I am only now beginning to truly appreciate the revolutionary power of the digital camera. I'm on an analogue film workshop in Athens, working on 16mm and a Steenbeck, and - my God - it's painful.
I usually work with the lightweight Canon 7D and Final Cut. This week I'm lugging 10kg of Soviet engineering might around a city still burning under the summer sun during the day and spending my nights sweating half to death in bathrooms-cum-chemical-labs before settling down to stare at my plastic bag of sliced up rushes that I'm slowly sewing together with tape. It's laborious, to say the least. Whatever film I end up with is not going to be any good.
|Soviet engineering might|
At a talk at the Frontline Club in London I was asked what the most important piece of technology was for me during the Egyptian Revolution. My Canon 7D I replied. And that feels truer now than ever. The rise of the citizen journalist is an essential part of the global shifts we're going through, and digital photography - alongside the internet - is right at the heart of it.
From filming through Israeli checkpoints to illicit gold prospecting camps in the Sudanese desert the new Canon cameras have made everything possible. You can keep it running all day, have it sitting on a table, hidden in a bag, or just tie it up tight so it sits high on your chest, walk a little bit like the Terminator, and film away. You'll have to edit away a lot of crap, but Final Cut makes that easy enough.
With a Krasnogorsk it is impossible not to be conspicuous. It's huge, you have to crank it up, measure the light, open the aperture to carefully focus, then close it again. Then, if the world hasn't notice you yet, you press film and it sounds like a small machine gun is going off in your hand. You can film for three minutes and then you have to unload and reload a new film. It's a nightmare.
Of course, for decades people managed. You use the technology available to you. But for the young, the poor and the socially engaged the digital democratisation of film making has been remarkable for its rapidity and its almost instant accessibility. The control of the moving-image narrative, for so long firmly in control of those with power and resources, is now open for everyone to compete over.
On the day of the Camel Battle (February 2nd 2011), for example, all the international journalists covering the Egyptian Revolution were locked up in the Ramses Hilton by nightfall. But with four batteries and five memory cards in my bag I was able to film through the whole day and night. After picking up a lot of views on YouTube it was played several times on satellite TV channels to counter the Counterrevolution's claims that the people in Tahrir were funded and equipped by 'foreign agents'. This is my tiny, personal example, but there are countless others. The videos of police brutality that began circulating on Bluetooth several years ago, the Palestinian documentation of settler abuse in al Khalil (Hebron), the capture of Iranian protestor Neda Soltan bleeding to death. Nearly everyone has a camera on their phone, at least, and so has a role to play.
Cinematically, film still has a role to play. It has a quality that comes from the burning of reality straight on to chemistry, has a texture, a character. But to engage with, and hope to affect change in, the world, we are living in a time of almost unlimited possibility for the civilian.
PS If anyone from Canon reads this and wants to support the work we're doing in Egypt, specifically with Mosireen, the new citizen journalist's collective, we could take on a technology partner.