 104–5,
Pi1sudski, J.K. 64 108–9; illusion 104; intervention 62–3,
platform 3, 5, 8, 14–16, 51, 55, 95, 120, 124, 67–8; mechanism 108; model 101;
126; digital 51, 126; video-sharing 120 perspectival 18; politics 9, 138; protest 4;
Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform) 65 resemblance 105–7, 109; self-representation
Plato 109; Platonic opposites 109 see also 48, 113–14, 117–18, 120–3, 126; solidity
representation 138 see also protest; Rubinstein, D.; vision
Poland 7, 62, 73 resistance 2–3, 6–7, 39, 45, 72, 81, 84, 90, 127
political 1–9, 28, 48, 51–8, 62–73, 84–5, see also Rubinstein, D.
89–97, 102–3, 107–8, 110–11, 113–15, Reynolds, D. 106–7
118–21, 126, 128, 135, 137–8, 140–2, 145; ‘rhizome’ 102, 107
action 1, 4–5, 8, 62, 66–7, 69, 78, 113–14, Richie, D. 95
119, 126; iconography 54; protest 4, 84; ‘right to appear’ 77, 82 see also appearance;
subjectivity 2 Mirzoeff, N.
politics 1–9, 65, 72, 76–9, 90, 95–7, 101–3, ‘right to existence’ 84 see also ‘right to appear’;
107, 138, 142; performative 77 appearance; Mirzoeff, N.
polis 7, 77–8 ‘right to look’ 6, 29, 77 see also appearance;
pornography 21, 28 Mirzoeff, N.
post-truth 7, 89–97, 102 see also Bohr, M. ‘right to secrecy’ 22
posthumanism 104, 140 see also photography, Ringrose, J. and Harvey, L. 34
‘posthuman’ Roberts, H. 34
Postill, J. and Pink, S. 52 Robinson, E. 84
Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (Law and Justice) 73 Rubinstein, D. 7–8, 100–11 see also
privacy 21, 28, 32, 36–7, 44, 128; in public 32 photography, ‘posthuman’
see also Burns, A.; Kahil, R
production 18, 20, 24, 29, 34, 39, 70, 84, San Cornelio, G. 6–7, 51–8 see also discontent;
94–7, 102, 108–9, 113–14, 117, 119, 120; Gómez Cruz, E.; Mexico; protest; rally;
mode 18 Vibra Mexico
propaganda 94 satire 54
prosthesis 125, 128 see also Selvaggio, L. scandal 6, 21, 44–50
protest 4, 6–7, 51–5, 57–61, 63–7, 73, 78–80, Schleser, M. 8, 113–21 see also smart action;
84–7; civic 51, 55; embodied 7, 79, 84; smart phone
Ferguson 58, 80, 82, 84, 86; Iceland 65–6; scopophilia 29, 38 see also Freud, S.
‘imagened’ 51; ‘Women’s Day Off’ 66; viral Scott, J.C. 78
7, 66, 68, 72; virtual 7; visual 52, 66 see also screen 15–16, 18–19, 23–4, 49, 90, 104, 107–8,
anti-image; Black Protest; Gómez Cruz, E.; 120, 136, 141; ratio 19
San Cornelio, G.; Sliwinska, B. Second Life 126
Pussy Riot 1 seeing 2, 4, 7, 22, 28, 35, 49, 76–9, 109, 124,
126–7; decolonial 76, 78; hierarchy 78; in
Rallis, T. 55 common 78–9; unseeing 86; ways 4, 7, 76,
rally 51–8; civic 51, 53, 55; ‘imagened’ 51, 124 see also gaze; looking; vision
53, 55; Pakistan 55–6; Unity Rally 57 Sekula, A. 93
see also discontent self 2, 5–6, 18, 22, 24–6, 32–3, 37–9, 43, 48–9,
Rambukkana, N. 56 54–5, 62, 66–7, 72, 85, 119, 124–7; digital
Rancière, J. 76 1–2, 4–5, 113, 115, 117–19, 126; expression
Index 153
22, 49; image 25, 85, 126; perception 126 Stiegler, B. 140
see also identity; selfie, Selvaggio, L. storytelling 117, 120–1
self-portrait 43 see also Kahil, R. strike 64, 71, 73; ‘umbrella strike’ 64
selfie 5, 21, 24–5, 52, 55–7, 85 subject 1–2, 15–6, 19–21, 27–8, 30–1, 36, 45,
‘Selfiestories and Personal Data’ 52 see also 47, 49, 58, 78, 83, 90–1, 100–2, 105–6,
Gómez Cruz, E. and San Cornelio, G 108–9, 136, 138; formation 5, 67;
Selvaggio, L. 8, 124–8 see also URME solidity 138
Surveillance; subjectivity 1, 2, 4–5, 28, 30, 37, 62, 67, 72, 86,
‘semiotic terrorism’ 53 93, 101–4, 109, 138; female 62;
Senft, T. 4 intersubjectivity 67; subject formation 5, 67;
sexual difference 36, 69–70 trans-subjectivity 62, 67
sexuality 22, 24, 102 subversion 22
