There are more pictures today than the eye can cope with. Science has set about developing automatic image recognition devices and there have long existed machines capable of producing or simulating images by themselves. At any given moment almost every corner of the planet is being photographed by satellites. The photographer's eyes and hands are almost relics from the 19th century.

This documentary is about these innovations and their history. For example: In 1979, two CIA employees examined the photos taken by the Second World War Allies over German held territory. They discovered pictures of the Auschwitz concentration camp recording the way the death factory operated. One can see a train, one group of inmates waiting in line to be killed through work and another group being led to the crematorium complex; its gates are open and on the roof one can see the vents through which the SS dropped the poison Zyklon-B. The Nazis didn't realize that Auschwitz was being photographed and the photographers in the airplanes didn't realize what they were photographing. (TAZ, 3.12. 87)

The German word "Aufklärung" has at least two meanings. The one (enlightenment) is in the philosophical tradition of the 18th century. The other (reconnaissance/intelligence) was developed in the course of the 20th century to describe the work of the police and armed forces. In his film essay Bilderkrieg, Harun Farocki examines the second meaning.

He shows the photographic methods used by this kind of intelligence to this day. His intentionally sparse film reconstructs the history of such image-production. He tells of the development of the photographic methods used and goes on to show the developments in analysis of these photographs and the increased possibilities for their interpretation.

The essay culminates with the aerial photographs taken in 1944 by Allied bombers over Auschwitz death camp. Farocki juxtaposes them with images the SS themselves had taken inside the camp. For him, the fact that the camera was part of the camp's equipment, means that one cannot use the pictures to portray the camp. "It is better to show the camp in aerial photos at a distance of 7000 meters."

The film is a further important step taken by Harun Farocki, towards a history of the vision in the era of industrialization – an intellectual work in concentrated form and free from tricks and trimmings.

(Dietrich Leder)

Original title Bilderkrieg Director, scriptwriter Harun Farocki, based on the books Das Buch des Alfred Kantor and Femmes Algeriennes by Marc Garanger Assistant Director, Reseracher Michael Trabitzsch Cinematographer Ingo Kratisch Animation camera Irina Hoppe Editor Rosa Mercedes Negative cut Elke Granke Sound Klaus Klingler Mixing Gerhard Jensen-Nelson Narrator Corinna Belz Production Harun Farocki Filmproduktion, Berlin-West, for WDR, Cologne Producer Harun Farocki TV-producer Werner Dütsch Format 16mm, col., 1:1,37 Length 44 min. First broadcast 03.12.1987, West 3