In Defense of the Poor Image

Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference

Toronto, March 14 - 18, 2018


            In 2009, Hito Steyerl published an article "In Defense of the Poor Image" (eflux). It could arguably be located in a lineage stretching back to Julio García Espinosa's seminal essay "For an Imperfect Cinema" (1966, cine cubano), which, together with Glauber Rocha's "Aesthetic of Hunger" (1965), Jorge Sanjinés' "Problems of Form and Content in Revolutionary Cinema" (1976) and Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino's "Toward a Third Cinema" (1969) established Third Cinema.

            Espinosa's essay made a case for cinema that did not espouse goals of "perfection" and did away with aiming to gain approval by "the elite," as Espinosa put it. "Imperfect cinema is no longer interested in quality or technique." Instead, "it aimed instead to create cinema that constituted "an act of social justice—the possibility for everyone to make films." That is, the division of labor of cinema is undercut. "Imperfect Cinema," Espinosa continued, "rejects exhibitionism in both (literal) senses of the word, the narcissistic and the commercial (getting shown in established theaters and circuits)." Instead, it asked: "What are you doing in order to overcome the barrier of the "cultured" elite audience which up to now has conditioned the form of your work?" In these ways, Espinosa combined a rejection of commercial and perfect cinema, with a call for and imperfect cinema.

            Steyerl's argument picks up this thread in 2009. Needless to say, countless technological innovations make "the poor image" possible half a century later. "The poor image," Steyerl tells us, "is a copy in motion. Its quality is bad, its resolution substandard. It is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, [...] copied and pasted into other channels of distribution." It is the "contemporary Wretched of the Screen," Steyerl writes.

            According to Kodwo Eshun, whom Steyerl quotes, "poor images, circulate partly by the void left by state cinema organizations who find it too difficult to operate a 16/35 mm archive or to maintain any kind of distribution infrastructure in the contemporary era." In other words, in his estimation, poor images also bespeak the shift from state support to privatization.


            This proposed panel focuses on the poor image, inquiring into its lineage and current status. Does it, currently, result from being a marginalized image? Does it bespeak displacement? How can poor images be deployed by amateurs, activists and filmmakers to intervene in global crises? And, does the circulation of the poor image create alternative networks of meaning making, exchange, and affirmative practices of resistance?


Possible paper topics might include but are not limited to the following:


            - low resolutions

            - blurred AVI files

            - clandestine cell phone videos

            - dispersed or marginalized images

            - resistant and non-conformist visual matter

            - alternative archives and collections

            - bootlegs, torrents


            Please submit a 250-word abstract, 5 bibliographic sources (articles or books); and a brief bio (2-3 sentences) to Christina Gerhardt at [log in to unmask]. Deadline: Sat. Aug. 19, 2017.


Christina Gerhardt, Associate Professor, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa
Visiting Scholar, 2018-2019 - Harvard University, Center for European Studies

Visiting Scholar, 2017-2018 - UC-Berkeley

Institute of European Studies
207 Moses Hall #2316
Berkeley, CA  94720

Recent guest-edited special issue, forthcoming authored book and co-edited volume:

1968 and West German Cinema. Special issue of The Sixties 10.1 (2017). Guest editor.

Screening the Red Army Faction: Historical and Cultural Memory. Bloomsbury, 2018.

1968 and Global Cinema. Co-edited with Sara Saljoughi. Wayne State University Press, 2018.

******************* The German Studies Call for Papers List Editor: Sean Franzel Assistant Editor: Olaf Schmidt Sponsored by the University of Missouri Info available at: