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<nettime> militarized images
Jordan Crandall on Fri, 16 Apr 1999 08:57:56 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> militarized images

Notes for Militarized Images’
Jordan Crandall

Images play out along groundlevel orientations.  We account for their
development in terms of terrestrial history – a largely civilian space
where technologies, representational modes, and cultural forms intertwine. 
Sightlines and perspectives advance or retreat; montages or sequences are
played out along the z- or y-axis; movements in three dimensional space
are simulated, calibrated, and compelled within specific historical and
discursive regimes.  In every case, images offer themselves to us as if
they were for our eyes only. 

There is another, parallel orientation along which images exist, another
historical trajective along which they have developed.  In contrast to the
terrestrial, we might think of this in terms of the vertical or aerial: of
looking downward rather than sideways.  We cannot usually see in terms of
this downward perspective, because it is a perspective in which we are
seen from a viewpoint not recognizably our own.  It is the perpective of a
militarized, machinic surround, and one that does not necessarily come
from the sky:  it is downlinked to and uplinked from embedded, groundlevel
orientations.  Militarized perspectives derive from ground apparatus as
much as satellites and they are entangled with civilian perspectives. 
These distinctions therefore do not really hold up.  But we will proceed

We know, increasingly, that this atmospheric surround sees us, but we
don’t know how it sees or what its images of us look like.  Are there even
images in this situation?  Machines don’t necessarily need images to see. 
And just as images are increasingly eliminated in the context of vast
flows of data that can be routed, sorted, and read by machines, human
operators are not always necessary in emerging systems that advance ever
more rapidly toward realtime activity.  Sometimes the margin for strategic
advantage is lost in the blink of an eyelid.  And militarized perspectives
require the maintenance of that strategic edge at all costs.  This is why
they exist, and why they cause distances to warp in their aftermath.  It
is not really a matter of humans being eliminated, however, so much as
their functions being integrated into the circuits -- as, concurrently,
these circuits are incorporated into retooled bodies.  Just as we know, to
a certain extent, that humans are already cyborgs, we should also know
that images are already machine-images.  Images, as we have known them,
are virtually ceasing to exist, as are the industrialized bodies that were
necessary to see them. 

Terrestrial Images

Photography once required lengthy exposure times, requiring subjects to
sit still for several hours.  It is difficult to imagine achieving this
today.  But even then it was impossible, for the immobility was always
betrayed through tiny movement-traces that seeped into the image.  For
Benjamin, this long-exposure photograph was an open window on accumulating
duration, allowing complex temporal relations to be instilled within the
image.  As technological developments began to allow ever-shorter exposure
times, the window of duration began to shrink, causing the temporal traces
to gradually evaporate. Technological conditions and their transmission or
exposure times were intimately connected to the time and space conjuncture
that was subsequently registered in the image. Since the time period
shrinks in which the subjects must sit still, another axis is interwoven –
the period of physical immobility.  In one sense, some of the
responsibility for this immobility has been gradually transferred to the
machine, freeing up the body to move. 

Or perhaps some of it is transferred to the image itself.  Instantaneous
photography introduced new possibilities for the image: the representation
of movement, by way of movements serially decomposed and projected in
syncopation with a technological apparatus at twenty-four frames per
second.  Movement needed to be fixed as such – dissected – before it could
be re-presented as a mobilized continuum. 

Concurrently, a viewer had to be fixed in place before it could register
such movements.  As Serge Daney has written, the movements of the
cinematic image could only be perceived because people were once put into
theaters, locked into place before the screen and held in a situation of
‘blocked vision’.  Immobilized, held in seat arrest and slowly trained how
to behave and see, people became sensitive to the mobility of the world
through the mediation of the screen.  They became sensitive to the
technologically-fabricated illusion of movement, but also another kind of
movement:  the language or grammar of cinema. Technological and
representational conditions joined bodily enactments in a circuit that
defined movement as such:  a movement defined in relation to the earth’s
horizon, but transmitted and intertwined with the staccado of the
cinematic ‘speech.’ With such terrestrial images, then, we can think of
technology/image/movement clusters in which subjects are transported,
sensitized, and contoured in active processes of incorporation and
integration.  This vehicular complex is one in which images are always

One could see actualized, restricted, or fabricated mobility as bound up
in technological changes, and technological changes as integrally about
the manipulation or ‘jamming’ of movement in the field of the visual. This
includes the transfer of some of the responsibility of embodied or
perceptual movements to machinic systems, and an emerging apparatus of
management, which, among other tasks, seeks to limit the ability of
movement to betray itself. 

Aerial Images

Photography developed concurrenly along another axis, with the recording
apparatus transported vertically up into the air.  A different
sensitivitiy to the mobility of the world occurred, which intersected
with, informed and registered, the terrestrial.  Sequences of still
images, taken from balloons and planes, were mechanically generated and
successively compared, in order to detect and analyse the kinds of ground
movements that they suggested.  One might call this method proto-filmic: 
to lay a series of still frames side by side was to understand a
particular kind of movement through interpolation, filling in the gaps
that technology was subsequently driven to bridge.  Tracking changes and
discovering patterns, the objective was to understand what moves (troops?
construction materials?), how it moves, and how that movement can be
intercepted or exploited. 

