The Speculative Image

Surveillance films of the Ministry for State Security

The research project »The Speculative Image« deals with the visual logic of intelligence surveillance and its documents, by the example of the former Ministry for State Security (Stasi). Starting from a preliminary analysis in the context of a master thesis it examines selected surveillance films of the Stasi with regard to their prefiguration of dissidence and the conflictual process of their entry into the estate archives of the secret service.

In doing so, it treats the observation films that survive within the archive of the Stasi Records Authority (BStU) as multi-determined film fragments which exceed the characteristics of a mere surveillance record and combine aspects of instructional films as well as a of self-recording and -control.

From a perspective informed by media studies, the research project brings together both the ideological and technical conditions of the filmic records and discusses them as testimonies of a historically located observational work, i.e. as the labour of a specific personnel.

In particular, a shift in the scheme of defense can be indentified from the contemporary historical background of the recordings, transitioning from a public punishment of distinct enemy groups to a preferably covert prosecution of distinct behaviour patterns in general. This shift prepared the ground for a comprehensive protection of the »socialist society« from supposed enemies by means of bureaucratised processes of recording and suppression of nonconformist behaviour as a precaution against criminal actions carried out in secrecy. A characteristic of this security dispositiv is, apart from a theory of visually perceptible signs of suspicious acts, a method for the optical logging of dissidence in pictures.

Major focal points of the research project are the analysis of the institutions and organisational methods of the ordered observation personnel of the Hauptabteilung VIII (Main Department VIII) and the tracing of the epistemological foundations of its calibrated seeing on the basis of historical training literature originating from the education and training activities of the Ministry for State Security.

The suspecting gaze of the observer has always been correlated with the gazes of others. Thus, a topology of the suspecting and suspicious gaze can be abstracted from the instruction literature as well as from the investigation files and films. Its interest was stimulated by specific places, such as the so-called Interhotels, and technically set a stage there with the aid of technology not only to prosecute seemingly criminal offences but also to predict potential threats.

Kamerablick einer männlichen Person an einem Schreibtisch sitzend, Filmstill, BStU, MfS BV Gera/Fi/12, Minute 01:15.

Corresponding publications:
Article »Die Figur des Beobachters im Ministerium für Staatssicherheit«, in: Medien der Bürokratie (Archiv für Mediengeschichte, Band 16). Herausgegeben von Friedrich Balke, Joseph Vogl und Bernhard Siegert, München: Fink 2016, S. 77–86.

Corresponding lectures:

Lecture »Das Spekulative Bild – Unschärfen der Historiografie von Observationsfilmen des MfS«, Vortrag im Panel »Zur Forensik geheimdienstlicher Medien und ihrer Archive«, GfM Jahrestagung 2021, 23. September, Innsbruck (AT)

Lecture »Knowing Men: Behavioural Knowledge and Medial Forms of Mimesis in the Former Ministry for State Security (Stasi)« auf der Tagung »Mind Reading as Cultural Practice« des DFG-Projektes »Gedankenlesen als Kulturtechnik: Eine Genealogie des Imaginären digitaler Medien«, 23. März 2018, Berlin

Lecture »Bildspekulation. Zur medialen Mimikry des feindlichen Blicks in den Ermittlungsfilmen der Stasi« im Forschungskolloquium »Das Technische Bild« des Instituts für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte und dem Hermann von Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik, 22. Mai 2017, Berlin

Lecture »Protokollierte Wahrnehmung – Die Beobachtungsberichte des Ministeriums für Staatssicherheit« im Rahmen des Workshops: Zu Protokoll. Theoriegeschichte und Ideenpolitik einer übersehenen Gattung, 27. und 28. April 2017, ZfL Berlin