In ‘summary of the year just gone’ style a recent article in The Guardian points to the massive increase in the use of camera phone generated content by news providers in 2011. The Arab Spring is cited as being the ‘tipping point’ both in the central role that citizen media played in the international community’s access to the events as they were taking place and also with respect to the fact that photojournalists are now using the ‘less intrusive’ and ‘more authentic looking’ cell phone cameras. The industry continues to feel the pressure of new delivery models as photojournalists are laid off and citizen media, while emulated for its ‘authenticity’, is decried for its lack of interpretive authority.
Michele McNally, assistant managing editor for photography at the New York Times … said citizen media was an “instant document” of an event rather than a replacement for skilled photojournalism. She said: “Most amateur footage does lack the real smart interpretation of what it’s like to be there.”
I’m wondering if a more appropriate analysis might be that the proliferation of amateur footage, and the increasing use of video in place of the still shot, has changed the way in which ‘being there’ is experienced, or understood, by the remote viewer. Being in a conflict zone is no longer framed with a head to camera introduction. Being there is not a freeze frame. The beauty of the ‘being there image’ (and yes I do think that the question of interpretive legitimacy is an aesthetic judgement) is not the poignant victim, the brutal power, or the grizzly remains. It is the blur and pant of a running camera forgotten under a sniper’s gaze, or the rush of a climbing tsunami. It is not beauty in the way in which it has been understood in a modern framework – with the space of contemplative distance – but rather the beauty of immediacy, of a palpable body/identity/presence conjured by the three dimensional motion of the viewfinder.
The way in which ‘an event’ is created by virtue of the presence of a camera has also changed with the proliferation of camera phones. In all spheres of life there is now a constant performance of ‘eventness’. The camera phone is less obtrusive as an instrument of documentation because of its small size, but also because it is just one among many. (Inter)national politics becomes micropolitics, a battle enacted not day by day, but minute by minute, blow by blow, through the massing documents of a multitude, in a flurry of video instants, for the capture of a global imagination.
And as the imagination is captured, so it is sold. Over this footage of a Syrian sniper taking aim at a young child, there are advertisements for sim cards and broadband.
The semantic structure of international news is no longer built within the broadcast frame. Rather it is articulated by the connective logic of the advertisement that offers access – an ability to participate in the production of political spectacle and to feedback more connections, more visual fodder for the attention of a capitalisable audience. I am curious to see how this semantic function of the advertisement will develop as You Tube rebrands itself with a more overtly commercial tone.