All entries for Tuesday 24 May 2005

May 24, 2005

Lecture by Judith Butler on photography and torture

Just went to see Judith Butler speak on the controversies surrounding the role of photography of torture in conflicts, specifically looking at the recent shocking photos that went around the world, depicting US soldiers cheerfully posing with Iraq prisoners in humiliating positions in what has become the notourious Abu Graib-prison in Baghdad.

One point that I picked up, with which I kind of must disagree, is her opinion on the extent to which photography shapes our moral judgements. She believes, as opposed to what Susan Sonntag has earlier written on the topic, that photography on its own may still hold a narritive value which will allow us to interpret the event independently from context. While this may be true, she draws herefrom the conclusion that photography may just as powerfully influence us in our positioning and judgements on the controversie at stake. I can’t agree with such a catagorical position for a number of points.

First of all, the sheer extent of confrontation between the individual and shocking images, be it photo or film through mass media, have made us, as it were, somewhat “immune” to them. At least to me. It must be a thorougly unusually shocking image that might induce direct action in me these days, just because there’s so much of it, and it only observes yet does not explicitly direct.

Secondly, the “confrontation time”, the span of time in which we are confronted is much shorter, and much less focused with images than with texts/articles. A reading of a problem sets about to observe the problem, analyse it, and eventually provide some insights in its resolution. With images, this is not necessarily so. Whilst shocking photography presents the situation very vividly, it may be observed in an informal setting, for a short time, to be forgotten after a short (however intense) feeling of injustice.

Naturally, the effects are different for each, and not catagorically dividable. Yet, the degree in which the individual is made to think along, in an active manner (which, I would argue, is more the case in a text) will have a more thorough dialectic effect upon that individual. It will challenge the individual to come up with a position, a solution, and not move some deeper sentiment than just superficial indignation.

I’d be much interest in what others might have to say on the topic!

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