PhotoEx Symposium Presentation - “Exposing the Invisible,” Are We Documenting or Surveiling?

Marek Tuszynski, creative technologist and co-founder of the Berlin-based organization Tactical Technology Collective,  began his presentation on Exposing the Invisible with a brief clip from his film Unseen War. Marek selected a chapter on The Fake Drone, wherein artist James Bridle discusses one of the most widely shared images of a military drone. In an interview, James reveals that this photograph is infact a Photoshop illustration constructed by a hobbyist. He concludes the interview in stating, “The most widely distributed image of this incredibly liminal, strange technology is itself a dream”.

By exposing the fiction of this oft-shared reproduction, Marek challenged the audience to question their trust in unverified imagery. He builds upon this theme of trust and verification in saying, “I introduced James Bridle because he tackles two aspects of invisibility: one is that when there’s a picture of what is often invisible, we must remember that it may be fake. We often deal with this in our work; when there isn’t a picture to represent something, we often think it’s okay to use any image… This is both a romantic and existential.” He continued, “Invisibility comes when there is a secret that you’re not allowed to see, a taboo that you aren’t allowed to talk about, or a situation where there’s not enough information and data to build a pure picture of what you suspect to be there. When you’re challenging situations of power, you must ask yourself about what is both visible and invisible.”

Exposing the Invisible is an ongoing project that approaches themes of the invisible through a series of case studies, interviews and tools that explore the capacity of metadata to protect, investigate and expose abuses of power. Through the belief that “the digital age has profoundly transformed the way people find and share information” and that the internet has “enabled collaboration between activists, hackers and journalists on an unprecedented scale”, Exposing the Invisible seeks to reveal previously unimaginable possibilities in investigative reporting. Through their series of short films and case studies, they explore the tools and methods and learn how to manage the risks of information activism. Additionally, they provide important resources for activists to protect themselves and their work.

During the presentation, Marek shared a portion of a case study with Mari Bastashevski, a Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund recipient. Mari discusses her practice which she describes as being “spread across investigative research, journalism, and art and deliberately blurs these boundaries among them in an attempt to challenge existing information delivery modes.” In the short case study, Mari discusses power and secrecy; “As a photographer I’m interested in processes that are secret. All of the research that I do leads up to an image and the image becomes a framework for that which cannot be seen. If it wasn’t for research or investigation, the photograph would show nothing.” She elaborated on her process, “I’m often rejected when I ask for a photograph. It’s a very standard, procedural system of request and rejection, where I become the requestor and they wield the power to reject. What I try to do is to ask them where I can photograph– what is that distance? This for me is the disruptive element that allows me to switch out of this assumed position and allows my subject to draw their perimeter of secrecy, be it real or imagined.”

You can view Marek’s presentation below, as well as the excerpts of artists James Bridle and Mari Bastashevski:

Simone Salvo