Recycle, reuse…reduce? I have a sinking feeling…

Image: Still from footage in the C4 documentary: The Sinking of the Concordia: Caught on Camera

I was intrigued last night to sit down and watch the UK Channel 4 programme: “The Sinking of the Concordia: Caught on Camera”,  not because of a particular fascination of international disasters (a fleeting interest, I can’t deny) but rather because ALL of the footage was edited together from passengers’ mobile phones and home videos (okay, plus a tiny wee bit from the rescue helicopters night vision (cool) and some from the divers’ footage post sinking (eerie)…but that’s not the point.) It’s hard to know how much footage they had to choose from but the editors managed to successfully weave together five or so personal stories that in turn gave the viewer characters to follow and empathise with, as the ‘drama’ unfolded. It was very well done.

It has made think about all the visual information already in existence. We recycle our furniture, books and clothes…one perspective is that we rarely need buy anything new at all…should we be doing the same with our visual imagery? Writing in 1983 Vilém Flusser states that the number of photographs that can be taken by the camera is finite.[i]  Are we reaching some kind of saturation point, and furthermore should we be more considerate of how many images we produce that are stored, copied, communicated at some expense to our environment?

This is by no means the first project to recycle visual imagery – there are plenty of examples out there from the armchair tourist software “Photosynth” and to the more critical work of UK art duo Thomson and Craighead. Specifically, their “A Short Film About War” and “Several Interruptions” are created by sourcing and re-editing only visual imagery (the latter, solely video) that exists already on the internet. And despite interactive ‘news’ sites encouraging the man-on-the-street  to upload their own imagery of newsworthy events if they happen to be on-hand before the TV crews, Channel 4 may be the first large commercial broadcaster to have created a feature-length documentary program with such source material.

What does it mean? I don’t know; it’s just interesting.

The main difference is that the footage wasn’t (and couldn’t have been) shot by professionals on professional equipment. However, the roughness of some of the video footage in the programme didn’t bother me as I watched; in fact, I barely noticed it (in relation to the storyline that is – but i did notice it as a blogger about imagery…) Maybe we’re also more used to looking at ‘rough’ footage now anyway, whether it’s our own low-res hand-held mobile video or from being faked in films such as “The Blair Witch Project”(1999) (the first of its kind?) and “Cloverfield”(2008)

So do I think we should  stop making our own visual imagery? Absolutely not. But there’s no denying that the majority of people making it aren’t trying to push the maximum of Flusser’s finite number of images, they’re regurgitating what is already out there. And where does that leave us when we consider the future of an art practice?

I leave you with this:

Apparatuses are black boxes that simulate thinking in the sense of a combinatory game using number-like symbols: at the same time, they mechanize this thinking in such a way that, in future, human beings will become less and less competent to deal with it and have to rely more and more on apparatuses. Apparatuses are scientific black boxes that carry out this type of thinking better than human beings because that are better at playing (more quickly and with fewer errors) with number-like symbols. Even apparatuses that are not fully automated (those that need human beings as players and functionaries) play and function better  than the human beings that operate them. This has to be the starting point for any consideration of photography.[ii]

(And don’t get me started on T2…)

[i] Flusser, Vilém Towards a Philosophy of Photography Germany (1983) p.26

[ii] Flusser, Vilém Towards a Philosophy of Photography Germany (1983) p.32


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