Mobile Media: A Reliable Documentary Witness?

  • Anandana Kapur


Mobile media has marked an epochal shift in visual culture. As the everyday is archived in videos, selfies, GIFs, and photography, witnessing is no longer restricted by temporal and spatial distances. Witnessing is in fact a political performance as much as it is an acknowledgement of the quotidian. Sensory encounters with worlds that are censored by state-owned or mainstream media are a valuable source of alternate history, activism, and art. It is crucial, however, that documentary practices that embrace the intimacy and immediacy of digital ecologies provide a discursive structure to address questions of context, consent, and affect. Using case studies from the Indian context, the chapter examines how witnessing is embodied in collaborative and interactive documentaries that use mobile media. Interviews with practitioners reveal anxieties about meaning-making, editorial privilege, and the precarious lives of digital artifacts. The collapsing of distance between the filmmaker, the subject and their audiences, however, remains a pivotal promise of mobile media.


  1. “2018 Storytellers’ Institute: Surveil/Surveiled.” Skidmore. Last modified September 8, 2017.
  2. Anand, Shaina. 2018. “Annotations: From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf.” Last modified January 31, 2018.
  3. Anand, Shaina, and Ashok Sukumaran. 2013. Rendezvous with the Artist Series. November 16. The Asia Society India Center.
  4. Bhalla, Guneeta Singh. 2014. The Blog. By MeiMei Fox. Huffpost, August 18.Google Scholar
  5. Boltanski, Luc. 2004. Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics. Translated by Graham Murchell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Butalia, Urvashi. 2000. The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Choudhary, Shubhranshu. 2012. “CGNet Swara.” Talk delivered as part of the Tedx Talks, Yahoo! Sunriver Campus—Embassy Golf Links Park, Inner Ring Road, Domlur, Bangalore India, February 2012.Google Scholar
  8. Couldry, Nick. 2009. “Does ‘The Media’ Have a Future?” European Journal of Communication 24 (4): 437–449. Scholar
  9. Cumiskey, Kathleen M., and Kendra Brewster. 2012. “Mobile Phones or Pepper Spray?” Feminist Media Studies 12 (4): 590–599. Scholar
  10. Dalrymple, William. 2015. “The Great Divide—The Violent Legacy of Indian Partition.” New Yorker, June.Google Scholar
  11. Devineni, Ram. 2015. “I Stand with Priya.” Talk delivered as part of the Tedx Talks, Museum of London, Covent Garden, London, United Kingdom, May 2015.Google Scholar
  12. Devineni, Ram, and Dan Goldman, creators. 2014. Priya’s Shakti. India: Blippar, AR comic. Comic & Mobile App.Google Scholar
  13. Eco, Umberto. 1989. The Open Work. Translated by Anna Cancogni. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Google Scholar
  14. Ellis, John. 2012. Documentary: Witness and Self-Revelation. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Ess, Charles. 2009. Digital Media Ethics. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  16. Fotopoulou, Aristea. 2016. Feminist Activism and Digital Networks: Between Empowerment and Vulnerability. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Field. Sean. 2008. “Imagining Communities: Memory, Loss and Resilience in Post-Apartheid Cape Town.” In Oral History and Public Memories, edited by Paula Hamilton and Lindia Shopes, 107–124. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  18. “From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf”. Shanghai Biennale. Last modified November 11, 2016.
  19. Frosh, Paul, and Amit Pinchevski. 2009. “Why Media Witnessing? Why Now?” In Media Witnessing: Testimony in the Age of Mass Communication, edited by Paul Frosh and Amit Pinchevski, 1–19. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Galloway, Anne. 2010. “Mobile Publics and Issues-Based Art and Design.” In The Wireless Spectrum, edited by Barbara Crow, Michael Langford, and Kim Sawchuk, 63–76. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  21. Gifreu-Castells, Arnau. 2015. “Processes, Modes and Methodologies for the Analysis and Design of Interactive Documentaries.” Paper presented on August 21, 2015 at the Visible Evidence XII conference, Ryerson University, Toronto.Google Scholar
  22. Guerin, Frances. 2015. On Not Looking: The Paradox of Contemporary Visual Culture. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Harding, Michael-Oliver. 2016. “India in a Day.” Exclaim!, September.Google Scholar
  24. Hartley, John. 2012. Digital Futures for Cultural and Media Studies. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  25. Hartman, Geoffrey. 1996. The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Hindustan Times Team. Climb Against Sexual Abuse. Shared June 26, 2016, on Facebook.
  27. Hirsch, Marianne. 2009. “The Generation of Postmemory.” Poetics Today 29 (1): 103–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hjorth, Larissa. 2011. “Mobile Spectres of Intimacy: The Gendered Role of Mobile Technologies in Love—Past, Present and Future.” In Mobile Communication: Bringing Us Together or Tearing Us Apart? edited by Richard Ling and Scott Campbell, 37–60. New York: Transaction Books.Google Scholar
