Through a Lens that Wasn’t My Own: Vernacular Video and the Digital Archive

‘Atta Najar, Salam Najar, and Mi’ad Najar compare footage during a 2014 B’Tselem training seminar in the village of Burin. © B’Tselem.

Last year, MFJ invited filmmakers Liat Berdugo and Peter Snowdon to discuss what happens when regular people—not professional journalists—record and circulate video of political violence. Can such an act, often taken at great personal risk, force the public to question official narratives? Can it lead to real justice? These questions are especially urgent now, as Gazans living through the Israeli invasion share evidence of wartime atrocities with the world—and as criminal proceedings, initiated by South Africa against the Israeli government, bring these materials into the space of international law.

The Jerusalem-based non-profit B’Tselem, whose archives Berdugo examined in her book The Weaponized Camera in the Middle East (2021), has for years distributed camcorders to Palestinians living in occupied territories, and has also made use of YouTube and other third party commercial platforms to circulate the videos. Berdugo has interviewed many of the amateur filmmakers who work with B’Tselem about their experiences. Snowdon, in his book The People Are Not an Image (2020), looks at video created during the 2011-2012 revolutions in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. His film The Uprising (2014) is entirely made up of YouTube clips, many which are still available.

We are pleased to provide online access to their discussion for the first time, and to include links to the videos they discuss.

Liat Berdugo : I came to this work as a visual and new media artist. In that way, Peter, you and I have something in common—we’ve come to it first as artists and then as writers.

In 2013, I was on a year-long residency in Tel Aviv, which is where a lot of my family lives, and I met the director of the B’Tselem camera project. B’Tselem distributes video cameras to Palestinians who live in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, in order to document human rights violations and seek redress through citizen-recorded video. The initiative was really interesting to me because it started in 2007—years before the Arab Spring brought vast attention to the emancipatory potential of mobile technology. I went in to B’Tselem’s headquarters and began watching the materials that were there in the archive. B’Tselem has around 5000 hours of recorded footage, only a fraction of which it has published online.

I began going into the archive because I wanted to see the conflict through a lens that wasn’t my own. I’m an Israeli citizen—and Israeli law forbids me from going to Palestinian-controlled areas like Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron. As I began to watch these videos, I really got to know the filmmakers—the cadence of their voice, their breath behind the camera. I began to develop a taxonomy of how cameras are used in the field to curtail Israeli military action. At times they are used as a tool to expose and document abuses. Other times, the cameras are used to produce shame. I found a lot of videos where Palestinians shout at soldiers, “shame on you.” In my book I discuss how the videos are used as evidence in courts, or in the court of public opinion. I also talk about the use of citizen videos in forensic analysis—what forensic analysis does, which I argue is to both necessitate citizen recorded video at the same time as it  diminishes it, saying that it alone is not enough.

An IDF soldier photographs B'Tselem volunteer, Bilal a-Tamimi, as he records inside his own home in a-Nabi Saleh, February 18, 2014. © B’Tselem.

IDF soldiers raid the home of the Da’Na family in Hebron, documented by a B’Tselem volunteer

Peter Snowdon: So, when you went into the B’Tselem archive, you weren’t going to write a book, and you weren’t going to make a video, is that right? It was a step you took to enlarge and politicize your own vision of what was going on around you. Can you say more about how the artist in you fits in, between the personal-political, on the one hand, and the bigger political-intellectual project of the book on the other?


LB Before this project was a book, it was a lot of other things. I often find I have an idea and I’ll throw as many mediums at it as possible—just to work through it, almost for myself. So I don’t really see the book I wrote as an end point. It’s just another one of those mediums. And the experience of working with B’Tselem video and the volunteers who recorded it definitely radicalized me. Like many Jews raised mostly in the United States (though I lived in Jerusalem as a child), I’ve been given a specific educational training on the state of Israel, and it did not include anything I saw in this material.


