Against the Double Negative

By Vanessa Gravenor

Studies on Invisibility, rendering (dir. Vanessa Gravenor, 2022-ongoing)

How does one transform a bloody war into something that exists in the negative: not war? One begins by negating on a semantic level, referring to it not as a war but a “Special Operation,” as Putin has done with the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. If the situation of war vanishes, then the images it leaves behind, taken by amateur and professional war photo-journalists, create a smoking gun that becomes hard to get rid of. As Dork Zabunyan writes, there is no lack of images of the war in Ukraine.[1] The digital images seep out on TikTok, on Youtube, and telegram channels waving a proverbial flag that war is present in Ukraine. These images have not gone missing as Zabunyan maintains, so how is it still possible to declare that the war is not an invasion but a “Special Operation,” as was Putin’s lingo until December 2022?[2] As a Times article has it, quoting a news anchor for Russia’s Channel One: “They call this evidence,” “This is yet another fake. The footage is staged.”[3] Now what is the counter-response to put reality back in its place?


“Fact check: How to see through Russia’s war propaganda”, DW News, September 9, 2022

During this war, a number of entertainment news production have claimed to debunk the fake and propaganda sewed. For example, Deutsche Welle’s “Fact check: How to see through Russia’s war propaganda” [4] or, using the language of criminal forensic for opposite ends: Russia’s Channel-1 show “Antifake,” hosted by Alexander Smol.[5] The first example dissects Russia’s propaganda, whereas the latter negates the position of the former. Such news programs focus on digital media of the Russian war on Ukraine. They pertain to photography, moving images, but also video games and movies that enter the war reality mix. One fake leads to another fake, leads to another fake. This gets convoluted but could be rather entertaining if the viewer is not reminded that the magic show comes at a bloody expense. What are some ways to speak about imagery coming out of this war that exists in between negation and deconstruction without falling into the maze of smoke and mirrors?

Visual evidence as proof becomes ever more important when speaking about the war on Ukraine, once again a war not devoid of images. The question is: what to do with these images, what projects exists that in practice work with images as evidence, and what do these images do to the gaze of the voyeur? As an intellectual and artist, such questions become paramount especially when advocating for both justice and an end to the Russia’s war of aggression. This essay takes on a portion of that violence—the one performed on the epistemic level in the negation of visual proof that becomes synonymous with the negation of war. How can visuals that are driven by a documentary impulse and artistic practices effectively declare: This here is a war? Because of what viewers and practitioners have learned from post-modern theory, affirming the existence of a war cannot be done simply through the presentation of a visual, photographic, moving image, and the like. Putting war in the positive becomes a civic act.



The tools of post-modernist theory would appear a bit rusty to deal with debunking an image that exists in the double negative. In the 1980s and 1990s, Jean Baudrillard called attention to the missing origin in simulated or digital images. Images could be generated and not simply represent reality: they form and shape reality via manipulation. Baudrillard took up this theory in response to the television coverage of the second Gulf War, the advent of the digital image, and the bourgeois engagement with images of war at a distance on CNN. He established that a spectator, a viewer, was formed in this process of being at arm’s length of a television set or one’s Sunday morning paper. He wrote: “We are already all strategic hostages in situ; our site is the screen on which we are virtually bombarded day by day, even while serving as exchange value.”[6] The “we” Baudrillard referred to were the telespectators in the West that have been taken hostage by their screens in their living rooms. This “we” was rendered immobile by television, which nowadays is rendered all the more ubiquitous by the mobile phone.

