Jan Tarnowski

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Columbia U.

Grant number

Gr. 9667

Approve Date

April 18, 2018

Project Title

Tarnowski, Jan Stefan, Columbia U., New York, NY - To aid research on 'Syria: The Image in Revolution, Revolution in the Image,' supervised by Dr. Nadia Abu El-Haj

Preliminary abstract: Before the Syrian Revolution began in 2011, the country earned the epithet the ‘kingdom of silence’ from the dissident intellectual Riyad al-Turk. The analogue to that silence, according to a novel, was the ‘roar’ of the Assad (Arabic for ‘lion’) regime, drowning out dissent through its state-controlled media. In the first year of the revolution, one million user-generated clips were uploaded to YouTube by citizen journalists, circulated by social media networks, satellite news channels, newspapers and films. How is it that in six years images by Syrian activists have become entangled in a global image economy? In an interview, a citizen-journalist told me that his documentary impulse was to avoid ‘another Hama’, where in 1982 up to 40,000 were killed by the regime and only a dozen images survive. And yet, under the watchful gaze of decentralised imaging technologies, massacres continue at even greater ferocity; countless images, the dead still uncounted. How has (the belief in) the power of these technologies shaped the struggle between Syrians and the regime? On the Syrian-Turkish border, a sophisticated trade in images has developed. Underpinning the category of ‘user-generated images’–accessible at the click of a button–lie complex modes of production and circulation. By conducting fieldwork in that ‘trading zone’, I will examine how media platforms and infrastructures form the conditions of possibility for both the images themselves and the social and political practices linking diverse actors; and how the technologies are perhaps reciprocally conditioned by Syrian histories and the practices of those in the trading zone. Syria itself is inaccessible; but my project proposes that in this trading zone, it is possible to do an ethnography of the Syrian Revolution.