PS What you describe resonates a lot with my own experience, including in Israel/Palestine. In 2017, I visited B’Tselem and met the people there as part of a research trip I organized for an academic project on camera-based activism. I had worked in Palestine already in 2003, 2004, when I made a couple of small films on commission. In that work, I collaborated closely with the Palestinain filmmaker Rima Essa, who became a good friend, and who by 2016 was working at B’Tselem with the camera project. Through her, and Amal Abas, we were introduced to some of the main “protagonists” of your book. And when I got home, I spent a lot of time running through those videos (I never had access to the full archive, just to what was on YouTube). So reading your book, and then watching some of the videos again… I’m seeing houses or spaces that I’ve been in, and people that I’ve met—but it’s totally different, because when I was there we were mainly drinking tea and talking —we weren’t (often) experiencing these situations of direct confrontation.

And I guess that is also quite similar to what it was like when I started watching the videos from the Arab Spring, particularly those from Egypt, that later became the material of my film. I had worked in Cairo from 1997 to 2000 on AlAhram Weekly newspaper, and I was still very attached to the place. Even a decade later, half my friends still seemed to live in Cairo! I began collecting these videos from the Egyptian revolution simply because I thought they were wonderful. In many cases, I received them as short films that already existed fully in their own right. So my first impulse was simply to re-circulate them, to show them to people who didn’t have my connections with the region and so might not notice them, but who I still believed might be moved by them.

I also wanted to know what it would be like to show these images in a cinema, on a big screen, as people were already doing in Egypt and elsewhere, often as outdoor pop-up events. I sensed that beyond this isolated and often isolating experience of watching them on a small screen on your own, there was also the potential for a more collective experience, where people would maybe talk to each other afterwards, and from that something else, something new, might come.

I started writing about the videos in parallel with editing them together. There were a lot of things I couldn’t put into the film because I had denied myself any kind of textual or narrative input—I didn’t want to have a voiceover, I didn’t want to explain the project of the film as it unfolded, I wanted to trust the images to tell their own story without any external scaffolding or support. For me, editing images is always more about subtracting than adding. So the book became an opportunity to restore all the things that I was removing from these videos as I assembled them into a film. It functioned for me as a kind of psychological compensation for the abstraction I was operating at the editing table, allowing me to engage in two almost opposite dynamics at the same time.


LB Did you find that you were doing those two activities truly simultaneously—the editing of the film and the writing of the book? And then I also am curious—you talk in the book about how film editing is an embodied activity for you. Is writing as well?


PS My memory is that basically the film was made possible because we had no money! What I did have was a bursary to do a practice-based PhD. From there, the film became this very free-form, completely under-funded process. Bruno Tracq, who had been working with me as an editor for years, in fact since the first Palestine film projects, saw some early assemblages I had done myself, and his enthusiasm for it completely buoyed me. So whenever Bruno was free, he made himself available to work on the film, and we would edit. The writing emerged in the gaps, when Bruno was working on other, paid jobs, and we couldn’t edit.

When I was writing, I was also thinking about the text as a sort of montage itself. I felt I was using the work of other writers, other theorists or philosophers or film critics, not in the classic “academic” way of citing them or arguing with them, but rather making a mosaic out of their ideas and words, to sense how they could resonate with one another.

The Uprising (2013). UK/Belgium. Directed by Peter Snowdon. Attack on Change Square, Yemen, March 18, 2011.

“أغنية اطردوا حسني مبارك (Expel Hosni Mubarak Song),” one of the few remaining live YouTube videos discussed in Snowdon’s book The People Are Not an Image.

LB Your book really does feel like it leads with this cinematic approach—you open each chapter with the video transcript, and then get to the interpretation or context. It’s very different from writing that leads with the argument.


PS I wanted to celebrate the videos. For me, the book and the film have the same message, and it’s very simple: “look at these videos, because they are worth looking at.” Even if some of the videos themselves are hard to watch. And even if the way we might look at them has changed over time. It was an emotionally complex process to work with this material. And if this celebratory dimension hadn’t been there, I think I would have found it overwhelming. It makes me think, Liat, about how difficult it must have been to work on some of the B’Tselem videos. I’m curious what sustained you through this process.