‘sexuation’ 22 surveillance 3, 8, 28, 35, 79, 83, 106, 126–8,
shame 21–2, 29, 48–9, 64, 89 131, 138, 144
Silverman, K. 28 Szarkowski, J. 22
Simpson, A. 78
slavery 77–8, 81 Tagg, J. 36
Sliwinska, B. 1–9, 41–50, 62–73 see also Tanzania 113, 115–16, 121
abortion; Black Monday; Black Protest Taylor, J. 28
slogan 65–6, 84 ‘technologies of the self’ 6
Snapchat 85 technology 3–6, 8, 15, 19, 30, 72–9, 90, 94,
snapshot 20–1, 105 108, 113, 115–16, 121, 124–8; and self 9,
sociability 120 69, 122–3; camera phone 15, 113, 121; of
social media 1, 3–4, 6–8, 39, 47, 50, 51–8, colonialism 79; digital imaging 15; digital
62, 64, 66–7, 80, 90–1, 93–7, 113–15, technologies 3, 4, 120; mobile phone 3, 8,
118–20, 124–6 90, 94
‘softimage’ 3, 8–9, 96, 135, 137–8 see also telecommunications culture 14
Hoelzl, H. and Remi, M. ‘telematic culture’ 125
solidarity 30, 64, 67–8, 71, 77, 79–80, 86–7 Tesich, S. 89
Solomon-Godeau, A. 39 The Ideal City (Veduta di città Ideale) (1480–4)
Sontag, S. 28 137–9
Souza, P. 95 Thornham, S. 28
space 1, 3–4, 6–8, 14, 16, 18–19, 23–5, 34, 41, Thumim, N. 120
43–5, 49, 62–3, 67–73, 77–86, 100, 102, Tisselli, E. 116
105, 109, 113, 134–6, 140–4; action 21, 90; Tometti, O. and Kahn-Cullors, P. 83
connection 90; decolonized 21, 92, 97; Trudeau, J. 95
domestic 57; embodied engagement 95; Trump, D. 6–7, 51, 53–5, 57, 83, 86, 89–93
freedom 80; history 102; non-spaces Twitter 1, 52, 62, 67, 80, 83, 90, 95–7, 113,
21, 90; offline 15; online 6, 45; 124, 126, 128, 130; Black Twitter 80; doxing
perspectival 23, 102; private 6, 41, 43; 124; tweet 57, 90–1, 95, 126
public 43, 60, 70, 77; racialized 7, 76, 78, 81,
86; segregation 77 see also Mirzoeff, N; uprising 74; Gezi Square 78;
perspective Tahrir Square 78
‘space of appearance’ 7, 76–80, 83, 85–6 URME Surveillance (2014) 8, 127–8, 131
see also Mirzoeff, N. see also Selvaggio, L.
spectacle 2–3, 103 Urry, J. 142
spectator 20, 23–4, 106, 109, 136;
exhibitionist 21; observer 3, 23, 30, 102, Vertov, D. 134
103, 118; seer 21; spectatorial mode 24; user Vibra Mexico 6–7, 51–8
22; voyeur 21 viewer 6–7, 20, 23–4, 27–9, 34, 37–9, 107,
Spicer, S. 90–3 see also Bohr, M.; Trump D. 137, 144
Spirit of Rangatahi Mobile Filmmaking Vimeo 113
Workshop (2014) 113–14, 117–19 see also Vine 80, 84–5
Schleser, M. ‘viral’ 1, 7, 44, 47, 66, 91, 93, 96–7, 128
state 70–1, 76–9, 84, 94, 138; carceral 78, 81 virtual 1, 3, 7, 67–8, 87, 107–8, 126
Steichen, E. 93 vision 2, 3, 5, 8–9, 23, 53, 101–2, 106, 119,
Sterling, B. 67 125, 134–8, 141–6; ideological construction
154 Index
2; field 2, 23; ‘imagened’ 53; limits 102, 138; Wajcman, G. 21–2
machine 134; ‘panoramic’ 15, 19 see also Waskul, D.D. 37
representation; seeing Weheliye, A. 83
visual 1–9, 14–15, 18–19, 24–6, 39, 49, white supremacy 7, 76–81, 83, 86
52, 54–5, 57–8, 62, 64, 66–8, 79, 81, 86, Wilderson III, F. 79
89–91, 93, 95, 97, 102, 105–7, 109, Williamson, J. 37
113–15, 119, 135–6; appearance 107; Wilson Gilmore, R. 84
cultural history 19; engagement 19; Winogrand, G. 19
field 2, 107; manifestations 2–3, 5; women’s rights 7, 64
regime 105; resemblance 105–7 World Wide Web 50, 119
see also appearance; representation; Wynter, S. 78
visual communication;
visual protest Yekani, E. 28
visual activism 4, 58 see also activism Yokota, D. 109–10
visual culture 1, 4, 6, 113–14, 119; visual (2011) 8, 125–6, 129
digital culture 3–4 see also Selvaggio, L.
visuality 6, 29, 55, 79, 108; digital 55 YouTube 113, 120, 128
visualization 1, 17, 24, 141;
techniques of 24 Zeronda, N. 32
von Braun, W. 141 Zhao, S. 5
voyeurism 29, 33, 38 see also Freud, S.  zek, S. 138