The People Are Not an Image: Vernacular Video after the Arab Spring
By Peter Snowdon
Verso Books, 2020

A decade on from the Arab uprisings of 2010-2011, scholar and filmmaker Peter Snowdon compels us to rethink the very texture and operative capabilities of beginner movies produced by residents and activists on smartphones. In service of this mission, Snowdon asks us to mirror on the movies he presents not as documentary artefacts, however as aesthetic gestures and dwelling archives of radical political change that tackle new life kinds as they proceed to flow into on-line. The Individuals Are Not an Picture extends the groundwork of Snowdon’s 2013 movie undertaking The Uprising, which is a montage of on-line movies produced and posted to the web by the frontline actors of the Arab uprisings from 2011 to 2012. On this guide, Snowdon revisits his supply materials by means of a detailed and significant studying of movies produced throughout uprisings in Tunisia, Bahrain, Syria, Libya, and Egypt and uploaded to YouTube. As Snowdon unfolds the matter of those movies, he reframes his earlier work to argue that the claims and experiences embedded inside the movies can’t be merely understood as paperwork of eyewitness testimony. Fairly, for Snowdon, these movies represent the plurality of their collective topic: “the individuals” (p.5). That is the recurrent argument that Snowdon develops all through the guide. Snowdon deliberates on a number of movies as affective modalities, as areas of look and co-presence, that render attainable the approaching collectively of the plural topic, the we. The we, as revolutionary actors, are rendered perceivable and are enacted by means of collective claims made by way of third-person perspective, that’s, the individuals of the revolution.

The principle undertaking of the guide is to understand the methods these movies transcend the person to affirm the collective. On this quest, Snowdon surfaces the dynamic character of movies as discursive artefacts which have materials results and that flow into performatively inside transnational relations of trade and emerge and re-emerge as politically productive forces. He phrases the corpus of movies produced by Arab revolutionaries because the vernacular anarchive (p.18). Snowdon’s deployment of the time period “anarchive” is a portmanteau that blends anarchy with archive to intentionally distance his scholarship from dominant Western narrative understandings of the archive as being consultant of static repositories of the previous, and to reorient to the interventional, instrumental, and rebel capabilities of the movies and their agentic potential. The vernacular anarchive, then, operates as a dwelling or performing archive of the individuals in addition to the individuals as an archive that exists in a symbiotic relationship. That’s, the vernacular anarchive reconstitutes the individuals a communicative ecology inside the YouTube infrastructure that hyperlinks widespread assets and concrete practices of dwelling along with widespread relations for being and imagining emancipatory futures. For Snowdon, the movies contained with the vernacular anarchive are all the time already within the means of changing into as they open out inside the YouTube ecosystem and onto different areas at different occasions to tackle new revolutionary capabilities and political potentialities.  

The guide’s theoretical provocations about political chance are developed from philosophers together with Jacques Rancière, Judith Butler, and Gilles Deleuze, and the scale of revolutionary expertise are narrativised by means of the work of Arab intellectuals, activists, and artists together with Mohammed Bamyeh, Ayman El-Desouky, Ahdaf Soueif, and Taher Chikhaoui, amongst others. Its empirical claims are grounded in shut crucial analyses of a number of movies from the vernacular anarchive, the corpus of which can be found on a companion Vimeo channel. The Individuals Are Not an Picture is structured in two components. The primary – The Physique of the Individuals – contains 5 chapters that disentangle and study the bodily intimacy of movies that invoke new vernacular life worlds of the individuals (by means of their haptic, tactile-kinesthetic qualities) as they seem to one another and as they’re obtained by us in our acutely aware expertise. The thread Snowdon explores by means of these chapters are the fabric circumstances by means of which these movies are produced by our bodies filming from behind cameras and inside areas of motion, and that are then translated into the transferring photos we see as they playback to us. The complicated convergence of embodied practices and digital affordances, those who emerge between bodily and machinic operations, concurrently reveal and obscure methods of seeing the individuals. Snowdon’s evaluation reveals the felt dimensions of embodied, subjective expertise by means of which these movies provide a brand new realm of presentation. It’s inside the multisensorial area of those movies that revolutionary our bodies seem of their full vulnerability and finitude. These movies thus are understood by Snowdon as areas of transformation that translate the matter of precarious and violated life, the flesh and blood of slain and struggling our bodies, from their bodily materiality, into an imagined bodily co-presence that forces we, because the viewers, to take up and confront the bounds of our mortality as embodied spectators.

