The citizen viewer : questioning the democratic authority of the camera phone image
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The inundation of mobile phone images has dramatically changed how information about current events is disseminated, accessed, and understood. The mobile camera phone was significant to the Egyptian Revolution and the Green Movement in Iran, and scholars who have considered citizen journalist images in these contexts suggest that they have the power to create democratic "deterritorialized" communities and provide objective evidence. This scholarship has assumed a dangerous link between citizen journalist images and democracy, and it has overlooked opportunities for thoughtful comparison of the use of citizen journalist footage in Iran and Egypt. My research examines how films by Iranian and Egyptian filmmakers have interacted with new media technologies in order to challenge the trust we've placed in images and to develop a theoretical framework for comparison between Egypt and Iran. Filmmakers from Iran and Egypt have begun to engage questions of citizen journalism in their narrative and documentary films. Jafar Panahi's This Is Not a Film (2011) and Ahmad Abdalla's Rags And Tatters (2013), for example, draw our attention to the limits of the mobile phone image and address concerns of spectatorship in light of the Green Movement and Egyptian Revolution. In this report, I examine how This is Not a Film and Rags and Tatters criticize the way in which popular media on the Egyptian Revolution and Green Movement celebrate and exploit the mobile phone image's "truth" value. Drawing on Bill Nichols and Susan Sontag, whose works remind us to consider what the image enframes and excludes, I argue that Panahi and Abdalla's films criticize the trust that we have put in citizen journalism, and they show us that despite developments in image-creating technology, all images produce limited perspectives. As such, these two filmmakers interrogate the image’s frame in order to construct a democratic practice of viewing in Iran and Egypt.