img_2411-2I’ll begin with a shout-out, a dream-out—not a review but a reverie—of Taylor Mac’s “A Twenty-Four Hour History of Popular Music,” an unforgettable opus, atheistic tent revival, and hootenanny that I was privileged enough to attend, for 24 hours, last weekend. So powerful: I dreamed about it again last night (nights later). I could try to give words to the trippy commitment of staying awake together with a room of 650 strangers as jaw-dropping costumes changed in front of us (by the hands of their designer Machine Dazzle, himself always in yet another exuberant, preposterous, marvelous outfit) …

img_2370-3… onto the beautiful almost-naked masculine-feminine body of Taylor Mac who all the while espoused radical analyses of American culture, personal theories of performance, and raunchy and proud depictions of his own political and sexual predelictions and sang so beautifully while his wonderously weird brigade of dandy minions danced among and for us, leading us here and there like hooligan pied-pipers, and the band played, and we were asked to engage together in ever more weird ways and I kept moving, from chair to floor, from snack to sleeping bag. Sometimes I’d talk with people nearby, other times dance or take a little shut-eye.

img_2389I’ll dream of it because that seems the best way to process an over-full body and mind experience—much better than writing. Dream of the experience, yes, and in that form try to encapsulate it and own it for myself as my mind turns off. But also there re-engage bodily in how art really can make action, and community, and ideas, and love for a day and even perhaps after, in all that lingers; and how these experiences, coming in the form of a “radical faerie realness ritual,” manifest the best of what this country, and its art and artists, can be.

img_2401Instead, I’ll use this place, my blog, one of mostly rational words, to name and ponder one of Mac’s big stated concerns of the night, and how it presses up against my own recent questions about what it means and how it feels to move marginal, or counter-cultural, or radical culture into the ever more normative spaces that graciously invite us there. Over the hours, Mac talked frequently, and at great length about the “cross-cultural translation” work his performances enact: connecting tony theater crowds to the outrageous, lusty, ethical politics and practices of America’s marginal activists (anti-abolitionists, Native Americans, radical faeries and lesbians, suffragettes, civil rights activists, burlesque dancers, gay male bath-house enthusiasts, etc). Mac explained frequently that we were in “mixed-company,” and what this meant for the audience and the show. That is, being in a room where some of the people (in the cast and crew and audience) were members of the counter-cultural communities and causes that the show celebrates, borrows from, appropriates, and learns from, but that many or most were probably not (given the cost of the ticket: $400!)


Costume for hour 22, 1986-1996, the decade of AIDS. The shawl and sleeves are adorned with audio cassette tapes.

As the day progressed into night and then later yet, morning, it became increasingly clear to my addled brain that the seemingly straight and white and aged members of the audience were quite able to stay, see and listen to the wildly out-there things that the performance and Mac encompass, including but not limited to the penultimate hour (that is hour 23), that attended with great care to the causes, songs, politics, and wisdom of radical lesbians. Although I had shed a tear a few times over the 22 hours thus far (particularly in the hour for the decade that preceded this, the hour devoted to the ravages of AIDS), I was not prepared for how moved I would be to see this powerful-almost-shattered man, and his amazing brigade of talented artists, attend lovingly to the often-derided, rarely-attented-to (by outsiders that is), people, ideas, culture, pastimes, and wisdom of people like me. I was deeply moved that we were being attended to—in this vast and rather dominant space—with dignity and curiosity: there is something to learn from these strange people … I can’t say the audience went wild, we were tired and lesbian culture remains foreign and unpalatable to many (as indeed it is designed to do), but the audience listened and learned with a heart and mind opened by all that had preceded. And now I think this has to be more than 21 hours of Taylor Mac breaking us down, although that was amazing and intense. There is a larger cultural phenomenon counter-cultural inclusion at this time of which he is one important player.


Costume for hour 23, 1986-1996: the decade of radical lesbians who put their own needs aside to care for gay men and others during the height of the AIDS crisis. The wings are vulvas.