For Baudrillard, the Gulf war became a “non-war” because the soldiers and battle were superseded by the screen. The screen replaced the battlefield and the viewers, the soldiers. The real action thus took place in the news channel anchors’ commentary and in the voyeuristic act of watching war unfold that gave the viewers the illusion of engagement. The battleground in Kuwait became secondary and distant not just geographically but also technologically even if the coverage was labelled as live or instant. In contrast, Susan Sontag proclaimed that a war of images had been transformed into an iconography of suffering—people remembering the picture rather than the event itself. [7]  Sontag wrote about photography, about images of bloody violence, depicting (and inflicting) pain, such as those of workers jumping to their death from the Twin Towers. In Sontag’s view, the only people who could actually deal with photographs of a brutal, graphic nature were doctors—no one else. Shock and awe are not productive in provoking empathy, she concluded, but aligned with Baudrillard over a distrust of media to bring war to an end. The term “evidence” was not in either theorist’s toolbox; they therefore did not consider the significance of photography as proof or witness in courts of law, which gets used for the objective of justice after war.

While doctors or surgeons might be the best equipped to deal with reading bloody images, nowadays as Sarah T. Roberts writes in Behind the Screen, outsourced laborers from the Philippines have to crawl and moderate YouTube and other such as Mega Tech, where such brutal scenes of war are uploaded in the millions daily. Roberts writes: “Far surpassing the reach of any cable network, YouTube disseminated its content to billions around the globe.”[8] Roberts further explains that the content moderation workers are the intermediaries for media dispersed on the internet. These workers see and sift through content, torture videos of ISIS, and child pornography. These workers report psychic stress and burn out in great numbers, though are often not in the focus but remain largely invisible, since the work of moderating the internet should be imperceptible for the user. As channels of viewing war grow in numbers, the gaze come into focus. Does war imagery make viewers feel at all to rephase Sontag’s question? Will this imagery ever prompt the war’s end? Perhaps not in the way one might have thought.

Focusing on the archive and the evidentiary potential of media, projects such as Mnemonic, VFrame, Bellingcat, or Forensic Architecture, try to make visible the smoking gun contained in gathered media.[9] These projects, however, do not take up the question of the gaze or affect, but demonstrate how media can be used in courts of law with a judicial function. The focus is instead on proof even if this proof can be staged.[10] Bellingcat, for instance, runs a series of authenticity checks to establish the veracity of the media they receive. Following the buzz around post truth and misinformation at the turn of the 21st century, users have grown skeptical about the realities unfolding within a frame especially when that frame is war and with good reason. Hannah Bagdasar, Lead Investigator with Bellingcat’s Global Authentication Project, explains that the number of deep fakes from Ukraine are actually quite low despite a case of video game footage showing up in civilian journalism.[11] She said: “There was a lot of fear about deep fakes. I’ve seen very little in reality.”[12] This phenomenon of genres getting mixed and war essentially turning into a simulation would underscore Jean Baudrillard’s claim that this simulation is a “non-war.” For Baudrillard, this image would become depoliticized. Yet, these projects do not dwell much on this aspect beyond the technical authenticity checks that Bagdasar mentions. VFrame, for example, actually uses simulated images in order to geolocate cluster bomb munitions used on civilians.[13] The simulated image becomes part of the operation of advocating for human rights and making public the hazardous repercussions of arms proliferations, which impact landscapes decades after a war ends. Artist and Board Chair of Forensic Architecture Susan Schuppli postulates that images can act as “material witnesses:”[14] material as witnesses to crimes. This contrasts the seeing, sentient eye witness, though does not discard human testimony as bearing evidence. Forensic Architecture’s practices take as their models the tech think tank or human rights NGO. They embed media of all sorts with the ability to stake transitional justice against human rights abuses and consider the picture as evidence with a potential truth claim.


