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Détournement as optic: Debord, derisory documents and the aerial view

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For Situationist, theorist and film-maker Guy Debord, the aerial view reproduced the falsely objective world-view he called ‘the spectacle’. To counter its myth of an infinitely expandable, omniscient perspective, Debord focused on reducing views from above to ‘derisory documents’ of the social and the environmental through détournement in the two films he made while the Situationist International was in existence. The films engage critically with aerial photography as a hegemonic mode of indexical media, with the aerial view’s application as information image and ornament, and with the formal phenomenon of ciné-mapping. This analysis suggests that the détournement Debord performs in and across these films can be best conceptualized as a critical optic that constitutes a practice of seeing, a mode of reception and a call to action in the social space beyond its aesthetic employ. As such, the optic of détournement is the contestational counterpart to the optic of the aerial view. This remains the case despite the contemporary complexity of photographic views from above and their increased abstraction of social agents and spaces. An alternative to the testimonial function of embodied photographic views, détournement as optic represents an indexical civil contract founded upon representational inadequacy.
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Keywords: Détournement; Guy Debord; Situationist International; aerial photography; aerial view; derisory documents

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Texas State University

Publication date: 01 April 2014

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  • Philosophy of Photography is a new peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of photography. It is not committed to any one notion of photography nor, indeed, to any particular philosophical approach. The purpose of the journal is to provide a forum for debate on theoretical issues arising from the historical, political, cultural, scientific and critical matrix of ideas, practices and techniques that may be said to constitute photography as a multifaceted form. In a contemporary context remarkable for its diversity and rate of change, the conjunction of the terms 'philosophy' and 'photography' in the journal's title is intended to act as a provocation to serious reflection on the ways in which existing and emergent photographic discourses might engage with and inform each other.
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