‘Who likes kidneys?’ ‘Fried in the pan?’
Thoughts on Visual Mediations and Perceptions of Violence
Keywords:collective violence, paramilitary masculinities, audio-visual mediation, photography, video
Taking a video of the Serbian paramilitary Scorpions unit recording killing as a starting point and drawing upon my own research on WWII and the German genocide, the purpose of this essay is to probe the methodological and ethical challenges of visual sources (videos, photographs) that mediate acts and experiences of violence. Today’s viewers might first notice the striking violence and horror of the Scorpions unit video, reacting in many cases with shock, alienation, or empathy. Once we engage with the gaze of the videographer, it becomes clear that the recorded scenes follow a completely different logic. Despite its indisputably violent content, the video manages to convey the impression of male bonding, fun, and bravado in a fiercely violent and racialised armed conflict, in which ethnic, religious, and national categories were murderously conflated. The Scorpions unit, like many other professional killers, was embedded in a climate of impunity and an economy of violence with significant gendered dynamics at stake that we need to question. The act of recording is a highly performative and self-referential endeavour that calls us for investigating not solely social practices but also postures and gesture as acts of visual mediation. A first section reflects on the social constellations of collective violence of perpetrators as ingroups. In the second part, the focus shifts from the violent action itself to the semantics of violent gestures, before turning in the third section to reflect upon (audio)visual recordings of violence. Visual and audio-visual sources as media hence invite us to think about the complex relationship between artefact and actors. Methodological and heuristic questions about how we deal with images of violence, particularly those captured by perpetrators, constitute, as this essay argues, one of the major challenges of studying the twentieth-century photographic age and even more so, our current digital era.