Vframe rendering. As Adam Harvey explains, the project uses Computer Vision and Machine Learning to detect Ordnances used on civilians in Ukraine. The image above is an example of one synthetic dataset. Vframe and Mnenomic also collaborate to make the latter’s archive searchable. The trope of witnessing, with its sensory and affective implications, gets expanded by gender and feminist studies that delve deeply into the gaze that is activated when looking at visual evidence depicting suffering. The gaze, as in the seeing ocular eye and activity of looking, was certainly broached by Baudrillard and Sontag, but the two theorists deducted that empathy was not produced in the act of gazing at a photograph or at one’s television screen. To capture the feeling with the suffering, the term “wit(h)nessing” was coined by feminist psychoanalyst and artist Bracha L. Ettinger in her work on trauma.[15] Drawing on the verb “to witness” which often stipulates a separation between the spectator and the scene they look at, the verb wit(h)ness breaks the separation and transforms the screen into a portal. Attending to Ettinger, Judith Butler asks how looking at images of violence is one and the same as reinscribing these images with loss.[16] Butler refers to the myth of Orpheus who is given one chance to bring his wife, the nymphea Eurydice, back from the rivers of Lethe, on the condition that he never looks back; Orpheus must trust without using his eyes to verify the Eurydice’s rescue. Breaking the deal in search of visual proof, Orpheus looks back to see Eurydice, who is then lost forever. As Butler writes: “she will, as a result, be apprehensible only as loss.”[17] Nowadays, verifying the proof of the deal is commonplace even though spectators might be killing Eurydice (a pseudonym for the departed) in the process. Proof needs to be ascertained in order for war to come out of the negative.


A Case for Documentary Images

The following will focus on concrete examples from artistic and documentary works, which I allege, succeed in making the statement: This here is a war. These genres differ from the media discussed in the previous section, namely photography, amateur citizen journalism, and television programs. These examples instead belong to independent documentary practices and thus have a different relationship to reality and constructed reality of war through documentary film. The first example The Hamlet Syndrome (2022) focuses on the trauma of Ukrainian soldiers following the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea. The second example Mariupol 2 shows the first months of the 2022 invasion and the siege of the city Mariupol. I bring up these examples to diverge from the more informal acts of viewing war on personal mobile devices. These documentaries also offer different viewpoints onto the ever-elusive frame of war and refuse to show a complete image of a battle. The first example, The Hamlet Syndrome, focuses on the psychological after-effects of the 2014 war on Ukraine and the second example, Mariupol 2, shows the banal day-to-day life of being under siege. These examples are not action packed, do not mimic a video game narration, yet do speak to a great degree of human suffering that war wreaks. These documentaries also do not purport to stand as evidence, but showcase the relations between all actors involved in the filmic production.


The Hamlet Syndrome (2022) (dirs. Eliwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosolowski)

In the documentary The Hamlet Syndrome (2022) (directed by Eliwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosolowski) one Ukrainian protagonist describes a tactic of torture used by the Russian armies. Slawik Gavianets joined the Ukrainian Army in 2014 and was taken by the Russian army as a hostage. In the film, the protagonist reenacts a scene of torture where he is handed a gun and demanded to execute a comrade only to find out the gun wasn’t loaded. Through reenactment, he is asked to take on the position of the Russian soldier: to be the torturer. The method of reenactment is common in the therapy of post-traumatic stress disorder. The reenactment is supposed to entail catharsis and, in this case, takes away the power held by the captors through the theatrical trading of roles. Here, it reveals the mechanisms of destabilization and irregular psychological warfare to prevent the recognition of a pattern. Who would predict the gun was unloaded? One day the soldier is nice, one day the soldier is a torturer.[18] It would appear too that these tactics produce unreliable witnesses. The documentary focuses on the protagonist’s stories, family life, and their lives post war. Rather than attending to the front or capturing the real of violence of their lives as soldiers, the film approaches the life of war indirectly. To show the real of war after all is to contend with the images that war produces, such as shaky first-person camera accounts, but also psychic images. Yet all the protagonists contend with what they saw, their status as a witness to war, and war’s haunting reality.

