Innerview: David Campbell on Embedding

Professor David Campbell ( is a writer, researcher, teacher, videographer, and producer engaged in the analysis and production of visual storytelling. With his writing and research he focuses on photography, multimedia and politics. He examines how documentary photography and photojournalism work, the opportunities multimedia bring, and the challenges presented by the revolutions in the new media economy. With his creative practice he works both as a multimedia producer collaborating with photographers and as a documentarian flying solo.

David has written or edited six books and some 50 articles and essays. This research deals with how atrocity, famine, war and ‘Africa’ are represented, how photographs function to visualize the global landscape, and how US foreign policy and wars in Bosnia and Iraq have been produced. He has curated three large visual projects (Atrocity, Memory, Photography, Imaging Famine, and the Visual Economy of HIV-AIDS).

For the past two decades he has taught visual culture, geography and politics at universities in the US, Australia and the UK, most recently as Professor of International Politics at Newcastle University (1997-2004) and then Professor of Cultural and Political Geography at Durham University (2004-10).

Now he works free-lance and independently, but retains a number of affiliations. He’s a member of the Durham Centre for Advanced Photography Studies at Durham University, Visiting Professor in the Northern Centre of Photography at Sunderland University, and Honorary Professor in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia (where he is part of the Australian Research Council funded project on how images shape our response to humanitarian crises).

This innerview with David for TheVisionMachine was conducted by Sebastian Kaempf and Peter Mantello in Alphabet City, New York City, on 9 February 2010 and edited by Ali Rae and Ben Walker.



Innerview: Chris Hables Gray

The Vision Machine had a valuable chance to visit Chris Hables Gray at his residence in Santa Cruz, California.  Gray is author of Postmodern War (1997), Cyborg Citizen (2002), and Peace, War, and Computers (2004).  Here, he puts the Arab Spring into context of new media going back to the Zapatistas, discusses the meaning of “war” in the digital age, and reframes the debate about the ethics of autonomous and remotely operated weapons.  To find out more about Gray\’s work, visit his page or contact him here at The Vision Machine.

Innerview by Seb Kaempf and Roger Stahl, edited by Roger Stahl.


Returning Fire

War-themed video games that restage the multiple conflicts of the War on Terror have posted record-breaking sales. In real dollars, the November 8, 2011 appearance of Modern Warfare 3, which recapitulates the drama of fighting a global terror network, was the largest entertainment release of any kind to date. The phenomenon is even more notable considering that US wars have fallen off nearly every other screen. With the brief exception of Libya in 2011, the now myriad US interventions and occupations around the planet have achieved a remarkable invisibility on the news and in Hollywood, where the war film has been declared “a toxic genre.” This has by default left the video game as the signature medium for the public understanding of war. Of course, many have argued that the consumption of the video game war poses problems for civic deliberation on these important matters. One might go so far as to say that the war-as-game mode may represent a new mode of social control: a grid of emerging practices and narratives that discipline the citizen and divert critical questions. War game culture has its own set of paradoxes and contradictions, however. While the name of the game is fidelity to ongoing conflicts and the faithful reproduction of weapons, there is a noted absence of the ugliness of conflict – the shattered families, starvation, and overflowing hospitals. There is the sense of alienation in ruthlessly separating the “conflict zone” from the “comfort zone.” At the heart of the war game is the experience of driving an avatar through the paradoxical thrills of “safe danger,” an analogue to the post-industrial West’s uneasy relationship with long-distance drone warfare. And while war games generally align themselves to a nationalistic narrative, there is little reference to the larger policy choices that precipitated the conflict, leaving the player in the curious position of fighting for “freedom” while adhering to the totalitarian and unquestionable dictates of the state. Returning Fire: Interventions in War Game Culture is an attempt to understand these internal contradictions. The film itself does not present a critique, but rather surveys the ways that artists and activists have engaged the politics of the war-themed game. The film follows Iraqi expatriate Wafaa Bilal and his project, Domestic Tension, which invited visitors to his website to shoot him, via mouse click, with an actual paintball gun in actual physical space – a recapitulation of the logics of seduction and long-distance weaponry that animate the experience of contemporary warfare. Anne-Marie Schleiner’s project, Velvet Strike, is a study in how political space, physical space, and virtual space mesh in war games and how the virtual street corner should be reconsidered as a valid space for activism.  The clip included here features the story of Joseph Delappe, who created a media stir by going into the official Army recruiting game, America’s Army, and listing the US war dead in a painstaking virtual memorial.  These three vignettes provide glimpses into the instabilities of war game culture and offer strategies for opening the narrative to more critical questions.