LB I don’t know what sustained me. I was speaking with other artists who also work with the archive—like Arkadi Zaides, who creates dance performances in which he interacts with the material—and we both often felt quite nauseous after a day sitting in the archive. It’s actually a really bad feeling. And then, for me, it would be compounded by walking from the headquarters in Jerusalem to my aunt’s house, and her asking, “what do you do today?” She didn’t want to hear my answer. I come from a large Moroccan family who emigrated to Israel/Palestine in the 60s—my father’s side all lives in Israel/Palestine—and most of whom believe that B’Tselem is basically a terror organization, as the right in Israel proclaims today. So it was very lonely for me, despite being so near to my close family.

One thing that did sustain me was doing it over a long period of time, in concentrated bits, and then coming back to the US and having some distance. If I had been there all the time, I don’t think I would have been able to continue. It was clear to me that the level of remove that I had was a great privilege and one that Palestinians who film do not have. I remember even talking to some of the videographers in the field about footage they had filmed previously—they would say, “I don’t want to talk about that. Let me show you what I filmed today.” Their filming was urgent, immediate. Having distance was the only way this process was possible. And also having a drive for some kind of… I don’t know if I’d call it a reckoning, but some kind of a change to result from the footage.

I haven’t found the video celebratory, but I have felt the same impulse that you describe, which is, “Look at this.” And then the question for me becomes, what happens if someone does look at this? What do they see? What is it that seeing does to their belief? What can this footage do to change people’s minds— and indeed, to change the sociopolitical order more broadly? I ultimately landed in a pessimistic stance, which is that seeing in and of itself does not yield believing—it’s not a direct path. Instead, what you believe impacts what you see in the first place: it creates a kind of partitioned visual field. My father once said, in another context, “maybe I have seen it, but my eyes did not know what I was seeing. So I did not see it.” The power structures that are conveyed inside the footage—which the footage attempts to disrupt—are the very same power structures that make the footage almost unseeable to those in power.

If I can find any optimism, it is in the archive itself. I believe that this material can move on beyond me—beyond our time—and come back to haunt us when we don’t give it the space to have a reckoning in the present political moment.


PS This resonates with many of the experiences I have had of being present when The Uprising was shown. As we moved further and further away from 2011, and saw how hellish the present was becoming, I found watching the film to be more and more difficult. It’s something that you talk about a lot, too—sharing the images of violence is a very ethically and politically complicated thing to do. The meaning can shift so quickly, from one moment to another, from one context to another. And for a long time, when I went to screenings of the film, I felt that it was like a Rorschach blot for how I was feeling that day: sometimes I would find it inspiring, sometimes I found it overwhelmingly depressing. As the frame around the events moved further and further away from the possibility of a positive or emancipatory outcome, the more difficult it was for me to accept that I, let alone anyone else, was again watching these images of violence.


LB This gets us into the realm of the act of filming. In most of the videos that we’re working with, the person filming is not merely a cinematographer who stands in the sidelines; instead they’re oftentimes in the center of the action. I remember asking some of the B’Tselem volunteer videographers “How do you keep filming?” The political situation is not changing. And I remember a video that B’Tselem volunteer named Suzan Zraqo filmed from her roof in Hebron. It was of a Palestinian man, a construction worker, who had been driving a bobcat, or small tractor. An Israeli settler said that he threatened him with the bobcat as if to run him over. Soldiers arrived on the scene and immediately shot and killed the Palestinian man, though there was no indication he threatened anyone. And as Suzan is filming, she’s sobbing, and the camera is shaking. And there was a moment where I thought, maybe the camera gives a level of remove for her, even if she’s there in the scene. A I began asking about that: “Do you get a sense of emotional shielding by filming?” And overwhelmingly videographers scoffed at me—“No, there’s no such thing.” The act of filming, if anything, brought videographers closer to the action.


