This screenshot, taken from the Oscar-shortlisted documentary Mugabe and the White African, is a mesmerizing image. We can hardly consider mobile phones as mere communication tools anymore – they are powerful players in how we defend ourselves. Think of the single girl riding the tram home at night talking into her mobile tacitly signaling she’s “with someone” or can “reach out” if she senses danger.
It’s also a tool of aggression. In this image it’s used as part of a strange mimicry – the man holding the camera phone films the documentary maker. The whole exchange happens during a discussion between the man pictured and a Zimbabwean farmer. The discussion is volatile and heated, taking place during a time of tumultuous land takeovers in that country. The man in this image is intent on claiming the farm, he’s there to give that message to the farmer. And doesn’t like being filmed while he does it.
Yet he doesn’t obscure the documentary camera lens, he doesn’t demand for the camera to be turned off, instead he reaches for his mobile. He also has a camera! He can document! He can defend! He can attack too!