In the early days of the 2022 Russian war on Ukraine, Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius went back to the bombarded city of Mariupol and filmed it for the second time. His documentary Mariupol 2 was edited posthumously, as Kvedaravicius was captured, tortured and executed by Russian para-militaries.[19] His cine-portrait is that of a city under bombardment. As one watches what appears to be a series of lightly edited rushes, one hears the late Kvedaravicius speaking about what lies in the frames of war and what can be cut out of his frame. A small van for example. In this way he also demonstrates the matrix of relations between director, subject, and camera. He documents life in the shelter of a church, shows the body under siege as well as the bodies that did not survive. Because of the length of each shot that extends well beyond the typical 10 seconds cut on social media, the viewer is also structurally exhausted by the image. The viewer is in the midst of the protagonists’ everyday life and something of the moment is transmitted: a surprising intimacy. There is an intimacy between the director and the subjects that one also understands as the reconfigured community living and breathing under the new conditions of life. The director too becomes a casualty of war, losing his life in the production of the film. The cuts in the footage are slight. There is minimal post-production, as far as I can tell, also little to no staging. The protagonists do not speak into the camera but talk to each other casually, addressing the director as well. This is not an image that would lead to speculation or that would necessitate deconstruction. It is not a militant image. It is not that of propaganda, but documentary evidence of a reality unfolding on bodies under siege.

These examples form a foil to the reality TV, war live streamed, and war on Telegram genres which creates a mix of genres that can then be deconstructed on Russia’s Channel-1. However, these works do not make it to Channel-1, they are not alleged to be a deep fake, and that is not because the documentary genre purports to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. The documentary genre is truthful but that is not entirely the point. Its point, or at least in these examples, it to disseminate subjective views of war. Lives lived and lives lost. All the same, it is easier to pick apart media that gets conspicuously mixed on a mobile phone than a feature film that circulates across festivals. Though the realities that these films portray, war on Ukraine, is a reality that continuously gets negated or called “fake” by the oppressor.


Mariupol 2 (dir. Mantas Kvedaravicius, 2022)

Against Deconstruction

In my filter bubbles, postmodern theory has conditioned viewers of war to be just that: voyeurs. As Susan Sontag writes: “Shock can become familiar. Shock can wear off. Even if it doesn’t, one can not look.”[20] Sontag portrayed a certain voyeur bombarded by images, and though writing prior to the age of social media she concludes on the image and the gaze in a state of empathy fatigue. Certainly, apathy is an important emotion to keep in mind when speaking about the aesthetic dimensions of war photography, especially when generating other aesthetics through works of art, fiction, poetry, etc. However, to not look or to foreclose looking as simply generating apathy would close a door to photography’s evidentiary function, as well as the various witnesses it contains. As for the documentary films that I have cited, how should we approach them without pulling away from that reality represented in the documentary mode altogether? How to not be jaded by the reality television genre to not miss when reality slaps you in the face?

The image of the war on Ukraine is nullified before the image is even taken. Under these conditions, is it ethically sound to further deconstruct these documentary spaces? As Sontag writes: “To the militant, identity is everything. And all photographs wait to be explained or falsified by their captions.”[21] There is no doubt that both sides turn documentary, fiction, and photography into fodder for news entertainment, to explain or falsify the photographs. And yet, we should not only bother about photography. The entirety of the military-entertainment complex moves the attention away from the casualties, from lives lost, and from the hell that military violence causes on a psychic and bodily level.

Let me recall a viral social media post by artist Adam Broomberg as one such example of looking at photography within a skeptical prism of post-modernism. Broomberg posted Annie Leibowitz’s photograph of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the First Lady, Olena Volodymyrivna Zelenska (née Kyiashko), tagging Leibowitz and Vogue magazine with the caption: “This is everything wrong with the world and how dangerously photographs can intersect with it.”[22] The caption continues by stating that the war is used as a backdrop for the photo, which fails to show how Zelenskyy was complicit in the war as he poses as a Hollywood hero. It also brings up the “hierarchy of suffering” of white refugees from Ukraine being embraced by European Union countries, while, as Ukrainian scholar Asia Bazdyrieva writes, “the reason for this unprecedented support from the West, at least when it comes to sending weapons and accepting certain refugees, is not only that most Ukrainians are read as white, but also because they, too, belong to the category of the inhuman.”[23] Bazdyrieva further ties Ukrainian refugees to their status as migrant workers harvesting spargel in Germany. While not directly addressing Broomberg, Bazdyrieva criticizes the “westsplaining” of which his caption is an example.