PS Filming produces a very strange state of consciousness. And it modulates in different ways, depending upon the setting. I think there’s not necessarily a contradiction between these two things—what you were saying and what the woman in Hebron was saying. If you feel even a small bit of distance, that can be what allows you to move closer. Maybe it’s not even “distance,” just the company of the camera, some sort of indication to at least your future self, and to other possible viewers yet-to-come. There’s already an anticipation, in the camera, of an expanded subjectivity, which may be collective, and may be not. And this gives us more space, and possibly more freedom, more courage than we might have had in other circumstances. For sure, it can amplify privilege; but it can also do more subtle forms of work, including by providing a certain support for those who seek it or need it. I’m sure that part of my own desire to film is tied up with a desire, as someone who is fundamentally quite a shy person, to find a way of coming close to other people without having to look at them directly.


LB Absolutely. I found that that was especially true for women in Hebron, who were filming first from their windows. Many were dissatisfied with the quality of their footage because it was so distant. What they could see with their eyes from their windows was not the same as what they could see clearly with their cameras. In Hebron, in particular, Palesinian culture still is rather patriarchal, meaning that women generally don’t leave the home without male companions. But women began going to the streets alone because of their cameras. I remember speaking with a B’Tselem videographer named Arij al-Ja’bri, who at first only filmed out her window. But the night before I visited, as her husband was asleep, she got word that there was a car on fire by the Israeli checkpoint near her house. She left her sleeping husband and children at home and went out to film. She had a radical shift, which she described as something that occurred because of her involvement with the camera. So filming can become an emboldening act.


PS  When I started seeing the videos from Cairo, I vividly remember thinking how amazing it was that these people were filming these events in exactly the way I would like to think I would have filmed them if I’d been there myself. So on one level, it was just a complete flattening between whatever status I might have acquired, in my own or anyone else’s eyes, as an expert, a “filmmaker,” and the first person to come along who has a camera phone in their pocket. I felt that all the filming was being done by the people who were doing it in just the way it should be done. And in a way that works for them, in terms of their experience, I assume. So the result was not just a random collision of unconnected visual styles, but seemed to demonstrate a minimum level of shared agreement that this was an acceptable way for the images that we share to look.

I guess my feeling of kinship was on that level—the level where style and political urgency collide. Of course, my position was particular because I’d lived there—these were my friends whose future was at stake, and it was possibly they who were filming, or their kids. Of course, there are many reasons to argue that an event like that is necessarily bounded by place, culture, history, etc. And my Arabic remains poor. But on another level, the level of style, these images were “speaking my language,” as they say. I could relate to them directly, I could see how to cut them together. I hadn’t made these images, but I was used to working with images that were filmed by someone who is clearly not a professional cameraperson—because that person had so often been me!

Soldiers detain B’Tselem volunteer Ahmad Ziyadah and attempt to block and seize his camera. Madama, February 10, 2017. © B’Tselem.

An Israeli settler harasses women in Hebron. The Abu-‘Ayesha family was forced to construct a metal cage for protection.

LB What has that done to your filmmaking since that time?


PS For a long time, it simply exhausted my interest in documentary filmmaking. I felt that these videos had taken that impulse as far as it could possibly go, and that there was simply nothing new to add—at least not by me. Over the last decade, my focus was on collective or collaborative projects, that were deliberately constructed, though still with a large element of spontaneity or improvisation—as in Le Parti du rêve de logement (2016), a participatory fiction film about the right to housing in Brussels, or my collaborations with the dancers Natalie Heller and Marianthi Michalidou, or the theater-maker Rémy Bertrand. And this was partly a ruse: I needed to hibernate, to let things macerate, ferment, and gather themselves again within me, till they reached sufficient intensity that I would have no choice but to act on them. I had to wait a long time. Strong images mark us deeply, whether they are our own or other people’s, and it takes time to be able to see beyond them.


