media, information, the contemporary

Video Workshop Report


The arrival of video ushered in a new logistics of access, circulation and production of audio-visual forms. Analog video introduced new infrastructures and legal contests for film circulation and viewing cultures, set new terms for amateur and professional practices in home videos, documentary and commercial works, pedagogical practices and civil society activism, and has been a key dimension of the history of surveillance. This workshop sought to track this history and also to consider the shifts engendered with the arrival of digital video. Thematically, the workshop engaged with the infrastructures that led to the arrival and dissemination of analog video, the shifting legal debates around analog video and video surveillance, cellphone cultures and online videos.

The first session opened with presentations around video in the 80’s and its proliferation in the 90’s. Ishita Tiwary’s presentation spoke of the longer history of video with a focus on the form of the ‘marriage video’. With technology as the entry point, she opened multiple fields of enquiry around the object such as marriage photography as precursor, gender politics, the influence of cinema, questions of aesthetics and performance. Her paper also explored parallels between ‘marriage video’ and the ‘home video’. The questions of exhibition, consumption and experience were key to Sebastian Thejus Cherian’s paper on the use of VHS in Kerala. These categories were investigated within the larger framework of its transnational consumption. Cherian explored practices such as home video viewing, proliferation of video libraries, and growth of the grey market. Shweta Kishore’s presentation on independent video documentary explored the relationship between participatory and community video and the empirical and psychological dimensions of ‘realism’. She further elaborated on the particular form of participatory video where geography, technology, methodology and the question of developmental agenda emerged as important to this video practice. The papers showed that the emergence of video practices in the 80’s had multiple forms. The discussion that followed drew out a number of parallels amongst the papers, with a particular focus on the different ways they described the question of video infrastructure.

Session two of the workshop explored three areas in the legal regulation of video. The first paper by Siddharth Narrain relied on the legal archive, primarily judgments of the High Court and the Supreme Court that dealt with contestations around the exhibition of analog video. The paper interrogated the definition of the term ‘public exhibition’, and also looked at the definition of the term video and the court’s attempt to distinguish celluloid film from video technology. Through a detailed exposition of the legal definitions, the paper examined how the courts focused on the materiality of the medium, and the ways in which they began to draw upon copyright law to regulate the use of the new technology for public exhibition. The second presentation by Lawrence Liang examined media and visual evidence, specifically examining issues around the authenticity of video used as evidence in courts of law. Looking at key cases like the car chase in the O.J. Simpson trial, and the recording of the accused in a narcoanalysis test in the Telgi stamp paper case, the paper posed the question of how the law relies on certain forms of visual evidence, while at the same time how advances in technology have made it easier to doctor images and fake visual evidence. The third presentation by Ravi Chaturvedi and Shruti Nagpal examined the increased use of video surveillance in schools in Delhi. By breaking down responses from surveys conducted in 50 schools, the authors threw light on the multiple reasons behind surveillance, and the larger tension between security and human rights. The authors contrasted the ubiquitous use of CCTV surveillance in schools with the lack of privacy laws in India, and a lack of clarity on what happens to the data that is collected, how such data can be accessed and who can access it. One of the areas that the authors focused on was the response of employees and managements of schools to the use of surveillance, revealing a substantial opinion of management on the need for surveillance in schools. The discussion around this session centered on the intersection of the Internet and video, and how the law dealt with videos on You Tube, the distinction between censorship and certification of video, the legal definition of video cinema, the controversy around the AIB Roast video, and the ways in which there was a blurring of carriage and content in the law, the idea of ‘publicness’ and its re-alignment in the law, and the longer history of the definition of public exhibition in public amusement law.

The third session dealt with two completely different cultures of cell phone videos, locating their aesthetic and cultural implications. Rashmi M presented her ethnographic work-in-progress exploring the sociality of video consumption amongst migrant security guards in urban cities like Bangalore. Her paper explored the offline circuits of mobile and peripheral technologies that operate beyond the reach of social networking giants in cities, specifically in the mobile accessories shop which could upload audio and video for cellphone users without access to the internet. She tracked the afterlife of videos after download through male dominated networks of sharing amongst security guards. Investigating the networks of sharing and belonging which accessed and circulated this low-cost digital material, Rashmi argued that these could not be understood in the standard accounts of commodities and markets.

Yaminay’s paper unpacked the low resolution image, moving away from its indexical power into the realm of desire and haptic materiality. Viewing ‘low-res’ not as a medium but as a palimpsest, Yaminay poetically emphasized the possibility of participation inherent in such images as it invites the viewer to supply registers of memory and recognition in the evocation of practice and place. Exploring questions of desire as relayed through latter-day Islamic miniature paintings, critically engaging the possibilities of fetishization in the work of documentary art video, and theorizing low res images as Foucauldian heterotopic spaces, Yaminay presented her own work as palimpestic and fragmentary exploration of experience.

The discussion that followed M. Rashmi’s paper focused on the politics of access and knowledge, how her research complicated the idea of consumption and demonstrated the subaltern navigation of limited connectivity, and concluded with an emphasis on how digital economies and practices need to be mapped in terms of class differences and networks of sociality. The discussion on Low Res revolved around questions of locating the poor image, both in its bleakness and relation to longing, and the politics that had developed around pixellization, reframing it quite differently from the American avant garde.

In the last session, the three presenters opened up several themes related to emerging ontologies of digital video. Charu Maithani’s paper on Glitch & Error and its role in aesthetics framed the ever-present and yet unpredictable glitches in the everyday of software as affect. Using visual art material, she sought to draw links between glitch aesthetics and the longer histories of new media. Becca Savory’s paper constructed a cultural sociology of Flash Mob performers and the online mediation of performance. She explained how YouTube as a practice has shifted the contexts, meanings and emphasis of performance both for the performers and the audiences. The last paper by Shaunak Sen dealt with the temporal and gestural economy of a GIF, and the challenges posed to earlier media forms and their historicity, as media such as the cinema are redeployed as content in often contingent ways and in a new constellation of media use. On the other hand, drawing on the Alok Nath meme story, involving the lampooning of an iconic figure of cinematic and televisual probity, he outlined the way the meme and viral circulation suggested a process not of displacement of old media forms and contents, but their refiguring in a knowing re-deployment of media memory. The discussion in this session explored longer histories of media and media storage and retrieval, including histories of informational error, models of performance and how these have been reframed by online/offline linkages and coordination, and the emerging media worlds of the digital as these frame and reframe media archaeology.