Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, and the Imaginary

By Ron Burnett | Go to book overview

4
Projection

A Coup in Thailand

Earlier in this book I briefly mentioned the story of Neil Davis, a news photographer killed in Thailand during an aborted coup in the middle of the 1980s. His death was broadcast all over the world. He died holding a television camera in his hands. The camera fell to the ground, providing viewers with the sensation of a present-tense experience of his death. For many months afterward, the images were quoted in other news shows and in documentaries about the Asian subcontinent, with parallel comments about the hazards of being a reporter in the field. The dangers were accentuated by the relationship between the attempted coup in Thailand and a variety of wars from the Middle East to Afghanistan. The paradox of course is that Davis wanted to be at the center of the action, that he wanted to film the scene that killed him. It is this desire that must be examined in the light of his death.

What could he have shown us about the attempted coup in Thailand? What did we "see"? How do we explain our fascination with the "visual" aspects of this experience? There is a sense in which Davis's death is about, as David Michael Levin has put it (in a comment on George Berkeley's An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision), "what principally moves our eyes is the desire to know, and that knowledge is mastery and control."1 But do we gain control over his death by watching it? The puzzle here is that there is no fixed way of describing the many levels of thought and emotion that constitute this experience of watching a man die. The attempt at mastery is always confronted by a sliding away, a movement from the seen to the unseen and from recognition to confusion. What we define as the visible (in the form of an image or the act of seeing) never fully contains within it the range of experiences we need to maintain a genuine feeling of control.

Yet this is also the basis upon which a dialogue is established with the experience of the visible and the image. Possession reveals itself to be ephemeral, and the only "place" within which some order can be brought into this set of experiences is through argumentation and discussion. The dialogic na-

____________________
1
David Michael Levin, The Opening of Vision ( New York: Routledge, 1988), 69.

-127-

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Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, and the Imaginary
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1 - Images and Vision 1
  • 2 - Camera Lucida Barthes and Photography 32
  • 3 - From Photograph to Film Textual Analysis 72
  • 4 - Projection 127
  • 5 - Reinventing the Electronic Image 218
  • 6 - Postmodern Media Communities 278
  • Bibliography 337
  • Index 349
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