Ongoing debates in the fields of photography and visual culture over the past decades have been concerned with the relationship of viewers to single images and photojournalistic trophy shots, questioning the ability of such documentary images to convey the pain of others or generate effective calls for action.
Today, the sheer amount of moving and still images generated around major incidents and circulating in the digital realm, means that to truly engage with the circumstances under which an incident occurred requires reconstructing relations between parts of a much wider assembly. While the IMAGE COMPLEX refers to these relations between images, it also indicates how such relations are points of mediation between multiple actors – the people, companies and agencies producing, broadcasting, viewing, analysing, decoding, assembling, modelling and acting upon images.
Videos of incidents that go viral online are often those that contain within a single frame both perpetrator and victim. Yet for every image that includes a complete scene there are dozens that include only part of it, or just audio, or things that happened before or after the incident. Their relation to other images and to the violent incident is not obvious. It is harder to understand incidents that slip between dozens, sometimes hundreds of images that are often discarded as irrelevant.
Reading such incidents requires the construction of a navigable three-dimensional space, and the composition within this space of all possible relations between images – thus, architecture. THE ARCHITECTURAL IMAGE COMPLEX is a method used by Forensic Architecture to locate and view multiple images and videos in 3D models of built-up environments. Such models allow the investigator to navigate from one image or video to another. Single images are therefore studied not only for the evidentiary details that can be found in them, but for visual hinges that link them to others.
If in past decades human rights research was limited by the scarcity of sources and evidence, at present the availability of large quantities of images, videos and data around an incident can create the opposite problem – how to manage this material, and generate insights from overabundance.
Pattern analysis originated in risk management and has been weaponized by the CIA through pre-emptive drone strikes. It can however be repurposed to investigate such state violence. Pattern analysis allows researchers to establish otherwise invisible correlations, clusters, and associations between incidents – modes and frequencies, trends and phase transitions – or to assess instances where information is repeatedly obscured or denied by the military or other state agencies. Such patterns allow lawyers to attribute violations to modes of operation or official policies, rather than to individual decisions.