Image Building

Bert Danckaert

The photographer’s possessions lay untouched, just as he had left them. It was only now that he understood the reason behind the police costumes and metal flight cases with the actor’s names written across them. When they had arrived that morning they had had no idea in what kind of fiction they’d be entering. The excitement with which they had stood shaving without water, the tense wait in the costume department, and hair and make-up, had now been replaced with a feeling of boredom and contempt. Absolutely no respect for this dojo, the photographer was keen to exploit it. Was he the attacker or the attacked? In any case he felt a lot of energy, both negative and positive.

Green Screen Color Reference Image

In a chaotic whirlpool of impulses he tried to focus while he watched Mansoor locking the door again. His rucksack over his shoulder, he carried his tripod like a machine gun as he stepped across the electrical cables and passed the control panels in the dark. Out on the other side he was met with the green screen and the extras waiting to be photographed in a fraction of time, and become something that had never been: a photograph. Frozen time creating a new moment.

As he had expected, this was very straightforward. He positioned his camera and set the frame. The actor was stood in front of the green screen, ready and waiting as a test model. It looked perfect. The even light was bright and detached; the green screen was big enough to allow the model to take some distance from the wall, so there were no shadows in the background. The gray, dusty concrete floor had a subtle presence in contrast to the latent and virtual green. The white markers on the wall reminded the photographer of the indicators pilots would have seen on their screens during precision bombing attacks that had been made visible to the public for the first time during the mediatized Gulf War in the nineties. This is when the photographer had truly lost belief in the power structures of our society. Just as how the exact time at which Somalia was invaded had been determined through the powers of television. The invasion needed to be broadcast live during primetime in the United States, in order to sway public opinion— lessons that had been learned from the Vietnam War. The soldiers had carried lighting equipment to film with, so their heroic acts wouldn’t be lost in what war actually is: killings in the dark and miserable pain. Forgotten and futile lives, over before they’ve even begun, now used for the higher purpose of the president’s reelection. Wars are won through the power of the image: he who controls the image wins. Image building.

Somalia, 1992

The extras were ready; the photographer was concentrated. Just one more test to check the lighting, and he was ready for a short, intensive stint of assembly line work: one for one these individuals would pose as themselves in front of the lens, dressed in an Indian preconception. Who we are and why we are who we are were the unspoken questions and main objectives to do this, in this moment. The photographer focused the lens, turned off the auto focus and was ready to go. A hand entered the frame of his image. He raised his head from the viewfinder to find an Indian security officer in front of the lens. “Do you have permission to do this?” asked the spoilsport. “Yes, of course,” the photographer tried to quickstep out of the situation by dancing the man’s negative energy back in his face. “Who gave you permission?” To which the photographer replied: “Mansoor, the man responsible for the extras.” “Wait there, and don’t touch that camera!” commanded the power tripper. He tried to stay calm, after all he was just moments away from creating his masterwork. He wasn’t about to let this watchdog ruin what he’d been building up all morning. He saw Mansoor walking through the corridor. The photographer went over to him and explained the situation. Mansoor responded with uneasiness, the photographer realized Mansoor had given him permission for something he didn’t actually have authority for. This should have happened under wraps, but now the ball was already rolling and would have to be played out within the hierarchy. Mansoor said he would speak with his supervisors and disappeared. The photographer returned to his camera where the dog was still keeping guard. The camera remained untouched. The actor was still poised at the ready. The other extras waiting neatly in line began to shift a little, looking around nervously. Technicians and prop assistants were already heading back to the set. It was now or never.

The watchdog had won. Mansoor came back with good news: “You have permission for the photo shoot, but now it is time to return to the set. At the end of the day, when we’ve finished filming, you will have even more time and I will help you,” he said encouragingly. The photographer pressed further to do the shoot immediately: “It will only take five minutes …” but it was useless, this battle had been lost and the battalion had to march onwards to the end of this day of filming, when the photographer would have his chance to seize the power of the image during primetime.