Composition in Black and White (Kosovo, 050399)

In the US Department of Defense Visual Archive, ADR’s (Armament Delivery Recordings) are identified as a particular category of images. These are video recordings from the targeting screen of bomber aircraft. The cockpit recording system has two functions: target tracking /acquisition, the camera serving as the eye of the machine, as well as pilot training, the images of the operation being virtually indistinguishable from simulation/training video. Beginning with Desert Storm, these video images acquired a powerful cultural function: a way of producing the war on television, a mobilizing visual language constructing “Americaneness” within the logic of technological supremacy.

In and ADR, the explosion of the missile closes down the camera shutter, as heat burns into the machine eye. What was before a digitized landscape of bridges, buildings, roads, (people), now withdraws into an abstract composition in black and white. It is surprisingly euphoric.

The photographs in this series are taken a few video frames after the moment of explosion: the image makes no reference to any reality outside of itself, its content (ostensibly) reduced to that which is given “there”, within the framed visual field. We rediscover the logic of Greenbergian formalism, are reminded of its currency in American culture and its position as the first American national visual logic. The images both fulfill and frustrate our desire for the photograph as document: technologically mediated and authorized, the radar/eye can see impossibly closely, impossibly accurately. Yet the images are remarkable through that which is always not seen, that which fails to appear.

How is national violence produced as euphoria? By what contradictory mechanisms of engagement and dis-engagement do we come to enter these images? How is presence established in these images, if they are always anywhere but “here”? Surreptitiously removed from their authorized context in the military archive, the photographs as objects (not images) are a different kind of document: material evidence of a dangerous trespass. The viewer becomes complicitous, and therefore exposable to aggression, simply through the act of looking. Abstraction no longer conceals violence, but strategically redirects it. Problematizing the space outside the screen, outside the frame, “here” becomes dangerously reconsidered.

Please note: all archival images have been accessed, copied and re-photographed using highly unauthorized methods.