The German filmmaker, video artist, writer and teacher Harun Farocki died on July 30 near Berlin. He was 70.

Over four decades, Farocki created over 100 films and multi-screen installations – discursive ‘film essays’ that use found footage to question the cultural production of photographic and moving imagery. His works reflect on the profound effects on the individual of warfare, consumerism and technology.

Farocki’s best-known work is perhaps Inextinguishable Fire (1969), an agitprop piece commenting on the US military’s use of napalm bombs in Vietnam. During the film the artist appears on camera burning his arm with a cigarette to illustrate the comparative heat of burning tobacco (400°C) and the weapon (3000°C).

Other seminal works by Farocki include Images of the World and the Inscription of War (1988) and Workers Leaving the Factory (1995), the latter expanding the Lumiere Brothers’ original film sequence in a montage of shots of factory workforces taken throughout the 20th century. His 2009 work, Immersion, explores the use of virtual reality and gaming in military recruitment, training and post-traumatic stress therapy. 

Major retrospectives

Major retrospectives of Farocki’s films and multi-screen works were staged in the UK in 2009-10, at Raven Row and Tate Modern concurrently. In 2007 his 12-channel video installation Deep Play, exploring the tools and technologies of sports broadcasting, was shown at Documenta.

Curator and Raven Row founding director Alex Sainsbury writes: “Beginning as an argument … [Farocki’s] films digress associatively and poetically, becoming open-ended rather than polemical.”

In 2011, the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow presented a selection of his films in the exhibition, Comparison via a Third. Speaking at the time, Farocki said: “I use my films to challenge people and generate questions.”

Harun Farocki, 9 January 1944 – 30 July 2014.