Every eye has a blind spot where the optic nerve connects to the brain, but we don’t notice the gap because our minds fill in the blank for us. At the point where the world enters the mind, it is at once invisible and constructed; the more we chase an objective reality the easier it eludes us. In his latest documentary, Theo Anthony explores with riveting clarity how our attempts to capture visual reality through technology is an inherently ideological act.
Combining hallucinatory and often abstract visuals, history, and conventional fly-on-the-wall filmmaking, All Light, Everywhere is a fascinating experiment in documentary form. Anthony’s premise, that vision in all its forms – human, technological, conceptual – constructs the world as much as it captures it, is not especially new. But the constant reminders to his audience of his documentary’s own limitations in capturing reality feels vital both formally and within the political discourses it examines. Moreover, it is a gripping, urgent study of the way police, the state and private corporations use the concept of objective reality as an ideological justification for surveillance, control and profit.
All Light, Everywhere begins with Axon Enterprise spokesperson Steve Tuttle who offers a tour of his corporation’s police surveillance and weapons range, an encounter whose bland corporate awkwardness is set against the banally sinister. Treating the film as a PR exercise, Tuttle seems blithely unaware of how thin his representation of a friendly corporate entity is; claims that his employer is 100% open and transparent are immediately contradicted by the secret room, smugly described as the Black Box, in which the R&D team concoct the latest ‘less lethal’ weaponry.
Axon’s latest invention, a second-generation police body cam, claims to capture objectively police interactions with the public. But over the course of his film, Anthony methodically unpicks that claim to reveal a device that instead of capturing reality, constructs narratives to suit the author. The placement of the camera naturally hides the police officer’s body, effectively removing them as a subject in the camera’s POV. From this perspective, the cop wearing the cam does not act: things are done to them, while the wide angle lens exaggerates the severity of the movements of those it films, making them appear more aggressive. Worse still, police departments are allowed to select what footage ends up in a courtroom.
During the fly-on-the-wall segments the film’s own cameras frequently expose themselves, reminding us that just as Axon’s body-cams construct narratives, so too does this film. These moments of fourth-wall breaking inform our reading of the whole: edits suddenly become conspicuous where they might otherwise have been invisible, while the film’s subjects talk of events that happen off camera and we must examine our own suspicions and assumptions about their veracity.
In All Light, Everywhere, verifiable reality becomes a spectral figment, as insubstantial as light itself. There are only perspectives and subjects. The idea of the objectively observable is an ideological oxymoron: all that is observed is invented. All Light, Everywhere is, most importantly, a history of our technological attempts to offer objective views of the world. But instead of charting our striving to capture of reality, what is revealed is its fabrication.