Images and words are woven into discourses, networks of meanings. My path is to go in search of a buried meaning, to clear the debris that clog the images.
The Farocki film that had the greatest impact upon me was Images of the World, Inscriptions of War , made in In order to record the destructive power of their payloads, allied bombers were required to take photos of their targets.
Those image specialists in England, given the job of analyzing the photo during the war, were not given orders to look for a death camp, so never found, or even looked for one…. War and photography, Farocki argues, are linked by the need to classify and measure, but the way that an image is interpreted has everything to do with the context in which the image is placed at the time of interpretation.
Farocki takes us back to the Renaissance to view the origins of the photographic mindset. He also looks at Albrecht Durer, whose seventeenth century illustrated books on perspective demonstrate how to draw subjects as if physical lines were converging on the eye through a hole in a fixed surface.
Photography later only reinforced this privileged view, and implicit in this, Farocki would suggest, is the organizing logic of war. There are, for instance, the pictures of traditionally clad Algerian women taken by a conscript in the then occupying French army, who has them remove their veils, something normally only done for the closest of family members in the most intimate of settings.
The colonizer, the narrator says, must identify the colonized for the official records.
Harun Farocki: Working on the Sight-Lines
A coffee table book is later published of the faces of these unveiled women. The controlling gaze of the occupation force uses photography to bend reality to its version of the world and how it should appear.
It would not be too hard to imagine such a book emerging out of occupied regions of the Middle East today are there any that are not? Farocki shows us a photo taken by a German SS guard.
Images of the World and the Inscription of War
It is an offhand snapshot image of a beautiful young Jewish woman as she walks, looking back over her left shoulder at the photographer at the Auschwitz death camp. Her captured gaze, perhaps an act sudden defiance in a setting that has been constructed deliberately to erase all such nuanced subtle individual identity.
Airplanes during WWII would deploy lightening bombs to light up the ground below for photography.
Cameras and guns and bombs were installed together on aircraft. Seeing preserved, bombs destroyed.
Both actions occurred simultaneously at almost every scale on both sides. Real airstrips were made to look faded, fake ones were painted brightly to act as decoy targets.
Whole stretches of land during war were disguised to protect factories and munitions works that lay beneath them. Factory roofs and sides were repainted to resemble apartment structures.
Rivers and train tracks, aides to enemy pilots , were covered with wood to mask them as obvious navigation points. Farocki shows us police identikit systems in use in the mids apart from everything else the film is a record of s flight simulator technology, a kind of unwitting media archeological work to that end that make use of photograph transparencies that scale up and down, upper head, middle nose and lower chin areas all separated out, the edges blurred.
We view faces being made for us from infinite combinations.
Images and War
Both the prison guard and police officer possess the base need to classify, organize and reduce the human subject to parts that can enter the database.
It was as managerial then as now. Ghosts in the machine might today step in to recognize a gait or build a personality from metadata now, but such algorithms of the new aesthetic are not so much computers wanting to pass the Turing test to prove human, as to better fuse the banal world of database with non-database. Images of the World and the Inscription of War explores the way that image analysis and image production are themselves part of a global worldview whose impulse is inherently one of control, management, organization along determinist, linear terms.
Images of the World and the Inscription of War
Photography and manufacturing as well as concepts of labor — the reduction of people to pure components for use and replacement or destruction underpin modernity. Images join the other instruments that have framed the rise and fall of cities and civilizations.
The digital acceleration of technology the world has seen since the film was made has only intensified the main points the film addresses. There is a relentless quality to the film as well.
The process of analyzing images becomes the mindset that you as the audience member find yourself interpreting as well and in this way the film is strangely recursive. The difference is the onscreen photo analysts who examine aerial reconnaissance photos for hidden tanks do so with the mindset of managerial specialists, and Farocki is inviting us to view his film through a kind of postmodern filter of self-reflexive uncanny doubt.
By watching the film we cannot really take any image for granted any more. It is all a construction.
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