Re: Cameras for Gaza

From: Fred Camper (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Jan 11 2009 - 10:39:53 PST

malgosia askanas wrote:

> Frameworks may not be the right place to debate politics, but it
> definitely is the right place to debate the meaning and political usage
> of images. This thread started with someone asking for donations to
> send cameras to Gaza. In these days of routinely staged and doctored
> images, is a "documentary" image really worth a thousand words? What IS
> a "documentary" image worth - without knowledge of the matter, without
> understanding and thought (all of which require words) - other than as a
> tool to stir up a knee-jerk reaction?

I don't agree with most of what's been posted here about Israel's war on
Hamas, but I do agree with this. Images of killed civilians are not
enough, and in fact could convey false impressions. I don't agree with
Israel's attack, nor do I endorse the Allied firebombing of Dresden or
the US nuking of two Japanese cities. But the Enola Gay flyers may well
have been right to protest a planned exhibit over a decade ago that
focused only on the bombing. They wanted a larger context, beginning
with Pearl Harbor. But someone else could also argue that Pearl Harbor
must be understood in the larger context of the US and Japanese
imperialism that led up to it. Dresden must of course be understood in
the context of World War II, started by the Germans, or, arguably, by
the Germans and the USSR together, and not the Allies. The question of
whether the firebombings of German civilians were justified then goes to
questions such as whether such attacks helped shorten the war, saving
other lives, or in fact did not help. Or, if you're a complete pacifist,
then you have to argue that case. Or, if you're some kind of racist, and
think German lives are less, or more, valuable than others, then you
have to argue those positions. Is cinema even a good vehicle for asking
such questions?

Cinema has in general not done a good job of making intellectual
arguments. One might ask of the current war in Gaza, for example, under
what circumstances is a war that will cause many civilian deaths
justified? I might argue that rocket attacks that have killed no
Israelis in recent months or years is not enough to justify the current
war, in which, by now, more than a dozen Israelis have been killed. But
others, including Israelis, can disagree, and those rocket attacks were
in no sense legal, and certainly terrorized the population that they
were directed against, and it seems to me that they were as morally
unjustifiable as earlier Palestinian suicide bombings directed against
Israeli civilians. The point is, reasonable people can disagree about
this war, but such disagreements are moral and ethical and legal ones,
and in that context, it's not clear how valuable documentary images from
Gaza, or Sderot, would be. A complex skein of historical facts and
arguments is needed to provide context. And even then, reasonable people
can differ on how wide a net to cast and how far back to go in analyzing
the situation. Who really broke the case fire? Was Israel's unilateral
pullout from Gaza absent a peace treaty even a wise idea? Who is to
blame for the absence of a peace treaty? Was Israel's earlier occupation
of Gaza and the West Bank justified? Is its settlement policy justified?
Are the decades of Arab terrorist attacks on Israel justified? Was
founding the state if Israel a wise idea, and what about the 1948 Arab
war to wipe the nascent state off the map? What role does knowledge of
the Shoah (the "Holocaust") play? Or do we start our history with the
modern European colonization of the Middle East, or with the Crusades,
or with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., or even earlier
than that?

In most cases, I have found political documentaries sadly lacking in
comparison with even a mediocre newspaper or magazine article. Moving
pictures not only don't add much to my understanding of the issues; they
can often help obscure understanding.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that banning reporting from Gaza is such
a good idea either! Was the US military's ban on images of the coffins
of and funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq a good idea?

I don't know of a cinema that can sensibly debate, or even ask, these
kinds of questions, so in that sense I agree with Malgosia's "require
words" argument. Dziga Vertov made a tentative stab, though, at trying
to edit images in a way that widens the context of what you see, as in,
for example, his famous reverse montage starting with a dinner table
back through the phases of meat production.

Fred Camper

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