Fields of Vision: Observation, Surveillance, Voyeurism (February 21 - 22, 2014)

full name / name of organization: 
Film and Media Studies, Yale University

Keynote speaker: Jonathan Crary (Meyer Schapiro Professor of Modern Art and Theory, Columbia University)

Closing remarks: Brigitte Peucker (Elias Leavenworth Professor of German/Professor Film Studies, Yale University)


Vision has held a privileged position as the sense most associated with notions of truth, knowledge, and power throughout the history of Western epistemology. Optical technologies have for centuries been bound up with enhancing our ability to observe and investigate the surrounding world; from the camera obscura to the telescope and the x-ray, technologies of vision have been central to the development of ways of knowing in both the sciences and the arts. But it is the camera that most radically impacted our relationship with visible reality, reconfiguring relationships between viewers, images, and the world itself. Images began to enter into circulation as cultural objects with an indexical relationship to the physical, visible world. With the moving image came cinema and television as new artistic practices and industries, transforming crowds into mass audiences and serving as the primary means of stimulating consumer desire and leisure activity. Cameras today are found not just in movie and television studios but in closed-circuit networks and traffic-monitoring devices, satellites and spy drones, and in the hands of mobile phone users everywhere, effectively blurring our understanding of private and public. Photographic technology has long been implicated in programs of surveillance and control, and contemporary society is unprecedentedly mediated by the camera's eye.

But we cannot speak of "vision" in any singular, monolithic sense. Technological development has brought about not only a proliferation of images, but also a proliferation of different modes of vision, and with it numerous distinct relationships and dynamics that can be formed between the viewer and the image. This conference seeks to explore how past and present technologies have expanded what we call our 'fields of vision.' In particular, distinct notions of Observation, Surveillance, and Voyeurism have been paramount to theorizations of visual media and cinema and deserve close analysis and re-examination in light of technological development. As such, we hope to interrogate the complex relationships between viewer and the viewed, observer and the observed.

From the camera's roving omniscience in Fritz Lang's M to Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up; from the voyeuristic appeal of reality TV to the monitoring of the everyday life through social media; from the paranoia and vigilantism of Travis Bickle's gaze to surveillance technology in Michael Haneke's Caché and Andrea Arnold's Red Road, this conference seeks to engage theoretical and historical discussions of vision-based arts and technologies as they shape relationships between us and our visual world. In light of the increasingly expansive realms in which moving images can be experienced, we hope to complicate simplistic notions of a fixed relationship between the image and the spectator, between the camera and visible reality.

Topics for papers include but are no limited to:

- Technologies and "Modern" Modes of Vision
- Observation in Documentary, Ethnography, and Visual Anthropology
- Rethinking Voyeurism and Scopophilia in the 21st Century
- Technologies of Visual Surveillance, Panopticism, State Power, and Imperialism
- Surveillance and Paranoia in Narrative Cinema
- New Modes of Vision through New Media and Social Networks
- Corporate Surveillance and Targeted Advertisement
- Mobile Phone Cameras and Citizen Journalism
- Visuality and Social Dystopia in Film and Media
- Iconophilia and Iconophobia in Cinema and Film Theory
- Media Infrastructures (e.g. Satellites, Cables, Cell Towers)

Please send an abstract (250-350 words) and a CV to conference organizers Jorge Cuellar, Nick Forster, Vika Paranyuk, Sean Strader, and Andrew Vielkind by December 15, 2013. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by December 31, 2013.