Aerial – militarized – representations configured out of a need for images
to tell more, tell better and sooner:  to devulge what may lay hidden,
latent, or concealed swiftly and accurately, in order to conquer, protect,
and help define a territorial body.  The complex temporal relations
instilled within the image are excavated and circulated within a calculus
of power.  To achieve these ends two things were required:  an analyst
well-skilled in the detection of patterns, and a database of searchable
past and present information, able to be accessed and deployed rapidly
especially during times of war.  Fueled by demands for efficiency and
ever-narrower windows between intelligence analysis and deployment,
intertwined with escalating technological developments, these databases
have grown substantially from their analogue origins (e.g. files).  Indeed
the database has, necessarily, become evermore closely allied with the
image.  The origin of this alignment is intertwined with the development
of the fundamental operations of the Turing machine, where abstract
machines and the data they manipulate – instructions, data, and working
process – could all be contained on a single surface, a single ‘organ’ –
an all-purpose electronic ‘memory.’ In many ways what has emerged is a
‘smart image,’ able to store searchable information (memory) within itself
and therefore allowing some human capacity to be transferred to the
machine. Concurrently, it helps to format a cognition that is more
conducive to the demands of the algorithms.  One cannot underestimate the
extent to which representation, cognition, and vision are embedded within
this circuit, fueled by efficiency demands. 

These formats, of course, have seeped into general use – for again, we are
speaking of realms that share many ties, and conventions that migrate. 
But the militarized image necessarily remains out of reach. While civilian
images proliferated, circulating unboundedly with the new mechanics of
reproducibility, the militarized image, which could be dangerous in
civilian or enemy hands, configured behind a wall of restriction.  It
required its own apparatus of obfuscation – its own veil of secrecy
through firewalling, encryption, or other evasive measures (deceit or
stealth). This militarized machine-image arose as a smarter image only
through the restriction of the number of viewers who could see it.  We can
speak of an ‘improved seeing’ that is built on the reduction of others’
ability to see, and a kind of movement-materiality that is calculated
precisely in order to evade the image:  in response to developments in
radar, for example, the aircraft that at first had the privilege of
unfettered seeing had become stealthified, constructed in order to escape
detection, as its optical capacities have been gradually transferred to
distributed systems.  And at groundlevel, radar can be switched off in
order to obfuscate ground locations to aerial electronics:  a tactic that
Serbian military, for example, has employed in the face of NATO bombing. 
The militarized image is embedded in matrices of detection and obfuscation
among combative actors, driven by the need for ever-decreasing strategic
margins and the ceaseless maintenance of ‘the edge.’ Its agents and
referents are involved in detecting patterns while evading and hampering
the ability of others to do so, gaining ‘signatures’ while reducing one’s
own signature, one’s own imprint upon a representational field, limiting
the movement-traces that have the potential to betray presence.  Within
this battlefield lay materiality and geography, integrally intertwined and
no longer primary in any sense. 

As with civilian images, then, we can think militarized images in terms of
technology/image/movement clusters in which subjects are transported,
sensitized, and contoured in active processes of incorporation and
integration.  To this we can suggest that these processes of incorporation
and integration occur within mechanisms of preventivity and protection,
and that subjects and bodies play out along singular and collective,
local, national, and international boundaries. The image, ever more
closely allied with the database, is held in tension among combative
actors, embedded unequally in procedures of detection and obfuscation. 
Militarized perspectives involve a particular strategy of aligning
databases (machine-images) with moving formations – an alignment that
increasingly counts, accounts for, and ‘produces’ subjects. 

We can posit two metaphoric scanning angles – angles of vision – that have
arisen in militarized perspective, each very different from the processes
of reflection by which we have come to know images.  These perspectives
are not only ‘top-down’ (aerial) but ‘back-through’ (countering the
horizontal image, as if seeing back through it from the other side).  We
can refer to these scanning angles in terms of tracking and identifying.. 
Each has developed rapidly through explosive growth in computing
technology and digital networks, contoured under the pressures of
miniaturization and fueled by the imposition of new dangers to individual,
group, and territorial bodies. 


In tracking, a viewing-agency moves over’ its object or target, scanning
its line of action, extracting data.  This data is processed, stored, and
made searchable and analysable for ever-narrowing strategic margins. For
example, the trajectory of a targeted plane is tracked in order to
calculate its future position for interception.  While it scans for data
in the past or present, the tracking mode is always oriented toward the
future.  It arose out of a need for proactivity – a need to superimpose a
scrim of future inclinations upon the now, generating a mesh of
potentialities.  Less concerned with the reactivity of crime than with a
proactive policing that might involve the tracking of certain segments of
society in red-lined areas before any crime is committed,
tracking-representations call for an image ahead of itself, a strange kind
of pre-image in which past activity, present actuality, and future
inclination are woven.  Unlike the images in long-exposure photography,
which contained traces of the past, these images – integrated with
databases – also contain traces of the future.  They have grown directly
in proportion with the increased capacity of databases to handle massive
amounts of low-grade intelligence and the proliferating arrays of devices
that enable this collection, and with the ideologies of preventivity that
have been quickly gathering steam in the public mind – as in, for example,
the frequent justification of DNA research in terms of its potential to
intercept disease before it happens. 

