Unburning: Technics of Opacity, Oversight, and the Police Surveillance State

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Abram Stern


The subject of this paper is a collection of 18½ hours of FBI aerial surveillance video documenting the Baltimore Uprising of 2015. Working from the premise that the video footage reproduces a criminalizing and racialized gaze, my analysis centers on what remains in the media if the video is absent (or abstracted): video metadata embedded within the media’s “.mp4” container during its redaction, but also “burned” onto the video image by the infrared sensor that captured it.

Even as it works to decode what these documents “speak” about the anti-Black apparatus that produced them, this paper argues beyond a forensic reading, through the lens of expertise: metadata is more than a tool for establishing evidentiary authenticity; it is also a site for creative intervention and contestation.

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