Considering Leibowitz’s photograph and Broomberg’s caption, we should speak of ethics and violence, of the ethics inherent in the deconstruction of a picture (and its subjects that are under siege) and the epistemic violence used by a Western voyeur. This voyeur casually decides to deconstruct the scene and perhaps also decides not to believe their eyes. I say this because Broomberg’s next post is an image of Zelenskyy with the US-American actress Jessica Chastain, his words actually typed on the image: “while Gaza is burning” in caps. There is a casual relativism and comparison between wars lacking engagement with the other conflict. The two wars are pitted against each other in a face off in the politics of representation. Perhaps there is everything wrong with the viewer of war, and not so much with photography as a medium? Often, a lack of engagement with the scene stands in a stark contrast to the engagement with the politics of representation.

Of course, Broomberg is not mislead in being skeptical of the photo op; it is true that Leibowitz’s photographs are highly staged. Leibowitz, the partner of the late Sontag, is a portrait photographer who has photographed many a celebrity for magazines and is part and parcel of the photo op, which in itself often is a violent enterprise, fabricating its own magic. It is true that Leibowitz most often crafts reality with studio lights, with equipment that in practice allows her to stage her pictures. Yet, my concern is not the photo, or photography, but the “us” /  “we” that constitutes the voyeur. Have spectators been so conditioned to not look, because of the politics of the spectacle? In a sense, there is no looking, but rather an exchange of one conflict for another, a relativization of traumas rather than taking photography as a civic act.


Pulling Reality out of the magic hat

Let’s turn to a counter example.

I was struck by a caption that accompanied an advert for a traveling photo exhibition “Ukraine Resilience.” It reads:

“Ukrainian photographers, risking their lives, go to the front lines to the affected cities of Ukraine. The risk is justified by a common objective: to show the world what is going on in reality. But this is an extremely difficult mission, because there is the persecution of Russia and a massive campaign of discredit, claiming that the pictures were staged.”

The caption accompanies an image of a cropped eye that can be understood as illustrating photography’s evidentiary potential to act as an eye witness to human rights violations. Indeed, this is not a new idea. Photography has often been positioned as an extended eye witness since its invention in the nineteenth century. It is a more truthful witness, superseding the human eye. Allan Sekula noted that the camera was considered to be a truth apparatus, and one can see echoes of this sentiment in the caption, in the desire to capture the moment of war that has been negated.[24] By now, it is commonly acknowledged that a photograph is not solid proof of truth or past happening as it can be thrown into the reality mix.

The tools provided by visual studies have allowed us to understand the fakery of the photograph. I do not allege that this is not important, but rather, as Harun Farocki has taught us in Images of the World and The Inscription of War, there are far more images of the world than the human eye of the soldier or the intelligence officer can see. Machines mediate that very illusive thing: reality. They also generate the reality of war for others to see and partake in it. Spotting a fake becomes a matter of perspective.

Deconstruct the staged elements of the photograph, deconstruct how the camera constructs an alternative reality, deconstruct to search for traces of militancy, deconstruct to understand the very parameters of reality! This interpellation to deconstruct was successful in teaching viewers visual literacy as voyeurs, to see beyond the photograph and, in many cases, to recognize that invisible hand of the market playing on our serotonin. However, regarding the caption that comes with the cropped eye from Ukraine Resilience, maybe we can return the feeling to the image, in order to feel (with) looking at Ukraine, to capture a reality not necessarily contingent on the cropped eye but rather accompanying it as a plea to look.



