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<nettime> on accuracy
Jordan Crandall on Fri, 16 Jan 2004 09:11:21 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> on accuracy

Notes on accuracy, warfare, and representation

Images of war arrest us.  They aim to offer the truth of violence.  It is
difficult to argue with them, difficult to deny their authenticity.  Witness
to death and devastation, they seem to cut right through the play of
signification.  We read them viscerally -- as if, with a rush of adrenaline,
the body were instinctually reacting to the possibility of its own
violation.  What do we mean when we deem such an image accurate?  What does
it mean to believe such an image?  Images of the truth of violence have
always been intertwined with maneuvers of deception. The first full-scale
attempt to document a war through photography, by the Mathew Brady team at
Gettysburg, often involved the relocation of munitions and the repositioning
of the dead.  The history of war photography is a history of realism and
stealth.  The image reveals, but it also hides.

There is a gap between what one does and what one performs.  We "play for
the camera," constituting ourselves within media of self-identification.  We
often need to shape the act of being observed to our own advantage,
especially during times of conflict.  Choosing one's (potential) image can
be an act of combat.  This maneuvering is not limited to those who are
represented.  It applies to those who orchestrate the framing of the image.
Consider an aerial video, shot by the Israeli Defense Forces, of a funeral
that occurred during the 2002 siege of the Jenin refugee camp in the West
Bank.  The IDF claims that this videotape documents a fake ceremony, staged
in order to multiply the number of casualties in Jenin.  At which level does
this possible deception occur -- at the level of institution or camera
subject?  Each agency plays not to the camera per se, but to their
respective audiences and authorities.  Each plays to the Law: the juridical
paradigms that shape culture and conflict.

To a large extent, the degree to which we assign truth to an image is
dependent upon the degree of our alignment with the ideological system that
supports it.  However, war representation, like warfare itself, is by its
very nature embedded in strategic maneuvering.  It is as if the image itself
were a tensile surface, embedded within a dynamic of detection and
deception.  The embeddedness of representation was seldom acknowledged
during the embedded reporting of the Iraq war.  News teams with cameras
deployed on the battlefield were meant to give us a sense of unfiltered
immediacy.  However, they ended up obscuring more than they revealed.  They
were embedded in an ideological construct that overrode any sense of
authentic onsite content.  They became munitions in another kind of war.

Accuracy seems to automatically emerge out of technological development.
The logic goes something like this:  Since technologies of vision give us
the ability to see increasingly precise details, they therefore give us a
more correct representation of something.  Accuracy is to be located in the
high-precision technology of visualization, not in our own perceptual
faculties.  Visualization is not about seeing, but about tracking:
detecting an object with unprecedented accuracy, pinpointing it precisely in
time and space, understanding how it moves, and predicting its future
position. One could say that we are witnessing the relocation of the site of
accuracy away from the space of perception and into the technologized image
itself.  It is as if the image network could harbor cognition and
authentication within its own confines.  One sees this at work not only in
high-tech systems but also in commercial news television.  The newscast
offers a form of automated deliberation.  Combining managed combat
information and entertainment, it does the thinking for its viewers.

A new quality of accuracy arises out of a resurgent form of witnessing,
preoccupied with the vicissitudes of the fallible human and the logistics of
the handheld.  With its sense of unfiltered credibility, streamed video
serves as a form of semiotic compensation for a landscape that has been
colonized by standardized media formats.  One might call it transmission
verite, where the hidden substrata of the technology are reintroduced as
part of the content of the image, and a raw immediacy appears to open up a
direct access to the real.  The reality of representation is substituted for
the representation of reality. That is, "authenticity" arises less from the
authentic representation of reality per se, and more from the authenticity
of the means by which reality is portrayed.  Whether "unmanned" or
"embedded," we could say that we are witnessing the relocation of vision to
a space outside of the body -- whether into a network or a networked "smart
image," or into a simulation of newly embodied presence through the scrim of
the media construct.

Battle simulations, news, and interactive games exist within an increasingly
unified space. With military-news-entertainment systems, simulations jostle
with realities to become the foundation for war. They help combine media
spectatorship and combat, viewing and fighting. They have a role in
producing the situations that they seem only to anticipate.  They deliver
images of the very system of conflicts that they help to maintain.  Forming
a loop between perception, technology, and the pacings of the body (eye,
viewfinder, trigger), they help to produce new forms of engagement and
subjectivity, attention and differentiation.  We locate ourselves to "this
side" of the image, to the safe side, against the enemy from which it
protects us.  We draw lines in the sand; we say, "I stand here against you,"
defining ourselves by that which we oppose.  Internal solidarities cohere
against external threats.  Identity is formed through the conduit of a
feared and necessary enemy.

Some images, by their nature, arouse conflicts as to their very existence.
These images should not be seen by anyone, one says.  This existent image
should not exist.  Such images fill us with dread.  Yet, they enrapture us
with a morbid fascination.  Squaring these two impulses is more troubling to
us than we realize.  Like the aftermath of a violent car crash, we have to
look, yet we don't want to see.

We are accustomed to being on the winning side of the image.  After all,
representation arose out of a need to protect us.  Photography was driven by
the need to remove the human from direct physical contact with the site of
experience, placing us on "on the other side" of representation as a shield
from reality.  It protected us from the vicissitudes and dangers of physical
presence and in the process allowed us a form of disembodied presence.  An
image comes full circle when it reveals the vulnerability of its own bodily
and machinic underpinnings.  The final video images of the Reuters cameraman
Mazen Dana in Baghdad are a case in point.  Watching the video, we see a US
Army tank approaching Dana and we feel the camera-body tumble to the ground
as he is shot by a US soldier, who mistook his camera for a weapon.  Both
machine and human collapse, the camera resting on an extreme close-up of the
pavement, upon which Dana's now inert body lays. The death of the
cameraman-as-stand-in reveals the mortality that hovers around the act of

When we see a violent image, we can be compelled to think, Who took this?
Someone was there; someone witnessed this act.  Yet, they did nothing to
stop it.  We are compelled to acknowledge the ethical codes of journalism:
the pact that allows the camera to slip into the battlefield as a neutral
agent, its negotiated resolve of non-intervention precisely the source of
its efficacy and power.  Yet perhaps, even by its very presence on the
scene, the camera is somehow responsible for the violence that it documents.
Somehow, through its introduction, it helps to enact violence.  The camera
helps to ensure that a violent act will stand for something.  It enacts
meaning, endowing significance to the isolated incident.  The camera
transforms life into mise-en-scene, and scripts an awareness of a future
audience of witnesses.

Even though reality and representation can never be reconciled, technologies
of vision and representation are driven by the false sense that they could
be.  We are compelled to locate veracity within the technologized image, yet
this line of endeavor is fundamentally a dead end.  Like the lead character
in Antonioni's Blow Up, who repeatedly enlarges his photographs of a
suspected crime scene in order to uncover their hidden truths, we are faced
with an existential crisis when we are unable to overcome the referential
gap.  Reality and representation can never be reconciled.  Could one, then,
posit the eventual elimination of the need for the image altogether?  Since
images are only offered up for the benefit of humans, machine-assisted or
automated seeing renders imaging superfluous.  Perhaps these images are no
longer representational in the traditional sense.  Rather, they are awkward
constructs that attempt to bridge this contradiction.

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