LB When you describe the uncanny style of videos from the Arab revolutions—this makes me think about the training that I know B’Tselem gives to its videographers and how that’s changed over the years. The first director of the B’Tselem camera project, Oren Yakobovich—who is now over a decade out—would conduct trainings in community centers in the West Bank by actually staging fake demonstrations with Palestinian volunteer videographers-in-training. Some Palestinians would act as protesters, and some would act as Israeli soldiers who would beat the protesters. Others would film from the sidelines with their new B’Tselem cameras. It was quite remarkable—almost like a Theater of the Oppressed. He would coach the new videographers: “get closer, get closer,” or “move back,” or “hold your ground.” He trained them how to act when a Jewish Israeli approached them, and the metaphor he would use was “It’s like basketball.” By this he meant that whoever attacks first gets the foul, so a Jewish Israeli who strikes a Palestinian will be at fault. But we know this objective refereeing actually never happens, because Jewish Israelis in the occupied territories are subject to civilian rule, whereas Palestinians are subject to military rule. So there’s no such thing as a referee who judges equally about who did what, even if there’s footage to prove it.

There are other aspects to the B’Tselem videographer training, such as never to turn off your camera even if someone makes you put it down—leave it running, so at least you get the audio. Also the way B’Tselem assigns cameras is generally by family, not by an individual, going with this idea that the camera becomes a sort of communal property and everyone in the family shares it. Oftentimes within one single videoclip,  you’ll see the camera passed from person to person. Inside a home, Israeli soldiers come in to do what’s called a “mapping procedure” —checking and photographing everyone in the home just to demonstrate presence and use the act of photography to instill fear in occupied Palestinians. When the person who’s filming has to be checked, they pass it off to a family member.


PS Do you feel that there was a B’Tselem style of videography which made them different from other citizen videos? I’m not saying it’s a conscious aesthetic, but it seems to me, from the kinds of things you’re mentioning, which could be completely pragmatic, you could actually create a style, which has other meanings and other implications than just maximizing whatever information value or juridical value that footage might have.


LB There is certainly a disregard for image stability. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking and you’re filming and you’re bouncing—it’s better to keep the camera on. There were some videographers who filmed with tripods, especially those who lived in the Nablus area in hillside villages, filming Israeli settler attacks  in villages below. Those videos had their own style, because they were incredibly stable and often zoomed in quite intensely. But if there is a style, I would say the one thing that unifies it is length—extremely long clips to collect as much evidence as possible. Now, however, B’Tselem is doing a lot more outreach to non-volunteers and using its network of field researchers to collect cell phone videos, which they never used to do. This has coincided with a decision not to cooperate with the Israeli occupation.

I haven’t been to the archives since 2018 or 2019, which was around a year after B’Tselem made that move. I had a child during the pandemic, so I just stopped traveling. But one of the biggest ways I found it affecting the footage was on YouTube. There was this immense proliferation of using video markers—not just subtitles, but circling things, highlighting things, doing work similar to what Forensic Architecture might do by synchronizing multiple feeds of video. At one point B’Tselem’s fidelity to the original, raw footage was very important because the footage would be entered into court cases and analyzed by Israeli forensic experts who would either say, “yes, this is original” or “no, this is not.” The footage would be rendered completely valueless if it had already been edited, or if any forensic markers had already been added—like a circle of the gun before it was shot, etc.

Now that B’Tselem no longer works directly with the Israeli authority, it’s free to choose the audience of its published video differently. I believe the audience it has chosen is the general public—that is, a court of  public opinion, a forum/forensis—rather than a juridical audience. As a result, there’s a lot more interpretation that has been delivered within the videos published by B’Tselem, rather than a more simplified‚ if optimistic idea that the truth is clear in the image itself.


