The history of amateur disaster footage evolved alongside the history of video recording in general. As camcorders became less expensive and more portable, non-professional producers were able to record their lives. It is hard to know from where this genre of online video directly came. One could argue that ultimately these disturbing clips came from cave paintings of unsuccessful and violent clashes between tribes. The urge to record trauma comes from the basic human instinct to study catastrophe to learn from mankind’s mistakes.
One of the earliest known and certainly most infamous video clips is called the Zapruder film. Abraham Zapruder, a private citizen, captured the John F. Kennedy assassination on his personal camcorder. This first-hand footage can be seen all over YouTube, accompanied by a plethora of analyses and conspiracy theories. Before its dispersion on the web, stills from the Zapruder film were published in newspapers and magazines.
A new form of amateur disaster footage bloomed with the development of social media and camera phones. It became much easier for civilians to produce their own content and to share it with the world. The violence in the Middle East was a showcase of the ability of the general public to create this eye-catching footage. Instead of relying on newspaper, magazine, and television companies to publish the stills and footage, the audience can view the disaster straight from the original source.
Amateur disaster footage is not new to the history of media. However, with the rise of web video, the footage has become more raw and honest to the event details. These horrific videos have satisfied the human desire for images of tragedy.