By Frank Möller and Rasmus Bellmer, KONE FOUNDATION Grantees (2020–2022), affiliated (on a staff-like basis) with Tampere University and the Tampere Peace Research Institute, Finland

 

The visual turn in the social sciences focusing on photography, film and video has led to a number of engagements with visual representations of violence. Yet, work on the visualization of peace is conspicuous mostly by its absence. Photographs (and other images) “reinforce the invisibility of some things” – peace, for example – “by overtly focusing on others” (Smith 2013: 14) – violence, for example; photographic discourses do pretty much the same thing. Images showing peaceful interaction do, of course, exist. They are, however, seldom acknowledged as images of peace. In consequence, the peace potentialities inherent in visual images are rarely appreciated.

The absence of peace from most discourses on visual representation reflects western culture’s fascination with violence and the intimate relationship, historically, between visual images and violence. But it also reflects that it is not easy to visualize peace in a non-trivial and thought-provoking manner. It is not easy to theorize such visualization, either. And it is even more difficult to visualize peace in a manner that has an impact on society, turning cultures of violence into cultures of peace.

Most basically, then, peace videography asks: how can peace be visualized and how can visual images contribute to peace – in other words, how to build peace with images? Answers to this question will have to have a visual and a discursive element as it is through discourses that images acquire meanings – discourses operating within a comprehensive, complex and always evolving “image ecosystem” (Bennett 2011: 3) comprising user cultures and experiences, pictorial memories, communication contexts, and performances.

Following Stuart Allan (2011) and Fred Ritchin (2013), we explored in our earlier work the general idea of peace photography as a pluralistic concept. We acknowledged that different forms of peace exist, requiring different forms of visual representation (Möller 2019). Owing to the context dependence of meanings assigned to any given image, the search for a universal peace photograph may be in vain. It is recommended, therefore, to analyze the operation of images in selected cases.

The visualization of peace is derivative of definitions of peace, of which there are many; and every approach to peace photography requires conceptions of photography, many of which co-exist as well. Furthermore, in order to qualify as critical interventions, peace images have to go beyond recycling accepted and taken-for-granted notions of peace and they have to avoid visual confirmation of that which they set out to criticize – a familiar problem in critical artistic practice.

Visualizations of peace may also be constitutive of peace by shaping and changing understanding of what qualifies as peace and who qualifies as referent objects. For example, “everyday visions of peace constitute particular instances of the international” (Möller and Shim 2019: 246). Peace videography may establish new ways of seeing peace and, ultimately, new politics of peace.

In the current project, we operationalize the concept of peace by zooming in on mediation and/as peace-building, combining questions of visibility (What does an image mean? How can mediation be visualized?) with questions of visuality (What does an image do? How can mediation benefit from visual images?). Essentially, we take digitization and its implications seriously and link the idea of videography to the most important trends in image-making and dissemination.

Videography is an umbrella term designed to capture everything that’s going on in visual culture and the visual arts as regards images’ production, dissemination and reception. This includes digitization, algorithms, “social” media, remediation and appropriations, “hyperphotography” (Ritchin), “meta-pictures” (Mitchell), “the postphotography photograph” (Roberts 2014), “sensor realism” (Saugmann et al. 2020), and so on. Essentially, digital images reflect inter-active processes; while being produced by single, identifiable authors, they are reconstituted and further developed by large, partly anonymous and hardly controllable networks. Their members are aware of one another or not; they communicate with one another or not; and they share aims with one another or not. Thus, in the digital world, each image serves only as a “minimalist starting point” (Ritchin 2009: 75) inviting audiences to respond to it and, in the process, transforming audiences into image-makers – a process with eminent implications for peace and security (Saugmann Andersen 2017).

In the digital society – a society of image-makers – the single image does not exist anymore because “digital networked images … exist in a number of states that are potential rather than actual in a fixed and physical kind of way” (Lister 2013: 8). This applies also to traditional images such as graffiti, drawings, etchings or paintings. After all, independent of the original’s producer’s intentions, every image can be digitized thus becoming data and developing a life of its own, and even the most traditional image is part of visual culture and politics.

Videography thus describes a “combination of technology, epistemology and aesthetics” (Saugmann Andersen 2015: 307) operating in visual culture. We understand visual culture as a “meta-network of machines, politics, culture, and ways of seeing” (Paglen 2011: 68) conditioning what is visible and what is not and, accordingly, determining what matters politically and what does not. These are highly complex processes.