The reality mix coming out of the war on Ukraine, as formed by the media, has defined that reality for us spectators at a distance. Much has been said about this act of looking that distinguishes the spectator informed by post-modernist thought from onlookers schooled by more recent writings on photography who take the photograph as a civic act (Azoulay). Yet, the reality mix exceeds professional war photography. It includes screen grabs and shares, videos taken in Telegram and uploaded to TikTok, staged cinematic films and video games, all of which makes this reality murky or, rather, haunted. Media intersect and form a mesh, making it harder and harder to position the significance of the eye that sees. Sontag and Baudrillard meditated on this seeing eye, though found it callous or unfeeling. However, the reality mix of war, in all its brutality, moves this seeing eye, whether it is conscious of it or not; it moves content screeners to burn out;[25] it also moves artists and activists to mobilize and respond with alternative archival projects in order to capture images and sounds coming out of the war zone. Moreover, documentary film projects focus on the victims of war by framing them in their own voices. These are affective portrayals of the psychic dimension of wounded life that attend to the vulnerable and injured body. However, the documentary film is not the prime medium of the reality mix. Something much poorer, much less resolved, a compressed jpeg file, say, is key.[26] While fakery might be a buzz word in the times of post-truth, the pernicious complexity of the “Special Operation” calls for new idioms to be formed. To spot a fake is no longer counter-hegemonic. It can prove to belonging to the entertainment that feeds the reality mix complex. It is thus necessary to exit the magic show in order to speak frankly about the consequences of this war, and also to put this war back in the positive: calling it war.


This article was written in the frame of the dissertation project Secrecy, Invisibility, Blindspots, a combined theory-practice project at HFBK-Hamburg supervised by Hanne Loreck and Jeanne Faust. It responds to Harun Farocki Institut’s call “Against ‘Special Operation’ Images.” Thanks to Tom Holert for insightful edits and to Katarzyna Falęcka for edits on an earlier version of this text. As an artist, I participated in “One World Romania – International Documentary Film and Human Rights Festival” in Bucharest (2023) where I saw many of the documentaries described in the text. I thank the team and curators for their invitation and curation.

Vanessa Gravenor is currently a doctoral candidate at HFBK Hamburg, where she is also an artistic research associate.


[1] Dork Zabunyan, “Images from Ukraine: Who Really Wants the War to End?,” Rosa Mercedes 05 (2023), /en/2023/05/26/images-from-ukraine-who-really-wants-the-war-to-end-2/ [accessed June 1, 2023].

[2] Radina Gigova and Rhea Mogul, „For first known time in public, Putin calls fighting in Ukraine a ‘war’,“ CNN, December 23, 2022, [accessed June 1, 2023].

[3] Valeriya Safronova, “The Russian media dismisses photographic evidence of atrocities in Ukraine as ‘fake’,” The New York Times, April 14, 2022), [accessed June 1, 2023].

[4] “Fact check: How to see through Russia’s war propaganda”, DW News, September 9, 2022, [accessed June 1, 2023].

[5] Safronova, “The Russian media.”

[6] Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, trans. by Paul Patton (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), 25.

[7] Susan Sontag wrote that the problem of photography is that people remember the picture but don’t understand much else (see Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Picador, 2004[2003]) 89. See also Silke Wenk, “Sichtbarkeitsverhältnisse: Asymmetrische Kriege und (a)symmetrische Geschlechterbilder,” Bilderpolitik in Zeiten von Krieg und Terror, ed. by Linda Hentschel (Berlin: b_books 2008), 33, and Okwui Enwezor’s Archive Fever. Uses of the Documentary in Contemporary Art (New York and Göttingen: International Center of Photography and Steidl, 2008), 29-30, 101–121, on artist Hans Peter Feldmann’s 9/12 Front Page (a work that assembles international newspaper front pages covering the destruction of the Twin Towers).

[8] Sarah T. Roberts, Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media (London: Yale University Press, 2019), 22.