Because I realized that night that something similar had happened to me only a few days before. Just the previous Monday in fact, when the film I produced, The Watermelon Woman, played at the MoMA, as part of its 20th anniversary remaster re-release. There, too, a different crowd from its original home in marginal queer of color culture, enjoyed, thought about, and learned from the film and our attending cast and crew. And by doing so, in many ways they were only acknowledging what we already knew and had always tried to promote: that the first black lesbian feature film (directed by Cheryl Dunye in 1996) was serious (and funny and charming) cinema about ideas of great import to all Americans—race, sexuality, memory, history, archives—just as was Mac’s.


Kenrick Cato (actor), Alex Juhasz (producer and actor), Bill Coleman (sountrack), Burke Moody (executive producer), Paul Shapiro (original score), Annie Taylor (editor), Jaguar Mary (actor), Shar Olivier (actor), Marc Smolowitz (producer of re-master), Cheryl Dunye (writer, director, producer, actor).

And when I was on the stage that night, a little nervously looking into the crowd, seeing some recognizably queer or black or feminist faces but mostly not, I felt that everyone there (again, note the price of the ticket) was actually quite ready to attend to our tiny little micro expression of that same 90s feminist, lesbian of color wisdom, humor, style, and outsider mojo that Taylor Mac had also celebrated, and I wondered: why … and how?

tpAnd I watch Transparent with a similar haunting refrain: whatever can it mean that our most cherished, carefully tooled criticisms, and the words we have refined to better understand the cruelty and sick reason of our world, can now be available to many more than have lived and defined these positions from the counter-cultural margins? I want to be clear that in all three cases I am not talking about “selling out,” because that is not what this moment feels like from the inside. Rather, inhabiting these new bright rooms and viewing platforms with many others who are clearly unlike myself, the lifestyles, values, ways of living and knowing and loving that have been refined by many marginal cultures look to be becoming palatable expressions of the American experience for many more than I would ever have imagiend. And because this post has gone on too long, and because I haven’t figured it out at all, I’ll end by proffering two initial explanations for a seeming acceptance of radical queer culture in increasingly mainstream spaces:

  • one: we’ve been producing representations of and for ourselves that are continuing, expanding, and refining for now so many past several decades that people are getting used to us. We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!
  • and, better yet: perhaps others, outsiders, the different and the dominant, are actually opening to hear us by necessity. For in these vile, racist, misogynist, cruel times, it seems ever more likely that we’ve actually been right all along.

Sometimes things align, but mostly, really, it’s because they are already connected. Such is the case with the showing of Zoe Leonard’s compelling new body of work, “In the Wake,” currently showing at Hauser & Wirth and the cotemporaneous screening of The Watermelon Woman at the Museum of Modern Art: both in New York City, as am I, today.

Zoe Leonard: Positano, 1946 (detail), 2016.

Zoe Leonard: Positano, 1946 (detail), 2016.

“In the Wake,” Leonard’s compendium of three related works (sculptural and photographic) reflecting on the photo in/as/against the archive stretches the work she did on a linked set of questions over twenty years ago while making the Fae Richards Archive with myself (as co-producer and actor), Cheryl Dunye (as co-director) and a rowdy, talented, committed group of dykes, artists, and intellectuals from NYC and Philadelphia. That archive now sits and shows, in part, in the film I produced (with Barry Swimar), The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996), which is currently enjoying its twentieth year re-release of a beautifully remastered print. As a complementary part of its return, Cheryl Dunye, Marc Smolowitz and I have energized what we call WMW 3.0 art shows where curators of younger generations revisit the film, its photo archives and production ephemera, and mount art shows joining that work with new objects by contemporary artists who are engaging, with today’s urgency and concerns, with the central issues of The Watermelon Woman: the relations between photography and film, archives, memory, self- and community-expression, history, power, and legacy, particularly as experienced by lesbians, queers, people of color and women.

A Subtle Likeness features work by four contemporary artists—Ayanah Moor, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Anna Martine Whitehead, and Kandis Williams—whose diverse artistic practices resonate with the film’s themes.

A Subtle Likeness features work by four contemporary artists—Ayanah Moor, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Anna Martine Whitehead, and Kandis Williams—whose diverse artistic practices resonate with the film’s themes.

Installation at Black/Feminist/Lesbian/Queer/Trans* Cultural Production, curated by Melonie Gree, Melorra Green and Dorothy Santos

Installation at Black/Feminist/Lesbian/Queer/Trans* Cultural Production, curated by Melonie Green, Melorra Green and Dorothy Santos.