PS If you’re involved with images, it’s difficult not to feel ambivalent about these methods. I can see what Forensic Architecture wants to do, but they kind of drain the life out of the original images. It does seem like sweeping the reality—I mean of what people really experienced—under the carpet. You could say it’s a strategy, but it’s quite different from the images that I associate with B’Tselem—the house-mapping videos on YouTube, for example—which are often rather undramatic. Those are the ones which really seemed to me to be showing me something that I had not expected, which was beyond what I could immediately fit into the categories I have about violence and about the relationship between occupier and occupied.

And yet they also demonstrate this thing which I think comes through, that the occupation is so invasive. Israel is constantly creating boundaries and then destroying them—because that destruction is its privilege and the Palestinians can’t do it back to them. That feels like a safe operation, I suppose. Yet in those night videos, I felt there were also moments of unsought and unintended intimacy—it’s not like they’re about to fall into each other’s arms, but there’s a real knife edge all the same, because the soldiers are so obviously out of place. There’s something which I think exceeds the purpose of the images, the purpose of the military operation, and which suggests a space of indeterminacy. And I don’t want to say that in some naive, optimistic sense—maybe it’s something that actually makes the situation worse and more inextricable on some level.

An IDF soldier films back at B’Tselem volunteer Iyad Hadad in Beitillu, October 7, 2012. © B’Tselem.

Israeli Civil Administration demolishes homes of four Palestinian families in the South Hebron Hills.

LB They’re very intimate—the only time that a Jewish Israeli sees the inside of a Palestinian’s living room in the West Bank is if they’re a soldier engaging in a mapping procedure.


PS I’m seeing this space in these images where there could be another relationship between the people in the room. Part of me is constantly wanting that other possibility to be realized. And it never is, at least not in my experience of the videos. But I’m always wanting it to. And this reminds me of this question that you raise constantly throughout the book: what is the efficacy, the political efficacy, of images? The image can’t force somebody to change, it can’t make them different. And that’s kind of intrinsic to the fact that, more generally, you can’t make people free. You can’t do it for them. The most you can do is offer them the possibility—the space where freedom might happen. And I feel that that’s what I see in an acute form in some of those moments of encounter, which can exist by day, as well as by night. But in the night videos, because it’s so violent in a way, it’s somehow even more present.


LB And perhaps you’ve been in those living rooms before as well—you personally.


PS Yes, indeed! Or at least in ones like them, and I’ve taken tea, or slept in them… there’s a whole repertoire of memories. But I think that the power of those videos isn’t limited to my connection with the world of everyday unremarkable life from which they emerge. It’s a bit like I felt with the videos from Egypt in 2011—my connection with the place and with the people, with my friends there—it clarified for me what mattered about the videos, but it’s not the condition for it to matter, or to be seen to matter. It can matter to anybody.

To come back to something you were saying towards the beginning—you said that you came to this fairly pessimistic position that belief is stronger than the image. And yet I have the feeling, listening to what you have been saying, that the position you were coming from cannot be reduced to that pessimism… because you also said that spending time with the images had radicalized you. So it changed you in some way. You were open to being changed, no doubt, but you still needed the image as the vector, as what touched you and made that change.


LB In philosophy, they would call that “necessary” but not “sufficient.”


PS Yes, or you could say it’s always a relational thing. It’s not the subject or the object. It’s in the relationship between them where the change can appear.


LB The conflict now, and the Israeli military occupation: this is how it’s been during my entire lifetime. My father remembers it differently. He remembers my grandfather traveling to Bethlehem from Jerusalem because he preferred the fruit and vegetable markets there. It’s very different now. And for me, personally, I’m also sitting with my family’s ‘Arab-ness’ —my family coming from an Arab country, and my father’s first language was Moroccan Arabic—and the way that the Israeli occupation is sustained by specifically distancing its Arab and Mizrahi Jews from their roots and an intentional turning of us against Palestinians. This has been a huge part of the occupation’s effort. Trying to conform an “Arab Jew” into a “Jewish Israeli Jew” has been a big part of what my family has been through as well.