Innerview: General Eugene Habiger

The Vision Machine’s Roger Stahl sat down with Gen. Habiger for an extended discussion in late 2011 to talk contemporary security, nuclear proliferation, and the challenges of the so-called War on Terror.  Gen. Habiger was Commander in Chief if U.S. Strategic Command during the Clinton administration and played a lead role in the transition to a post-Cold War defense establishment.  From there, he worked as Security Czar for the Department of Energy, where he ran cybersecurity operations and also oversaw the security of fissile material.  At the time of the interview, General Habiger was visiting the University of Georgia as a Distinguished Fellow and Policy Adviser for the Center for International Trade and Security, a non-proliferation group.

For this interview, we were interested in getting General Habiger’s candid take on issues of security threats and solutions, the nuclear threat in particular, cyberwar, the boom in remotely piloted vehicles (drones), and the new condition of asymmetry that animates the unipolar world scene.


Zoriah the Embed

The Vision Machine was fortunate enough to conduct a candid conversation with photojournalist Zoriah Miller at a Manhattan cafe in September of 2012.  The following is a recording of that encounter, which focuses on Zoriah’s time in Iraq as an embedded reporter, the fight for institutional control of the image, and the series of events that led up to Zoriah’s disembedding.  Innerview by Seb Kaempf.


Innerview: Medea Benjamin on Drones

The Vision Machine spoke with Medea Benjamin, director of activist organizations Global Exchange and Code Pink.  At the time, she was promoting her new book on the politics of drone warfare.

The Vision Machine’s Roger Stahl conducted this interview in Atlanta just as Benjamin and a delegation from Global Exchange prepared to make a trip to Pakistan to protest drone strikes there.  Her narrative of her trip and her subsequent testimony before congress can be found here.


Innerview: Nick Mottern of Knowdrones

We caught up with Nick Mottern of the project in Lahaska, Pennsylvania in September of 2012.  He speaks about his innovative educational campaign and the urgent need to have a public conversation about the Obama administration’s expanding drone war.  Sebastian Kaempf conducts the interview, Roger Stahl films and edits.



Reversals and the Drone War

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is slated to come out in November.  A not-so-futuristic story about drone warfare frames the game.  In this world, the principle concern is that “the enemy” will hack into the mobile drone army and turn the guns back on empire.  All of this talk about “cyberwar” (and the inevitable arguments in favor of internet surveillance, restrictions on expression, etc.)  seem to be coming to a head in this narrative.  It’s not just about terrorists shutting down the power grid anymore; it’s about losing control of the virtual robot army.



Alongside the usual game trailer (above), the game’s promoters have released a short video (called a “documentary”) that features Oliver North and Peter Singer.  North, of course, knows a lot about black ops and illegal military action.  He was, lest we forget, convicted on three felony counts.  Singer is a fellow at The Brookings Institution and wrote Wired For War about drones and robo-war in 2009.  These interviews give credence to the doomsday scenario: the future is dangerous, and humans can’t handle the power of the technology they have produced. The themes hearken to the ethical calls heard in the nuclear age.  This time, however, the same themes perfectly align with the goals of the game’s marketers: Doomsday is here.  The weapons are in your hands.  The war is in your backyard.  Isn’t it frightening?  Isn’t it fun?  Perhaps we will forget about Waziristan and the consequences of the real drone war.  Let’s do what we have always done and reimagine ourselves as the victims.