Traveling the world (again) with the film, living in close proximity with its (fake) archive, discussing it with new audiences and our team of WMW 3.0 curators (Erin Christovale, Vivian Crocket, Melonie Green, Melorra Green, Natasha Johnson and Dorothy Santos), and at a recent symposium at SF State, organized by Darius Bost and others, Black/Feminist/Lesbian/Queer/Trans* Cultural Production: A Symposium Honoring the 20th Anniversary of Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, I find myself in eerie alliance, or perhaps simply ongoing connection or even conversation (from afar), with Zoe’s discussion of her own current work about the past as “the opposite of archiving.”

Ephemera from the making of the Fae Richards Archive currently displayed at the One National Gay and Lesbian Archives as part of the show, "Memoirs of a Watermelon Woman," curated by Erin Christovale

Ephemera from the making of the Fae Richards Archive currently displayed at the One National Gay and Lesbian Archives, LA, as part of the show, “Memoirs of a Watermelon Woman,” curated by Erin Christovale.

Since I was in NY, while she was at the opening in LA, Cheryl took and shared with me cellphone photos of the now familial objects (from the fake archive in which my friends and I were first seen, twenty years ago) displayed at a Subtle Likeness and Memoirs of a Watermelon Woman (still showing at the One Archives). In NY, “In the Wake” finds Zoe Leonard also photographing photographs of her family’s partial, haunting, inconclusive archive of post-Holocaust snapshots, in the process turning them, as well, into luminous, reiterative, more-than-precious keys to history’s and family’s unfathomable and always unfindable truths.

Zoe Leonard, Misia, postwar (detail), 2016.

Zoe Leonard, Misia, postwar (detail), 2016.

The opposite of archiving for so many reasons and in so many ways, Leonard distorts the record with her highly visible photographic processes, multiplies away the value of the archive’s precious objects by replicating them and then showing them again and again, albeit differently, and transforms lowly family snapshots into high art through her refined aesthetic sensibility and masterful developing techniques, beautiful framing and exacting display, and placement in room after room of the toniest of townhouses on the Upper East Side.

Cheryl and Alex dancing. By Michael Light, The Watermelon Woman at the Berlin International FIlm Festival 1996, 1997

Cheryl and Alex dancing. By Michael Light, The Watermelon Woman at the Berlin International Film Festival 1996, 1997. At “Memoirs of a Watermelon Woman,” One Archive.

The opposite of archiving for so many reasons. For, ordinary life can be and is made into art, not artifacts, sometimes by loving communities in the living of it, and sometimes by later communities in the lasting of it.


More fake ephemera from Fae’s life (by Zoe Leonard) and real artifacts of my own. Now in the One Archive curated by Erin Christovale.

Archive’s opposite because the Fae Richards Archive was a carefully, lovingly researched and rendered fake, made by many, because we believed in the telling of the story of someone (Fae Richards, the Watermelon Woman) who must have been true but couldn’t benefit in her time from today’s most obvious, irresistible right and activity: living a life available to the photographic record and its lasting home in an archive.

Zoe Leonard, Total Picture Control (I), 2016

Zoe Leonard, Total Picture Control (I), 2016

The opposite of archiving because, thankfully, real people, our lived lives and luscious loves, our full-tilt embrace of experience in community and history and art, will never be fully available to any archive’s or the internet’s quest for total picture control. Rather, we enter ourselves into history and its many archives here again, and as Zoe does and has done before, by celebrating the photograph’s partial, artistic, personal hold on people, truth, and life.

I gave a “talk” at the CUNY Grad Center: one of many attempts to document, process, and share this year-plus long project, a multi-temporal, many-sited, process-rich, collaborative investigation of learning, making and living in feminist social networks, no matter how messy.

website#ev-ent-anglement considers how or if affect flows within on/offline queer/feminist spaces because I am concerned that many of our current digital practices are not yet as grounded as we deserve. It believes that we can learn from doing, and that we can do better.

Feel free to read more (and cut/paste+bleed at will) on the ev-ent-anglement.

