Above: People hold their phones up to photograph and video a scene in the Philippines. Credit: AP.


Phones-up is a phenomenon of the early-twenty-first-century. If something remarkable happens, some of those present--in front of the unfolding action--will very often begin to capture it, using the video-camera functionality of their handheld computer device ("smartphone"). If the events unfolding are deemed newsworthy, then these videos often become vital to news providers--sold and uploaded to their websites (known as eyewitness videos).

The most striking version of the phones-up phenomenon can be seen at any present-day music concert or gig. At such events, very often, many members of the audience forego the experience of being immersed in the enjoyment of the music-and-atmosphere, and choose instead to capture the moment as a video. What tends to emerge is a strange scene in which the star-idol has no choice but to sing out towards a sort of wall of cameras that loom before him as hundreds--or thousands--of audience members operate as amateur camera-persons filming the live gig.

In terms of theorizing such an activity, Jean Baudrillard (as influenced by Lacan), is easily the most ambitious and profound thinker:

"You think you photograph a particular scene for the pleasure it gives. In fact it's the scene that wants to be photographed. You're merely an extra in the production. The photographing subject is just the agent of the ironic appearance of things. The image is the prime medium for this gigantic advertising campaign which the world lays on for itself, which objects lay on for themselves--overwhelming our imaginations, forcing our passions out into the world, breaking the mirror we held up to capture them. If something wants to be photographed, that is precisely because it does not want to yield up its meaning; it does not want to be reflected upon. It wants to be seized directly, violated on the spot, illuminated in its detail. If something wants to become an image, this is not so as to last, but in order to disappear more effectively."

For the French theorist (1929-2007), the role of the photographer (or videographer) is not active-and-engaged but rather it is passive, the action of photographing is automatic; the filmer is automata-like. The phone-up audience member is reduced to the role of absurd puppet. For Baudrillard the subject of such an onslaught is not stripped-and-exposed by the mass filming but, ironically, protected by it. Only surface appearance is conceded--and in this way the subject is enabled to defend-and-conserve uniqueness, magic, aura, authenticity, spirit, etc.

(26 April 2018)