IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - Summer 2014 - 27

IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

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SuMMEr 2014

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/PublIC DOMAIN.

too could record evidence that document people in
compromising situations. What is it about the visual
that creates such unusual anxieties?
The belief in the authenticity of images is seen everywhere. Car-mounted dashboard cameras, for instance,
are meant to provide irrefutable proof in case of an accident. A main producer advertises them as devices that
"capture critical moments ... to keep yourself safe from
fraudulent claims" [6]. Such belief in the authenticity of
the visual goes a long way back. In documentary photography it was long assumed that a photographer is an
"objective witness" to political phenomena, providing
authentic representations of, say, war or poverty [7].
Images seem to give us a glimpse of the real. They
provide us with the seductive belief that what we see
in a photograph or a film is an authentic representation of the world: a slice of life that reveals exactly
what was happening at a particular moment. roland
Barthes speaks of analogical perfection, of an authentic mimetic reproduction of reality [8].
But images deceive, as Barthes knows very well,
and not only because they can be manipulated or even
faked. All images - still and moving - do so. They do
so in at least in two ways.
First, images reflect certain aesthetic choices. They
represent the world from a particular angle. They inevitably exclude as much as they include. Consider the
two version of the historical photograph reproduced
here. Taken in 1944, the photograph depicts the president of the Croatian Parliament, Marko DoŇ°en, and several Catholic Church leaders, including the Archbishop
Alojzije Stepinac. Both the original (Fig. 1) and the
cropped version (Fig. 2) of the photograph produce a
visual simulacrum, showing exactly that the lens and
sensor capture. But the two versions show completely
different political realities. The cropped version depicts
three clergy engaging in what seems a normal and
uncontroversial activity. The original version places
them next to soldiers and civilians giving Nazi salutes,
thus visually documenting their complicity.
Second, images do not make sense by themselves.
They always need to be interpreted, and this interpretation takes place in the context of existing cultural practices. Take, again, the above photograph. To make sense
of the image we need to know something about the history of Fascism in Europe; we need to know what a
Nazi salute is and what kind of atrocities are associated
with its politics. To understand the shocking nature of
the image we also need to know a range of things about
religion, from how priests dress to Christianity's presumed embrace of humane values.
The arbitrary and at times deceiving processes are at
play in all images, whether they be captured by CCTV
cameras, drones, dashcams, mobile phones, or by augmented reality headwear. All of the so-produced images
are partial. They do not contain an unquestionable

Fig. 2. Cropped version of Fig. 1.

visual truth. recognizing the ensuing politics of representation does not diminish the concern many have
about the loss of privacy in a hyper-surveillance-society. But it does require a more nuanced understanding
of - and corresponding discussion about - the role of
images in a rapidly changing age of visual wearables.

Author Information
roland Bleiker is Professor of International relations,
School of Political Science and International Studies,
university of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia. Email: bleiker@uq.edu.au.

References

[1] D. Campbell, "The global spread of mobile technology and what
it means for visual storytelling," Visual Storytelling: Creative Practice and Criticism, May 16, 2013; http://www.david-campbell.org, accessed March 2014.
[2] P. Levis, You're being watched: There's one CCTV camera for
every 32 people in u.K.," The Guardian, Mar. 3, 2011.
[3] K. Michael, "For now we see through a glass, darkly," IEEE Technology & Society Mag., vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 4-5, Winter 2013.
[4] M.G. Michael and K. Michael, "√úberveillance: Microchipping
people and the assault on privacy," Quadrant, vol. 53, no. 3, pp. 85-89,
Mar. 2009.
[5] K. Alexander, "I was attacked for wearing Google Glass," Sydney
Morning Herald, Feb. 26, 2014.
[6] Navman, "GPS digital drive recorders for every driver: Protect
yourself with a MiVue dash cam," 2014; http://www.navman.com.au/
car-GPS-devices/car-camera-series/.
[7] D. Levi Strauss, Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and
Politics. New York, NY: Aperture, 2003, p. 45.
[8] r. Barthes, Image, Music, Text, S. Heath, tr.London, u.K.: Fontana,
1977, p. 17.
[9] "How Orientalism reproduces itself," in Revolutionology: Reflections by a Sociologist in Lybia, Apr. 2, 2011; http://revolutionology.
wordpress.com/about/.

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http://www.david-campbell.org http://www.navman.com.au/ http://revolutionology http://www.wordpress.com/about/

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