Within the second a part of the guide – Video as a Essential Utopia – Snowdon turns his consideration to a different strand of the vernacular anarchive to examine the way in which the individuals emerge into look by means of movies and to contemplate how assemblages of movies emerge to provide a brand new regime of visibility. This part, deliberated throughout 5 chapters, is organised across the explicit kinds, rhythmic texture, and radical capability of movies to redistribute authority, collectively applicable area, and (re)spatialise protest by means of ranges and layers of widespread visibility enacted by means of on-line areas, and offline in city streets and squares. Snowdon explores the unprompted relationship that materialises between the cameraperson and the individuals, as topics and as objects of the digicam’s imaginative and prescient. In doing so he finds episodes of discursive rupture the place the individuals converse by means of the digicam as an instrument of collective voice and revolutionary motion. He demonstrates how the vernacular anarchive produces the individuals as a dynamic collective that emerges to (re)articulate what can now be seen, and mentioned, round who has the capability to talk and who has entry to the properties of vernacular area by means of which these claims are made seen. Snowdon refers to this phenomenon as “spontaneous mutual choreography” (p.137). The circulation of the vernacular anarchive on YouTube then exists as a collective battle for visibility and problem to dominant regimes of visibility. As collective resonance kinds amongst and between the movies it offers technique to an area that permits for the extension of political potentialities and the performative capacities of the individuals. On this manner, Snowdon orients us to an understanding of the vernacular anarchive as an area that renders seen and wise what was beforehand invisible and makes attainable the manufacturing of a brand new political topic: the individuals. That’s, the actors of the Arab uprisings engendered new types of collectivity that emerged between our bodies, areas, and voices, and that marked a radical shift to the sectarian and spiritual contours of previous political actions. This collectivism gave technique to a brand new politics of self-organised citizenry that reclaimed and expanded the notion of Arab citizenship as the mandatory basis for a radical re-imagining of the individuals as a brand new political subjectivity.

Regardless of acknowledging the terrain of discontent by means of which the persons are constituted, Snowdon doesn’t afford sustained consideration to the lengthy histories of oppression and condemnation that underpinned the uprisings. Snowdon nods to the function of YouTube’s algorithms as visibility mediators and orchestrators of those movies, as a sort of “Occupy YouTube” (p.20). But, the guide’s weak spot is that it doesn’t converse on to the algorithmic types of the movies as sociotechnical complexes. That’s, the guide largely avoids finding its discussions inside a crucial reflection and contextual rendering of the histories of on-line censorship within the area and the human rights implications of YouTube as area for surveillance capitalism (see Shoshana Zuboff and Jillian York). The power of Snowdon’s undertaking is that it reshapes the political imaginary of his reader, thereby working in opposition to the notion that these uprisings failed of their revolutionary quest. To do that, Snowdon asks the reader to assume by means of the delicate qualities of the movies – as their technical floor turns into compromised by means of their remixing and reuploading on-line – and the fabric vulnerability of the our bodies that produce and take part within the movies. From this, he argues these movies function indexical markers which can be predicated on new types of shared vulnerability and solidarity. Importantly, they provide new modalities of motion to emerge, throughout borders and between individuals, and that accomplish that in radical ways in which transfer past the disservices of oppressive governments and worldwide failings.

Lots of the claims Snowdon makes in regards to the mediated nature of the uprisings, for instance, as being embodied, affective, and collective aren’t new. Nevertheless, Snowdon’s mission right here is to not essentially make new claims in regards to the nature of protests. Fairly, Snowdon is asking us to re-evaluate these movies as vernacular gadgets, as sensorial displays of lived experiences and gestures of citizenry resistance in opposition to repressive regimes, and to contemplate their radical texture and what they make attainable. In doing this, Snowdon builds on already articulated understandings of the novel nature of the protests that occurred throughout the Center East and North Africa area by different students. On this vein, Snowdon charts a undertaking that locations his work in dialog with different students like Lina Khatib (2012, p.1) who contends that politics within the Center East is no longer solely heard however seen. The work of Elisa Adami (2016, p.71), analyses the visible language of the protests and traces their materials circumstances. And Marwan Kraidy (2016, p.12), warns in opposition to technological determinism rather than acknowledging how rebel our bodies work together with digital applied sciences to assemble a language that turns into the rhetoric of the revolution.

The Individuals Are Not an Picture has significance for students however can even discover wider viewers enchantment with, for instance, digital media activists, movie makers, and human rights advocates. It is going to be particularly related to digital media and communication students and college students with an curiosity in activism, social actions, and visible politics. Finally, The Individuals Are Not an Picture charts a utopian, however not naïve, conceptualisation of the individuals in its mission to inform and present a distinct story about what seeing the individuals means and will be. It creates the circumstances for an additional type of politics to emerge and makes attainable the creativeness of different futures.


Adami, E. (2016). How do you watch a revolution? Notes from the twenty first century. Journal of Visible Tradition, 15(1), 69–84.

Kraidy, M. M. (2016). The bare blogger of Cairo: artistic insurgency within the Arab world. Harvard College Press.

Khatib, L. (2012). Picture politics within the Center East: the function of the visible in political battle. I.B. Tauris.

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