Issue 9 - 2022 (1)

Police Force(s)

Edurne Larumbe Villarreal (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) & Abraham Roberto Cea Núñez (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela)

This piece, in the form of a video-essay, aims to juxtapose different images of the police, delving into a type of body language that determines the transmutation of multiplicity into univocity. The term “police” comes from the XVIII and XIX Century modern French. Those centuries were studied by Foucault as the genesis of the “disciplinary society” (1986 [1976]), which led to the creation of France’s police forces as a contemporary form of protecting the right to private property. Likewise, it is not by chance that its etymology refers to the Greek concept of polis, thus, the images that compose this video-essay show the police raid as an (audio)visual motif or a common icon (eikon) of the streets and urban conflicts.

Cuerpo(s) policial(es) uses the German-Art-History-born iconographic method (Panofsky, 1972) which enables the possibility of reading common formal patterns in different images and forms that tend to present the police body under the order of a homogeneous and impersonal gesture. Tracing Aby Warburg’s major work, the Atlas Mnemosyne (2010), and juxtaposing it with contemporary Visual Studies (Mitchell, 2017, Martínez Luna, 2019), the authors propose image conjunctions that examine the features of identity and difference opposing images of diverse nature and timespan, focusing on the police gestuality crossed by what it is called “disciplinary power”:  a technology that operates bodies and their subjectivation. Hence, the police raid participates in the visual magma of “the disciplinary”, a concrete point of a wider imaginary map where we find the student in the school, the worker in the factory, the military in the barracks, or the sick in the hospital.

The principium of this essay is the presence of images that make clear a certain iconographic opposition between the police force as a depersonalized mass, in singular, and the crowds of people, that have their own specific and liberated gestures. Therefore, the individuals that constitute the police force express themselves as a mitigated plurality, subsumed into a movement that demands disciplined action where multiplicity becomes a single operative body or machinery of the State.

Intending to visually problematize this visual motif, the images confronted range from the cinematic to contemporary television seriality; from the digital or “poor” image (Steyerl, 2018) composed by the smartphone to a type of orchestrated police “self-representation.” Although each image or representation denotes specific particularities, whether in iconographic, historical, or territorial terms, the proposed visual experience attests to a transversal iconographic pattern, a disciplinary drive that shapes this police gesture as the basis of a certain iconography. Beyond representativeness, their canonical status, or their key importance for the devices in which they are inserted, the images here aim to lay out a model that serves an iconography. Thus, scenes such as Odessa, in Sergey Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), where the machinic and faceless procession of the Cossacks confronts the pathetic representation of the crowds; the disciplined irruption that shapes Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s Antidisturbios (2020), or the images taken in the streets and circulated through social networks, manifest the presence of an iconographic scheme vital for the articulation of the video-essay.

This typological variety accentuates the formal confusion of a motif that tends to spread and befogs  its orchestrated dimension in fiction with the spontaneity of the document itself. This confusion illuminates, at the same time, the blurred boundaries between both formats. Thus, among other issues, this video-essay de-territorializes the traditional iconographic gaze and drives it to the artistic field, problematizing its images with those that the media leaks in the public sphere. These particular conjunctions update and give life to the icon, incorporating images of the past into the flow of contemporaneity and looking at the screen from daily life and vice versa. Eisenstein’s images (loaded with pathos) and the digital images both find the same iconographic location: they take part in the police raid and expose it as an iconographic motif where the police force becomes impersonal and automatonlike.


  • Deleuze, G. (1990). “Post-scriptum sobre las sociedades de control”, in (2014). Conversaciones. Valencia: Pre-Textos, pp. 277-286.
  • Foucault, M. (1986). Vigilar y castigar. Madrid: Siglo XXI. 
  • Giorgio, A. (2010). «Notas sobre el gesto», in Medios sin fin. Notas sobre la política. Valencia: Pre-Textos.
  • Martínez Luna, S. (2019). Cultura visual. Vitoria-Gasteiz: Sans Soleil Ediciones.
  • Mitchell, W.J.T. (2017). ¿Qué quieren las imágenes? Una crítica de la cultura visual. Vitoria-Gasteiz: Sans Soleil Ediciones.
  • Panofsky, E. (1972). Estudios sobre iconología. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.
  • Steyerl, H. (2018). Los condenados de la pantalla. Buenos Aires: Caja Negra.
  • Warburg, A. (2010). Atlas Mnemosyne. Madrid: Akal.


  • Sorogoyen, R. (2020). Antidisturbios. España: Cabllo Films, The Lab Cinema.
  • Simon, D. (200X). The Wire. Estados Unidos: HBO.
  • Eisenstein, S. (1925). El acorazado Potemkin. U.R.S.S.: Goskino.

How to cite this article: Larumbe, E. y Cea, A.R. (2022) Police Force(s). Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays, 9(1). ISSN: 2659-4269

Other videoessays in this issue:

Student Showcase

Classic and Modern Avant-garde. Surrealism
Elena González Janot, Leire De la Peña Aoiz & Natalia Bermúdez Pérez (UC3M)

The voice in film
Alejandro Torres Almendros (UC3M)

Santiago Gómez Chacón, Daniel Guijarro Hernanz, David Ildefonso Trabada & Verónica Antoñanzas Martínez (UC3M)