Cameras as weapons

In these times in which practically everybody has (or has access to) a camera and can take pictures* most of the time people will see a photograph and take for granted that there was a camera there.

A policeman “assessing” an operation during a concentration in Madrid, Spain

However, there is a situation where cameras are ever-present and impossible not to notice: social movements. When there are protests (and lately there have been plenty) or some other act of confrontation with “the powers that be” cameras are always there, usually on the civil side to document any excesses but, since the continuous uprisings in Europe, America and the Middle East, cameras are being used more and more by the police as a way “to assess the operations” (or so they say).

Israeli soldier pointing at the citizen recording the arrest of a 5 year-old.

Some time ago I read an article about a 5-year-old boy who was arrested by the Israeli army. In one of the videos, the israeli soldiers points his camera to the person taping the events. The way he aims, it seems, has little to do with “operation assessment” and more with intimidation. The same way civilians would use their cameras to [try to] intimidate policemen when facing brutality (at some point of the video someone even shouts “you are going to be on the news!”).

This reminded me of a quote by Susan Sontag’s “On photography”:

Like guns and cars, cameras are fantasy-machines whose is use is addictive. However, despite the extravagance or ordinary language and advertising, they are not lethal. […] The camera/gun, does not kill, so the ominous metaphor seems to be all bluff — like men’s fantasy of having a gun, knife, or tool between his legs. Still, there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder — a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.

In reality, I would say, people on all sides of these situations (policemen are people) bring their cameras not only for documenting but also as a kind of weapon for protection or threat. A weapon that says: “watch out, you are being watched and this can be used against you”. Pure panopticism.

* The author states this from a “urban-westerner” point of view. He is aware that there are very different realities through the different parts of the world.

Originally published at