  29. Hjorth, Larissa, Natalie King, and Mami Kataoka. 2014. Art in the Asia-Pacific: Intimate Publics. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. House, Nancy A. Van. 2007. “Flickr and Public Image-Sharing: Distant Closeness and Photo Exhibition.” CHI ’07 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2717–2722.
  31. Jones, Sara. 2014. The Media of Testimony. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Joshi, Sonam. 2017. “This Ambitious Crowdsourced Film Documents a Day in the Lives of Indians.” Huff Post, September 23.Google Scholar
  33. Kapur, Anandana, dir. 2017. Jasoosni: Look Who’s Watching You! India: PSBT, Video, DVD.Google Scholar
  34. Khan, Yasmin. 2017. “Why Pakistan and India Remain in Denial 70 Years on from Partition.” Guardian, August 6.Google Scholar
  35. Kishore, Avijit Mukul, dir. 2009. Certified Universal. India: Majlis and Kamla Raheja College for Architecture. Web.Google Scholar
  36. Kishore, Avijit Mukul. 2017. Email message to author, October 16. Google Scholar
  37. Malhotra, Aanchal. 2017. “Remnants of a Separation: Revisiting Partition Through Objects Migrants Carried Across the Border.” First Post, August 15.Google Scholar
  38. Mehta, Richie, dir. 2016. India in a Day. India: Google, Video, Web.Google Scholar
  39. Mehta, Richie. 2017. Telephonic conversation with author, September 25.Google Scholar
  40. Natarajan, Kalathmika. 2014. “Digital Histories of Partition: Memory, Archives and the Narration of a ‘South Asian’ Identity Online.” Last modified July 1, 2014.
  41. National Geographic. 2014. Using Mobile Phones to Empower India’s Poor. Shared June 18, 2014, on YouTube.
  42. Oliver, Kelly. 2000. “Beyond Recognition: Witnessing Ethics.” Philosophy Today 44 (1): 31–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pasquinelli, Matteo. 2008. Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers.Google Scholar
  44. Peters, John Durham. 2001. “Witnessing.” Media, Culture & Society 23 (6): 707–723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Polynczuk-Alenius, Kinga. 2018. “Mediating the Agency of Distant Others: Proper Distance in Fair Trade Communication on Facebook.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 21 (2): 155–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Puri, Kavita. 2017. “India Opinion.” The Guardian, July 31.Google Scholar
  47. Raiti, Gerard. C. 2007. “Mobile Intimacy: Theories on the Economics of Emotion with Examples from Asia.” M/C Journal 10 (1):
  48. Ramani, R.V., dir. 2011. My Camera and Tsunami. India: PSBT India, Video, DVD.Google Scholar
  49. Ramani, R.V. 2017. Email message to author, October 5.Google Scholar
  50. Raychaudhuri, Anindya. 2007. “India Opinion by Kavita Puri.” The Guardian, July 31.Google Scholar
  51. Rettberg, Jill Walker. 2014. Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sachdev, Chhavi. 2016. “How Snapchat Became a Virtual Confessional for Sexual Assault Victims.” NPR, August 31.Google Scholar
  53. Sharma, Aparna. 2015. Documentary Films in India: Critical Aesthetics at Work. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Silverstone, Roger. 2002. “Regulation and the Ethics of Distance: Distance and the Ethics of Regulation.” What: 279–285.
  55. Svensson, Marina. 2017. “Digitally Enabled Engagement and Witnessing: The Sichuan Earthquake on Independent Documentary Film.” Studies in Documentary Film 11 (3): 200–216. Scholar
  56. Steyerl, Hito. 2009. “In Defense of the Poor Image.” e-Flux Journal 10:
  57. Stivers, Richard. 1997. The Culture of Cynicism: American Morality in Decline. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell. Google Scholar
  58. Sukumaran, Ashok, and Shaina Anand, dir. 2013. From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf. India: CAMP. Web.Google Scholar
  59. Tech Desk. 2018. “India to Have 780 Million Subscribers by 2023: Ericsson Report.” Indian Express, June 12.Google Scholar
  60. Túry, György. 2014. “Leftist vs. (Neo)Liberal Scripts for the (Media) Future: Enzensberger’s ‘Constituents of a Theory of the Media’.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 18 (6): 613–627. Scholar
  61. Veale, Kylie. 2004. “Online Memorialization: The Web as a Collective Memorial Landscape for Remembering the Dead.” The Fibre Culture Journal 3.
  62. Waterson, Roxana. 2007. “Trajectories of Memory: Documentary Film and the Transmission of Testimony.” History and Anthropology 18 (1): 51–73. Scholar
  63. Yale University Library. 1979. “Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies.” Archives available at Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT, June 1979.Google Scholar
  64. Zaid, Qazi. 2017. Email message to author, September 29.Google Scholar
  65. Zaman, Qumrul. 2017. “Amid Death and Destruction, Will Maryam Survive?” Free Press Kashmir, September.Google Scholar
  66. Zimmermann, Patricia, and Helen De Michiel. 2018. “Shape Shifting Documentaries.” The Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, April.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anandana Kapur
    • 1
  1. 1.Jamia Millia Islamia UniversityDelhiIndia

Personalised recommendations