Lowe, Paul (2012) Picturing the perpetrator. In: Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis. Reaktion Books, London, pp. 189-200. ISBN 9781861898722
|Type of Research:||Book Section|
There is considerable potential in examining images associated with atrocity that do not depict the actual act of violence or the victim itself, but rather depict the circumstances around which such acts occurred. Such images of the absence of visible violence can lead the viewer into an imaginative engagement with the nature of atrocity, and the nature of those who perpetrate it. In exploring this absence, Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” can be taken to mean that the spaces in which atrocities take place are often nondescript, everyday and banal, and that the people who commit them may appear on the surface to be so as well, even if their interior motivations and rationales are far more complex than that they were simply following orders. Photography, with its optical -mechanical process, is adept at recording such banal facts of the scene, and, by inviting the viewer to scan the image for minute details, often generates a tension between such mundanities and the audience’s knowledge of the potential import of the situation garnered via a caption.
This strategy of the “aesthetics of the banal” has become a common one in contemporary photographic practice.1 However, the idea that an image that appears on the surface to be of an ordinary scene or person but which the viewer then discovers contains another, deeper and more imaginative reading is one that has long been effective. In order to explore the possibility of an absence in the image being a key to understanding, it is useful to examine a constellation of images that gather around a key perpetrator of the Holocaust, images that do not overtly show either the victims or the violence itself, but by the very absence of such evidence propel the viewer into an imaginative act of engagement with the nature of evil.
Publishers notes about the book 'Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis':
Geoffrey Batchen, Mick Gidley, Nancy K. Millers and Jay Prosser
'It is hard to look: My Lai, Dachau, Abu Ghraib, Wounded Knee. We know these atrocities through the painful evidence of unforgettable documentary photographs. But these images are far from innocent. Just as "atrocity" itself is a loaded term, every photograph of such an event is a bit of high-level propaganda in a moralized political argument, encouraging the viewer to bear witness, make judgments, take sides. This important new collection of essays by some of the most brilliant analysts of photography shows how deliberately horrifying pictures have shaped – and continue to shape – the ethics and politics of the modern era.'
'Picturing Atrocity is an excellent examination of the dilemmas implicit in photography’s representation of human suffering, whether caused by torture, war, poverty, the political chaos and neglect that multiplies the toll from natural disasters (as in Africa’s Horn region today), or other gross rights violations. Multi-layered and lucid, these essays demolish any lingering pretence that images of suffering can be understood without also considering the context and media in which they are presented, and the often far-from-the-scene viewer who consumes them. Picturing Atrocity is critical reading for communicators in the aid, development and human rights communities who participate in the dissemination of these essential but volatile images.' –Ellen Tolmie, Senior Photography Editor, UNICEF
Ever since the landmark publication of Susan Sontag’s On Photography, it has been impossible to look at photographs, particularly those of violence and suffering, without questioning our role as photographic voyeur. Are we desensitized by the proliferation of these images? Or do the images stir our own sense of justice and act as a call to arms? Are we consuming the suffering of others? What should our responses to these images be?
To answer these questions, Picturing Atrocity brings together essays from some of the foremost writers on photography today, including Rebecca Solnit, Alfredo Jaar, Ariella Azoulay, John Lucaites, Robert Hariman and Susan Meiselas, to offer close readings of images that reveal the realities behind the photographs, the subjects and the photographers. From the massacre of the Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, from famine in China to apartheid in South Africa, Picturing Atrocity examines a broad spectrum of photographs. Each essay focuses specifically on an iconic image, offering a distinct approach and context, in order to enable us to look again – this time more closely – at the picture. In addition, four photo-essays showcase the work of photographers involved in the making of photographs of brutality as well as the artists’ own reflections on these images.
Together these essays cover the historical and geographical range of atrocity photographs and respond to current concerns about such disturbing images. Picturing Atrocity is an important read, not just for insights into photography, but for its reflections on human injustice and suffering. In keeping with that aim, all royalties from the book will be donated to Amnesty International.
Geoffrey Batchen is a photography historian and Professor of Art History at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
Mick Gidley is Emeritus Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Leeds, UK.
Nancy K. Miller is Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature, the Graduate Center, CUNY.
Jay Prosser is Reader in Humanities in the School of English at the University of Leeds, UK.
|Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed:||photography, conflict, genocide, trauma, photojournalism, ethics, holocaust, representation,|
|Your affiliations with UAL:||Colleges > London College of Communication|
|Date:||13 May 2012|
|Copyright Holders:||Paul Lowe|
|Projects or Series:||Research Outputs Review (April 2010 - April 2011)|
|Date Deposited:||02 Nov 2011 14:07|
|Last Modified:||06 Mar 2014 17:20|
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