In this, my third blog post of the summer about what to make of and do with the radical evidentiary images by ordinary people that can sometimes go viral and thus contribute to activism against documented injustice (and also do other things), I will speak briefly about New Documents, a powerful and important show that I saw at the Bronx Documentary Center.


While it continues to be my belief that “hoping footage goes viral” can only be one item in a much longer list of hopes, and their associated activities, when our goals are making changes to brutal, sanctioned, ongoing systemic conditions that produce and allow for atrocities and violence that might be documented by ordinary citizens and victims, what I will focus on here is how the show itself enacts some of these necessary next steps by rendering itself as a physical manifestation of what is also needed after documentation, after the sharing of said document (virally or otherwise), that is if change is the goal (and not virality in and of itself).


New Documents is an impressive piece of activist curation that moves from 1904 to the present day, judiciously choosing about fifteen pieces of photo, video, and film, each an inspiring example of what we now call citizen journalism (citizen-made images from Aushwitz to Dealey Plaza, from Vietnam to Tompkins Square Park, Tunisia, Libya, the Pepper Spraying cop, and then finally, St. Paul, Minnesota.) The show is daring, brutal, and unsparing. It asks us to look carefully at images, like the most recent in the show, those shot by Diamond Reynolds of the Philando Castile murder, that in an earlier post in this series I said I was not yet ready to see (please do read a dialogue I am having with Kimberley Fain about our choice to look). First made in photographs and later in film and video, each document in this spare show is seen on a tiny screen, cut into a wall, and placed on one side of the gallery. This arrangement serves as a timeline, a set of windows, and as a procedure for close concentration and attention.


Wall text below each document allows the activist orientation and analysis of the curators to be clear. If an atrocity is witnessed and documented, and if this documentation is seen, results will occur. Often very big ones.


The role of documenting and in this way testifying to atrocity is a critical and certain one. Without this courageous artistic political act there is little evidence from which activists can establish the truth of their experience and move forward to fight for reckoning, justice and change. However, there is nothing like a one-to-one causality between documenting atrocity and making change in the conditions that cause and support state and other systemic violence and oppression against citizens. This shooting/result equation is not exact, immediate, or even really quantifiable for any number of reasons that tend to reflect the same systematic cruelty that supported the original violence including but not limited to who controls images, and their interpretation, circulation, availability, ownership, and the punishments associated to acts of witness and activism.


My previous writing and thinking about witness video that is hosted and made viral on YouTube and other social networks, in particular about one of the first celebrated examples of viral witness video, the image of Neda Agha-Soltan being killed at a protest in Iran in 2009 (also shown in the New Documents show), cautioned that there are many systems that surround viral videos and function to complicate any easy or obvious or necessary move from virality to change. While video can and must testify to abuse and is integral to campaigns for justice, it is also necessary for activists to consider how any particular video is seen, used, supported and shared within complex contexts that can either undermine, challenge, or support the maintenance of the systematic cruelty that is documented. I’d like to name some of the systems and conditions that surround viral video again here:

  • the platform itself, i.e. YouTube or other corporate social media sites that hold, own and share (citizen-made) video
  • the ads and comments and other visible windows or screens that frame it on the site and/or on your screen
  • the interpretations of those who give words to the image, be they citizen or mainstream journalists, day to day social media users or the corporations that pose as users
  • the governments and other institutions that monitor, censor, support and/or punish image-makers
  • the regimes of viewing that organize how we watch short, fast, spreadable images; that is to say mostly as interchangeable, consumable, expendable, fast bits of entertainment or stimuli, what I have elsewhere called “video slogans
  • the fragile and/or inaccessible technologies that shoot, share, and save images

A cracked and dislodged mobile phone in the New Documents show testifies to the fragility of the technologies that capture, hold and share viral video, and to the many ways that activists, denied full access to infrastructural support, must make do even so

And it is just here, looking at the cracked phone on display, where my praise of New Documents really begins. This room, in its place, the Bronx, NYC, with more surrounding wall text (on the other walls, see below), and the volunteer who believes in the Bronx, and photography, and the power of its people, is one such radical place for the watching, thinking about, and making use of witness images. This place is a context from which these images accrue deeper meaning and greater value, written as they are, not into a callous, corporate internet, or a ready-steady flow of social media, but rather, a well-thought-out history, analysis, community and purpose, a place where small screen evidence by ordinary people can meet more ordinary people who care enough to get there, learn more, and engage.


