A Defiant Act of Looking: Prisoners’ Illicit Documentary Practices of Shooting-Back


  • Chafic T. Najem Stockholm University – Department of Media Studies



Słowa kluczowe:

digital technology, prison, amateur recordings, media practice, media witnessing, cellphone camera, state warfare, new media, frame, POV


During an armed security operation on Lebanon’s most notorious prison, an image emerges from the POV of a prisoner. Capturing the military vehicles and the prison bars obstructing his vision, a prisoner snatches a photograph through his illicitly smuggled cellphone camera.
In this article, I follow the events of Lebanese authorities’ intervention on Roumieh Central Prison’s Bloc B and collect a sample of images and videos produced and circulated by prisoners as the operation was taking place. By examining the frame, composition, POV, sound, and montage of such amateur fragmentary cellphone recordings, I note two major modes of framing adopted by prisoners; one frames outside the bars and the second frames inside. I contextualize such modes of framing as ‘counter-shots’ in relation to the state’s media strategies of legitimizing its repressive actions and I argue that prisoners utilize smuggled media technologies, such as the cellphone and its camera, as a response to the state’s performative acts of sovereignty. Prisoners operationalize the frame and the POV to create a ‘counter’ way of seeing and documenting the events on Bloc B. Hence, prison cellphone recordings reflect not only what is portrayed inside their frames, but also their means of production. Through the framework of media as practice and the notion of media witnessing, I argue that the illicitly produced modes of framing reflect a practice of media production based around the smuggling of media technologies into the prison. Through such a practice, prisoners produce images and videos to represent and document their lived experiences, relay testimonies, and make the audience bear witness to the horrific and precarious conditions of incarceration; hence, engaging in a practice of documentation from the prison.


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Jak cytować

Najem, C. T. (2023). A Defiant Act of Looking: Prisoners’ Illicit Documentary Practices of Shooting-Back. Panoptikum, (29), 115–138. https://doi.org/10.26881/pan.2023.29.07