[9] See counter projects tracing and archiving the human rights violations such as VFrame, Ukrainian War Archive Mnemonic, and the Kyiv-based Center for Spatial Technologies ( All these projects collect or work with media, with the exception of Vframe that uses simulations of images to locate ordnances. As its website says: “VFRAME develops and deploys computer vision technologies for analyzing conflict zone media using neural networks powered by synthetic data”, [accessed June 1, 2023].

[10] Thomas Keenan references a text by Oraib Toukan where she comments that FA is staging the truth (“Getting the dead to tell me what happened: Justice, prosopopeoia, and forensic afterlives,” Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth (London: Sternberg Press, 2014).

[11] “Investing Russia’s War of Aggression,” Panel, ECCHR (Berlin) February 9, 2023, [accessed June 1, 2023];  thanks to Adam Harvey for drawing my attention to this panel and moreover his encouragement of my dissertation project. The mentioned case can be seen in Sheera Frenkel, “TikTok Is Gripped by the Violence and Misinformation of Ukraine War,” The New York Times, March 5, 2022, [accessed June 1, 2023].

[12] Hannah Bagdasar, input to conference “Investigating Russia’s War of Aggression”, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Berlin, February 9, 2023, [accessed June 1, 2023].

[13] Harvey explains that simulated images are used to geolocate cluster bombs because getting close to an ordinance is life threatening. Simulated Images, that is those created in Blender or other 3D programs are used, so that a person who believes their land contains these munitions does not have to approach a munition to take a picture. Author interview with Adam Harvey, founder of Vframe, January 2023.

[14] Susan Schuppli, Material Witness (Cambridge, MA, and London: The MIT Press, 2020).

[15] I use Bracha Ettinger’s term which draws on psychoanalysis and gazing in the female matrix-matrixial border space, countering the Lacanian phallus; the term simply means to witness with the other.

[16] Judith Butler, “Bracha’s Eurydices,” Theory, Culture & Society 21, no. 1 (2004): 95–100.

[17] Ibid., 95.

[18] Interview by the author with organizer of Ukraine.Resistance exhibition, May 23, 2023.

[19] I saw this film during the One World Romania International Documentary & Human Rights Film Festival “The Good Life” in April 2023. It premiered in Cannes in the summer of 2022. Thanks to Gabriella Hirst for our conversation.

[20] Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, 82.

[21] Ibid., 10.

[22] Full Instagram caption by Adam Broomberg: “This is everything wrong with the world and how dangerously photographs can intersect with it. The idea of a conflict zone as a backdrop for Annie Leibovitz’s shoot for Vogue Magazine is vile. Posing the ‘First Lady’ against a destroyed airplane in which people presumably died. Depicting a politician as an iconic hero without any nuanced understanding of their function and complicity in this 155 day old brutal war. A superficial glossy depiction of a hero in the Hollywood mould (sic). The whole way this conflict has been covered (from the hierarchy of empathy we witness in the way white refugees were embraced) to the ‘cowboy and Indian’ genre of analysis of the actual conflict. Somehow deep down I think these pictures confirm our need for a binary understanding of the world as good and evil, for an outdated model of male heroes with their female enablers. All the while the faceless and for now nameless youth die daily. Don’t get me wrong I’m not in any way supporting Putin but this shoot feeds into the toxic heteronormative patriarchal ideas that make war inevitable.”, posted July 28, 2022 [accessed June 7, 2023].

[23] See Asia Bazdyrieva, “No Milk, No Love,” e-flux journal, no. 127 (May 2022), [accessed June 13, 2023]

[24] Allan Sekula, “The Body and the Archive,” October 39 (Winter 1986): 3–64

[25] These content moderators are people from Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) or similar platforms. Roberts cites burn out and other psychic distress as disorders low-waged workers develop as a result of their work (see Roberts, Behind the Screen, 21).

[26] See Hito Steyerl’s notion of the “poor image”, in “In Defense of the Poor Image,” e-flux journal, no. 10 (2009), [accessed June 11, 2023]



August 10th, 2023 — Rosa Mercedes / 05