In the Bronx Documentary Center I spent fifteen or more minutes (after viewing and photographing the show) speaking to the activist, artist, scholar, volunteer pictured below (I have lost the green pad where I wrote down your name, please email me at work if you see this and I will name you!)

IMG_2191We spoke about her radical education in Women’s Studies at UCLA, and her return to the Bronx to do her activist work within her community. We talked about the value of a radical art space within this burrough. How activists, artists, students, and passers-by use this space. We discussed some of my critiques of virality, and she told me about hard decisions the curators had made around this and other issues to mount this timely, necessary, and controversial show.

IMG_2160 (1)

Our time together, in this space, not any, with its analyses and histories and commitments loud and clear, not intruded upon by any corporation, or stream of shares or responses, made these New Documents newly visible to me and resulted in many things that I have attempted to quantify here. In my previous post, Tiny Screens/Power Scenes, I concluded:

I would suggest that a powerful way to view viral livefeed video of black death, and other images of violence, might be not on our small private screens but as if each viral video was art, as if it mattered that much, as if it deserved that level of privilege: to be viewed in groups, on large screens, from beginning, middle to end, and with context. That is to be seen within the rich world it records, and with the background, discussion, and analysis that artists and viewers can and do use media to initiate.

How lucky I am then, to see, learn from and engage with a more powerful way to view viral video of black death and other historical atrocities. And how lucky we all are that we have access to the internet, so that I can share this place, The Bronx Documentary Center (in such partial ways, I know), with others who can not get to NYC and can learn from and engage together even so.



I will be giving a brief presentation at the Visible Evidence documentary conference in Bozeman Montana on one of two workshops concerning the teaching of documentary.

Preparing for this, I realize: I don’t teach “Intro to Documentary” (Studies and/or Production), and never have in my twenty-five years of praxis-based collegiate instruction committed to making, historicizing and theorizing activist media practices with my students and related communities. Thus, I decided to use my invitation to contribute to the panel, and its field-centered conversation, to figure out where, in fact, I had and have located my teaching about feminist, queer, activist, AIDS and internet media. My title for the panel, written well in advance, had been “The Axis of Praxis.” This placed- and action-based metaphor still provides a reasonable framework in that the space I have been doing my work in, about, and for is indeed, not really documentary but rather, this place: a media place, a lived place, a practice place at the (always anticipated and endlessly unfulfilled) axis of community, commitment, making,  seeing and representation.

That is, the internet, and its wild collections, its multiple possibilities for media (what Helen De Michiel named as “a cutting loose from legacy 20th century production and distribution practices”), its linking and unlinking of networks of self and community, and its breezy possibilities for making and sharing. The internet: with its corporate ownership, neo-liberal paradigms of labor, self-production, promotion, and commodification. The internet: a place we don’t need to go to see.

In my presentation (my power point is here), I will discuss how my work has been situated not in documentary, per se, but rather: between film and media studies by way of documentary, and more particularly activist, community-based media; in DH by way of queer and feminist and anti-racist studies; and in critical internet studies by way of placed-based interrogations of the embodied experiences of communities of practitioners. This inter-disciplinarity helps me to better see this place. At Visible Evidence, thinking about documentary with theorists and practitioners in Montana (for now), I learned, face-to-face about the values of lived embodied space.

13920563_10154809601099316_8166273746383273395_oJanet Walker‘s opening keynote, “Mapping Documentary,” set the stage for my experience of a series of provocations about documentary, place, and digital technologies, including the internet, that she and her graduate students and fellow faculty members at UCSB have been developing and refining for many years (I have joined them here and elsewhere) and which I then heard across the conference from many others (just a few listed below). She understands documentary “as mapping in and of itself,” by way of geo-locative tools that combine with more traditional media and their linked practices (i.e. documentary) and material, daily, lived experience and knowledge of place. Her reading of how and why these representations move on and off media, including the internet, what she calls “a deep mapping,” is a practice at the axis of praxis.

I’ve also been attempting to do and theorize this kind of engaged, active, seeing, going and reading with my students and others, albeit often by first (creatively/politically) building or entering a digital place, that is always also a material place, that is to say that is one place—the world and its internet; this place—with all the particularities of the local and the global, the material and the digital making it impossible to pin down.