With tracking-signification we have a peculiar kind of vector, marking
actuality (what occurred or is occurring) in such a way that its
propensity (what is most likely to occur) is always invoked.  It is a sign
that is oriented toward the future, always seeming to include that which
follows it.  With advanced database techniques and their formats of
calculation, which, again, help to format a behavior that is more
conducive to the demands of the algorithms, we might think of these in
terms of statistical tendencies. ‘This’ is both something locatable in the
here-and-now as well as something that is moving like ‘%this->’.  As these
processes are never autonomous but immersed in active processes of
incorporation and integration, they mark a gradual colonization of the
now, a now always slightly after itself, and the emergence of what Mark
Seltzer has called ‘statistical persons.’ Indeed, frequently, and also in
civilian terms, there is no person who exists outside of the database, or
who speaks without its mediation. 


In the second scanning angle, concerned with processes of identification,
militarized perspectives seem to mark a seeing back through the image, as
if the vanishing point behind the image suddenly became an agency of
vision. They reverse the direction of sight, undermining the privileges we
assume.  It is as if the image were seeing back at us – but in this case
it may no longer function as, or resemble, anything like its predecessor. 
Granted, it is a port that compels identifications, but in this case it
identifies us before we identify it (and more efficiently and reliably). 
It does not show its face to us. Which brings us to the point that while
civilian images are embedded in processes of identification based in
reflection, military perspectives collapse identificatory processes into
‘ID-ing’: a oneway channel of authentication in which a conduit, a
database, and a body are aligned and calibrated.  In each case, a ‘knot’
of presence occurs, contouring a subject – a subject imaged or,
increasingly, constituted in a complex of managable calculations. 
Representation, embodiment, and identification are determined in terms
based less in reflection than in integration. 

Identification deals with attributes, and tracking with behavior, however
they almost always work in tandem, and there is really no lasting
distinction between them.  Combinations of unique anatomical or
behaviorial characteristics – for human or nonhuman subjects – are used to
create identity recognition systems that locate a subject by linking
directly to its biological substrate (as in retinal scanning and other
biometric technologies) and to its tracked and databased patterns of

Panic Spheres

Just as databases are ‘improved’ images, the tracking/identifying complex
marks an improved form of vision:  a database-harnessed,
societally-endorsed form of safe seeing that updates prior ocular regimes. 
Haunted by pending obsolescence, driven by technological imperatives, it
is a visionary capacity that cannot ‘fall behind’ lest it become simply
unreliable, incapable of participating fully in database-driven societies. 
It is vision upgraded and made safe against against an an unprocessed
exteriority, a dangerous and unrealiable outside.  Database society is
driven by the threat of danger, a danger that militarized perspectives
both counter and help to create.  It relies on a sporadic state of
emergency, a virtual panic sphere, around which the public rallies. 
Protective measures are installed in order to insure the public’s safety –
safety from bodily harm and from the possibility of its transmissions
being assaulted (doctored, stolen, lost, rerouted).  Under the possibility
of danger, database and corporeality blend in a hybrid body – a
statistical person – requiring new protections.  Virtual prophylactics
couch bodily, social, or territorial formations in a protective casing. 
This technology/image/movement cluster – a protective ‘vehicle’ – helps to
define an interior versus and exterior, and thus is embedded in a
subjectivizing process.  It helps to contour the physical parameter of the
users that in/habit its confines.  It is thus part of a process of
incorporation.  It helps to immerse its users into emerging systems and
realities.  It is thus part of a process of integration.  It helps to
protect against dangers while simultaneously helping to produce those
dangers.  It is thus part of an economy of security. 

Computerization has brought massive changes in the development and
coordination of databases, the speed and quality of communication with
intelligence and tactical agencies, operations and combat teams.  New
technologies of tracking, identification, and networking have increased
this infrastructure into a massive machinery of proactive supervision and
tactical knowledge. Originally conceived for the defense and intelligence
industries, these technologies have, after the cold war, rapidly spread
into the law enforcement and private sectors.  What would Benjamin have
done with such apparatus as night vision technology, developed as result
of the Vietnam war, which allows downlinked airborne cameras to track
human heat signatures in total darkness?  Militarized images no longer
even need light.  The axis of exposure has vanished. The form of seeing
that these images call forth, conjoined with data-flows and -bases,
conspire to render them unnecessary.  This new regime is not about
presentation but about processing.  The moving image has moved on.  In the
twenty-first century we will no longer sit still. 

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