Video activism

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In 1991, Rodney King, an Afro-American living in Los Angeles was stopped by the police on the road, on the grounds that he was riding his motorcycle over the speed regulations and he was beaten in the middle of the street. This event was filmed by a video camera placed in the balcony of a nearby mass housing dwelling. The power of the video camera was recognized for the first time, the rapid dissemination of those images all around the world led to street riots and to bringing the policemen to trial.

In the beginning of the 1990's video cameras became smaller, cheaper and began to be integrated into mobile phones. These developments combined with editing programs that could be used in home PC's led to the rise of "video activism" for social justice on par with the empowerment of civil society. Many pioneering organizations such as; Paper Tiger, Whispered Media, Witness, Appalshop in the USA; Chiapas Media Project in Mexico; CEFREC in Bolivia; Drishti Media Collective, Indian People's Media Collective Kritika in India; Undercurrents, I-contact video network in the UK; Labor News Production in South Korea; INSIST in Indonesia; Candida in Italy, and Karahaber and Videa in Turkey employed video as an indispensable part of their various campaigns against violations of human rights, environment and minority rights.

The anti-globalization movements that started in Seattle in 1999, ignited the 'independent media against mainstream media' movement organized on the Internet, a movement in which people could freely recount their stories. The rapid proliferation of the Internet, the rise in video sharing and increase in data transfer speed, put media activists into the agenda. These were people fighting against violations of rights, recording events with video cameras, and spreading images and news of events or actions censored by mainstream media, on the Internet.

"From "Kinok" to "Videok"

The roots of that kind of video making can be seen as far back as the 1920's, to the times of groups that produced news and images via their reporter networks that were called "Kinok" by the Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov. Their work was based on mechanistic and collective image production principles, they performed in an uncontrolled flow without any division of labor. The British social documentary of the 1930's under the leadership of Grierson, documenting daily lives and ordinary problems; Cinema Verité movement of 1960's of Jean Rouch; 'Group Medvedkine' of Chris Marker 'filming ' the factory strikes by workers themselves, and the collective production of those films at the end of the1960's; and the "Genç Sinema Hareketi" (Young Cinema Movement) in 1970's Turkey that documented social events and actions can all be connected to today's video activism movement.

In fact, since the introduction of the portable video cameras in the mid-1960's, video art and video activism have existed side by side. This is a period in which the first video artists and activists went into the streets with their cameras in hand, claiming that the 'guerilla' tactics of this tool would eventually change television. The birth of video intersected the apex of idealism of cultural change and societal pluralism; this gave the video movement its first energy charge leading to the diversity seen today. For many people, video was a tool representing the 'revolt' against the institution of commercial television. The activists simply believed that the television revolution would finally be realized, just by giving cheap portable cameras to people, and asking them to express themselves using these tools. Then the term 'guerilla television', referring to specific activist video recordings, with all its aggressive and destructive connotations entered the English language. The concept of guerilla television is defined by the inventor of the term, Raindance member Michael Shamberg, as: "Guerrilla Television is grassroots television. It works with people, not from above them. On a simple level, this is no more than 'do-it-yourself-TV.' But the context for that notion is that survival in an information environment demands information tools."

Thus, video activist groups and guerilla television experiments of the 1970's began, such as; Videofreex, Riandance, Global Village and People's Video Theatre, Ant Farm, Video Free America and Optic Nevre. For instance, Videofreex worked on creating an alternative history via television by focusing on documenting counter-cultures, just like many video activist groups today. The examples of their filming include; anti-war protests, the Black Panthers, communes, Chicago 7 case c. They did not document events in a selective manner; they were actually collecting news based on the idea of real-time filmmaking which with no editing being employed was more "real", involving a kind of authenticity, closeness, compared with other imaging tools. Although the members of those collectivities were artists (the majority of whom are still producing today), interested in collecting alternative news, wishing to display the problems of media and technology and taking a pluralistic approach to documenting history, they were opposed to the debates about video within the art scene. Since art as seen by the Western culture, supports the superiority of the individualistic creator and the idea of masterpieces, closely related to the material value of a work of art, therefore, collectivism was not easily accepted.

"Video-maker as Producer"

Today, many methods/formations such as 'Witness Video' are working with various human rights organizations around the world. Examples of this collaboration can be seen in the Group Medvedkine movement of Chris Marker of the 1960's when striking factory workers were transformed into filmmakers; or the Guerilla Television experience of Michael Shamberg where he dreamt of converting the audience-victims into reporters. These video-makers focus on issues such as; child soldiers in the Congo Democratic Republic; juvenile prison reforms in the USA; mass forced migration and human rights violations in Burma; slave labor in Brazil, and torture in Mexico. They are trying to change the world using video by providing victims with equipment and tools so they can tell their own stories. They do not film the victims, but they help the victims to produce their own images.

Ege Berensel

("From Guerilla Television to Video-Activism, from Witness Video to Media-Activism: How to Resist Using Video",, 2012)



See also

Art and Culture

Avant-garde and modernist magazines, Artists' publishing, Graphic design, Photography, Typewriter art, Multimedia environments, Design research, Video activism, Urban practices, Zine culture, Demoscene, VJing, Live cinema, Art and technology centres, Cyberfeminism, Community television, Hacktivism, Art servers, Hackerspaces, CD-ROM art, Circuit bending, Pure Data, Media archives, VVVV, Maker culture, Glitch art, Live coding, Locative media, Libre graphics, Electromagnetism, Surf clubs, DIY biology, Post-digital, Neural aesthetics.
See also Art styles and movements.