Helen De Michiel‘s presentation on a panel about contemporary participatory media practices, looked to her current documentary practice (on Lunch Love Community) that is “enmeshed in social lived encounters … folded into public settings” and that Patty Zimmerman went on to name as “small-scale media interventions that permeate in and through communities,” at once “digital, analogue, and embodied.” In this panel, Aggie Bazaz noted a set of documentary-linked practices where “films receded into the background of events,” that Reece Auguiste called “a way of being in the world,” that is collectively “for oneself and for others.” What matters most to me here is their descriptions of carefully navigated movements from lived embodied reality to digital/media representation as the most critical part of activist multimedia practices. This is done with care, attention, love, and self-awareness.

These placed based ideas of my colleagues, learned and shared as they were in a place, Montana, have led me to believe that I have not, indeed, been studying, teaching or making documentaries for these past many years as I have been trying rather, to use documentary, and a related series of linked tools, processes and methods, histories and theories, to build with others (often my students) a way of being, doing, and changing in the digital material world that is currently our home. From this, I realize that documentary, like the internet, is simply a set of technologies at hand; certainly one with rules, histories, best practices, theories, communities, and infinite possibilities (limited by many forces). But for me, it has always been the doing towards the living and being and changing that has mattered the most, and I thus am drawn to makers and theorists (in whatever fields) that try to understand this, as much as I am to the texts that inspire it.

Here are links to five such projects of my own, using documentary as practices and theories and histories, to be sure, but along with other tools and ways of being and knowing, that have pushed me to reconsider my place at the axis of praxis of documentary and other fields:

  • Learning from YouTube: my class and video-book on and about this site
  • Visual Research Methods: my class teaching grad students in the humanities about the legacies and affordances of critical digital making as a humanist and artistic mode of inquiry and writing
  • FemTechNet: a place for asynchronous, collective, distributed teaching about feminist views of technologies
  • Feminist Online Spaces: a project aimed at researching, teaching, talking about and otherwise building-towards online spaces that are defined by feminist and other progressive principles of community, visibility, discourse, and politics
  • Ev-ent-anglement an experiment in digital embodied collective feminist media praxis



Over its hundred-plus year history, cinema (and its offshoots television and video) has offered up uncountable contributions to civilization that are unimaginably beautiful, powerful, and profound and that are delivered in endless varieties.

And yet, adherents of medium specificity, like myself, suggest that these endlessly variable works of film, video and television have been built from only a small set of fundamental components. Moving image recording technologies package and deliver nothing more than light, sound, space and time. What artists do with these elements is the magic of these media. And sure, technology helps. Over the course of its short history, there have been abundant changes, improvements, and shifts within the tools that focus, record and deliver artists’ renderings of media’s core elements. Within the last ten or so years, developments within digital media technologies have allowed for substantial breaks from the possibilities previously available within media history, including but not limited to the expanded access to and ease of use of nearly professional grade tools for the recording, editing, saving and distribution of moving images. For little cost and effort, nearly everyone can now shoot, edit, save and share images that look and sound great. These new producers using newly available tools introduce, mix, and remediate new (and old) media content and forms, only the most recent of which is socially mediated livefeed video. This new format has caught and demands our attention given that its viral uses have been closely connected to current conversations about and witnessing of violence, justice, and race in America and around the world.


In recent writing, I tried to understand some of the implications of seeing and sharing livefeed video of black death. This proved to be a rumination about the ethics and responsibilities—associated with media records of cruelty and punishment—as video and its viewers encounter refigured relations to recorded time. But the capacity to record, save, see and share (real) time must, by definition, be met with alterations in configurations and understandings of space. To continue to better see and understand how technological developments in temporal and spatial recording are met with social, artistic and political ones, I will briefly consider—alongside livefeed viral video—a related technological adaptation and the associated practices of looking encountered therein: how we now seem to be looking at both ever more-tiny and over-sized screens.