Importantly, digital image production, reception and analysis are increasingly decoupled from human beings with machines, based on algorithms, assuming tasks hitherto assigned to humans. Such “machine-machine systems” (Trevor Paglen) cannot be properly understood with reference to the classical writings on film and photography. These writings offer profound insights into how images used to relate to society; yet they tell us next to nothing about the most recent trends in image-making and dissemination connected with digitization. By over-emphasizing the role of humans, for example, they may even be misleading, inviting “distortions, vast blind spots, and wild misinterpretations” (Paglen 2016) while simultaneously hiding ideology behind a façade of objectivity:

“Machine-machine systems are extraordinary intimate instruments of power that operate through an aesthetics and ideology of objectivity, but the categories they employ are designed to reify the forms of power that those systems are set up to serve. As such, the machine-machine landscape forms a kind of hyper-ideology that is especially pernicious precisely because it makes claims to objectivity and equality” (Paglen 2016).

Peace videography explores the peace potentialities of images in the context of:

  • the transformation of image into data;
  • the replacement of individual agents by networks;
  • the replacement of human beings by machines and the seeming increase in “objectivity”;
  • the acceleration of image-making and image-dissemination and the increase in the number of image-makers;
  • the final image’s substitution by an endless process of alterations and appropriations, i.e. active user interaction leading to the end of “the final image” in theory and practice.

We will both analyze and capitalize on these trends by, for example, inviting active user interaction, especially “three-way interaction” (Bennett 2011: 65) among “participant witnesses” (Möller 2013) in a networked society where the intersensory experience of an image proceeds from looking through modifying to sharing (Bennett 2011).

Ultimately, we aim at visual strategies for and tools in mediation and peace-building, acknowledging merits and liabilities of digitization but generally believing in the peace potentialities of visual images. Thus, the project has profound practical implications: it develops tools for peace-builders to help them appreciate, use and capitalize on as well as interact and communicate with visual images, broadly understood, in their daily work.

References

Allan, Stuart (2011), “Documenting War, Visualizing Peace: Towards Peace Photography,” in Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, Jake Lynch and Robert A. Hackett (eds.), Expanding Peace Journalism: Comparative and Critical Approaches (Sydney: University of Sydney Press), 147–167.

Bennett, Audrey (2011), Engendering Interaction with Images (Bristol: Intellect).

Lister, Martin (2013), “Introduction,” in Martin Lister (ed.), The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. Second edition (London and New York: Routledge), 1–21.

Mitchell, W.J.T. (2012), Cloning Terror: The War of Images, 9/11 to the Present (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press).

Möller, Frank (2013), Visual Peace: Images, Spectatorship, and the Politics of Violence (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan).

____ (2019), Peace Photography (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan).

Möller, Frank and David Shim (2019), “Visions of Peace in International Relations,” International Studies Perspectives 20:3, 246–264.

Paglen, Trevor (2016), “Invisible Images (Your Pictures Are Looking at You),” The New Inquiry, https://thenewinquiry.com/invisible-images-your-pictures-are-looking-at-you.

Ritchin, Fred (2009), After Photography (New York: W.W. Norton).

____ (2013), Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen (New York: Aperture).

Roberts, John (2014), Photography and Its Violations (New York: Columbia University Press).

Saugmann Andersen, Rune (2015), Remediating Security: A Semiotic Framework for Analyzing How Video Speaks Security (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Copenhagen).

____ (2017), “Video, algorithms and security: How digital video platforms produce post-sovereign security articulations,” Security Dialogue 48:4, 354–372.

Saugmann, Rune, Frank Möller and Rasmus Bellmer, “Seeing like a Surveillance Agency? Sensor Realism as Aesthetic Critique of Visual Data Governance,” Information, Communication & Society, DOI 10.1080.1369118X.2020.1770315.

Smith, Shawn Michelle (2013), At the Edge of Sight: Photography and the Unseen (Durham and London: Duke University Press).

Frank Möller and Rasmus Bellmer are KONE FOUNDATION Grantees (2020–2022), affiliated (on a staff-like basis) with Tampere University and the Tampere Peace Research Institute, Finland

Peace Videography (2020–2022)
Frank Möller & Rasmus Bellmer

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