But with regard to these “mapping” procedures… Just in the past week the Washington Post reported on a new policy surrounding the photographs Israeli soldiers collect. Originally, in mapping procedures, the use of photography was completely intimidatory. Israeli soldiers would take photos of Palestinians and then throw them away, because the point wasn’t the images, but instead to intimidate Palestinians through the threat of surveillance. But now, as the Post reported, the Israeli regime has been specifically seeking to photograph and categorize Palestinian faces, and is using machine learning to create databases of these faces through an app called ‘Blue Wolf’ that was developed by an Israeli startup. An Israeli soldier can now then take out his camera, take a picture of a Palestinian who’s walking in the street, and the app will flash green (meaning let that person go) or red, (meaning detain them immediately). It’s a real-time facial algorithm, powered by intentional image gathering of Palestinian faces. The Post reported that battalions of Israeli soldiers were competing to gather the most images so they could build up this database.

To come back to this question of how the work changes us…You said that the message of both your book and your film—if they have one single message—is  “look at this, look at these videos, they’re worth looking at.” I’m curious what the process has been like for you. You describe it changing as the film gets further and further into the past. But did anyone ever ask you, “Why? Why are these videos worth looking at?” What would you say? And is that still the sort of resounding call of both works?


PS Oh, yes, I’m still completely convinced of that. And it wasn’t that anyone asked “why,” but that audiences implied that looking was not enough. People were constantly saying, why isn’t there more context? Why isn’t there a narrator? I could be wrong, but I think a lot of the pushback I got against the violence the film shows is partly a pushback against the nature of the images themselves, not any specific content. Pushback against the violence in the film was very specific—it mainly happened in Europe, but not when I showed the film in Egypt, for example. There it was more the reverse. It was, “why is this such a soft version of what we went through?” I suppose the other part of the response to your question is that I feel it was a very special moment in terms of the convergence of particular political conditions, particular historical conditions, with a particular state of camera phone technology, and a particular stage of YouTube’s development. If that had all happened five years later, the visual emanations of those events would have been very different. And its visibility would also have been different.

In B’Tselem’s work, as we can see it, there’s a sense of editing going on already: there are choices about who gets a camera, what footage is put on YouTube, what footage is not put on YouTube, the multiple layers of institutional framing. Whereas in the case of the Arab revolutions, what strikes me is the complex and constantly changing relationship between this visual material and different forms of remembering and retrieving this material, which seems to me more chaotic and more disruptive, and which can in some circumstances be extremely productive. It’s really tied up for me with this idea that what we were seeing on YouTube in 2011 and into early 2013 maybe, was an ephemeral production—it’s an event and not something that could possibly endure. It was a parallel performance to that which was happening in the streets. At a time when YouTube was not so dominated by professional and commercially produced content, and the algorithms that define the visitor’s experience were not so “mature,” there was an opening for people to go in and overwhelm the database, to make it responsive to their desires and their needs. That was something quite special. And every time I go back and try to look for videos today—videos which are not professional or institutional—it’s very difficult to find them. In fact, it’s more depressing, actually, when you realize that in many cases they are still there. The way that YouTube functions over time is to erase or to bury these things which I and many others value, not to archive them. If archiving implies making them intelligently accessible—then that’s not what has happened to them at all. But a lot of them are, I think, still there. And a lot of the links still work.

Liat Berdugo is an artist and writer whose work investigates embodiment, labor, and militarization in relation to capitalism, technological utopianism, and the Middle East. Her work has been exhibited internationally, and she is an associate professor of Art + Architecture at the University of San Francisco.

Peter Snowdon is a British filmmaker based in Belgium. His work combines documentary process with formal experimentation and collaborative modes of storytelling. He is an associate researcher at MAD-PXL School of Art (Hasselt), where is also on the editorial board of the online journal Collateral. He is currently working on a film about music and electricity.

Conversation by Liat Berdugo and Peter Snowdon

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