Looking more closely, I can’t help but notice what seems to be an uncanny correlative between the growing number of capable producers and the shrinking size of the screens that carry their videos. Moving viral images seen on tiny screens like phones, watches, or even windows within a larger screen, certainly suffer in regards to viewers’ focus, clarity, and attention—even as they enjoy access to larger audiences. Cinephiles (and others) then suffer the quickly compounding loss of norms and systems for viewing cinema as it is “supposed” to be done: in large formats projected into dark rooms with quality sound systems peopled by others and enjoyed from beginning to end without interruption. Today, most people watch moving images attending to none of these norms: on increasingly pint-sized screens, alone in any possible place, at their own speed, direction and duration, surrounded by other images and distractions and sounds. Of course, we can and do turn to the linked and increasing possibilities for nostalgic viewing—like Tarantino‘s commitment to 70mm or the growing subculture of pop-up, outdoor, or micro-cinemas—or to technologies, practices, and institutions that are dedicated to a kind of reverse-viewing, one that delivers larger and larger images in more specialized and costly formats and venues to smaller and more refined audiences.


To better see the connections between increasingly small and large screens, I will look briefly at one iteration of such blending practices: namely the projection of artist-produced, museum-located, large, multi-screen videos made entirely from once tiny-screen offerings. At the International Center of Photography‘s inaugural Public, Private, Secret show, four artists’ videos (by Natalie Bookchin, Jon Rafman, Martine Syms, Doug Rickard), made entirely from everyday users’ YouTube videos, are the highlight of (or at least entry to) the museum’s first show in its new location. While all of these featured artists’ efforts participate in making (more) public everyday video that itself made public the private experiences of everyday people, what seems as noteworthy to me is the effects and implications of making and showing large images from videos that had been made to be seen small.

A movement from piddling to grand helps to bring into focus what any serious student of media history understands already, and what the four featured artists are often highlighting in their similar but diverse offerings: viewing practices are never merely technological; rather they are historically, institutionally and culturally determined. By making small videos big, we can see more clearly what goes undetected in the common sense viewing practices of viral video. Another way to put this is: what don’t or can’t we see in our current viewing practices of the ever-present videos and views of social media?

First off, given that these four works were created by artists’ selection (in both senses of the word: all of the featured video artists chose their constituative materials entirely from the YouTube videos of unnamed others, and they, in turn, were selected for this show by its curators, Charlotte Cotton, Marina Chao, and Pauline Vermare), the museum’s and art world’s institutional privilege and sanction brings with it multiple and improved technologies different from those typically associated with viral video. We find that the largeness of the screen is linked to any number of related escalations: of stature (for the presenting artists), of viewing platform and spaces (from YouTube-at-home to the spare but sacious screening rooms of the museum), of machines necessary for display, projection and sound (from consumer to professional grade). But perhaps most critically, these augmentations carry with them social and sociological advancement as well.

<p><a href=”″>Mainsqueeze, 2014</a> from <a href=””>jonrafman</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Artist-made video of YouTube video can’t help but show the everyday scenes, things, and preoccupations of regular people (as was also true of the amazing trove of Americana, the home movie). Given the demographics of our culture, the vast majority of what we see on YouTube (outside of the corporate video that makes up something like 50% of what we see there, give or take) is made by and shows the worlds of poor, working- and middle-class people. Americans’ class is registered on their YouTube videos in any number of ways, including but not limited to what is made visible of their living spaces, social spaces, and associated possessions, their use of spoken and written English, how they carry, use, and inhabit their bodies, and the cultural, political, and social issues that their videomaking considers. Given the demographics of America, the viewers of said videos are also most likely to come from the 99%’s poor, working-class and middle-classes and homes (albeit with all the variations of region, race, gender, sexuality, and ideology that is writ large across our class spectrum.)

However, at the big screens of America’s museums, art galleries, art fairs, and auction houses that increasingly show video in jumps that seem to match its broader social appeal, one finds oneself in the discomfiting position of watching people made video but not doing so with the peeps (who are undeniably watching loads of video on small screens at home, on the bus, at the library, in their bedrooms, in parking lots; actually, in all the places one sees in these videos). Letting my viewing of the ICP YouTube art videos serve as a barometer, the large videos of small videos were seen by attentive, serious, white-haired white-women (myself included), as well as one Jewish young man (who left quickly, I read his Yarmulke as a register of his religious affiliation), and one brown skinned and also middle-aged woman. This small and attentive audience (who each paid $14 for admission, $12 for seniors; you can not get in for free) all, surprisingly, sat through the four approximately ten-minute videos, interacted socially with each other throughout, and in general viewed these images through the norms associated with (high) art. Videos that would have otherwise be seen (or not, see my work on NicheTube) as expendable, forgettable, interchangeable, if also funny, excessive, spectacular or demonstrative—that is small—enjoyed big viewing privilege: that is to say they were afforded the advantage of duration, attention to form and content, and some significant possibility for context, although of course, this had been largely provided by the secondary (or primary?) artists through their skilled overlay of music, through their selection and then editing of videos, through their connection to the other artists’ works on display in the carefully curated space of an art show.

Now some would argue that with viral video many of these covet-worthy assets of the big are afforded not by their size of screens but by the number of viewers and viewings they spawn. There is certainly something to this argument, although I have been quick to note that with scale and spreadability comes a necessary simplification of argument and a loosening of context and value. But here I am working hard to keep attentive to how the size of images (i.e. one of the technology’s current preoccupation in regards to newly possible renderings of space) is related to viewing practices that are themselves always imbricated in culture, history, and therefore, power. For as I’ve been arguing throughout, big videos demand not just space but also time. Shockingly for me, sitting through the many clips from YouTube videos that made up the artists’ videos, itself seemed sort of nostalgic in this moment, defined as it is by Vine videos, tweets (with videos) and Snap chats: each of these current social media forms, and formats demanding an ever greater waning of video’s hold on time. And just look! Livefeed video seems to extend that out into duration and the spatial and temporal context associated with the entitlements of the long durée.


Speedy internet criticism (including my own) is rife with writing that celebrates the slow and bemoans the loss of persistence. While this blog post certainly does that too, I am more interested in trying to see and name the uses and stakes for new technologies for looking, like livefeed video, as they are being introduced, and perhaps before their norms of use are calcified (and commodified). Given that goal, I would suggest that a powerful way to view viral livefeed video of black death, and other images of violence, might be not on our small private screens but as if each viral video was art, as if it mattered that much, as if it deserved that level of privilege: to be viewed in groups, on large screens, from beginning, middle to end, and with context. That is to be seen within the rich world it records, and with the background, discussion, and analysis that artists and viewers can and do use media to initiate.



I recently received an unexpected but timely invitation (from editor Catherine Halley) to write an article for JSTOR Daily.  Her email request arrived when indeed I had something pressing I wanted to say. I was not sure I could say it, or that the time was right, or what the ramifications of my writing it would be, but I did very much want to think critically (and in public) about why I wasn’t watching the viral live feed videos of black death that began circulating and multiplying last week.

With Halley’s close help, and that of many friends and colleagues, that article was published today: How Do I (Not) Look: Live Feed Video and Viral Black Death. My writing, and thinking, occurred in conversation, actual and in my head, with a great many friends and scholars who I’d like to point to here, in no particular order and most likely forgetting some, less for reasons of intellectual property and more to name that my/our understanding of momentous social, technological, personal mayhem and change occurs in communities of care and practice and thought: Natalie Bookchin, Gabrielle Foreman, Robert Reid-Pharr, Cheryl Dunye, Kemi Ilenanmi, Alisa Lebow, Jenny Terry, Roopali Mukherjee, Marta Zarzycka, Jen Malkowski, Lisa Cartwright, Marita Sturken, Nick Mirzoeff, Patty Zimmermann, Sam Gregory,  Deirdre Boyle, Safiya Noble, LaCharles Ward, Ellen Scott, bell hooks, Paola Bacchetta, Tina Campt,  Inderpal Grewal,  Caren Kaplan, Minoo Moallem, Susan Sontag, Henry Jenkins, Sherri Williams, Jodi Dean, Michael Gillespie, Stephen Winter, Theodore Kerr and Diamond Reynolds.

I write in honor of Reynold’s work and in the name of our shared witnessing of the death of Philando Castile and so many others.

I am sure my friends and colleagues above will not agree with all of my thoughts on this volatile and horrible matter, nor would I want them to, but I do hope they will understand how critical their voices (and long term work on issues of violence, visibility, video and racial injustice) have been for me during this time.