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date: 07 July 2022

Politics and Art

Abstract and Keywords

Art can be understood as a form of political discourse; as a descriptive, an interpretive, or an explicitly critical approximation; or as a vehicle with which to transcend the political. Art complicates our understandings and perceptions of the world, altering the discursive frames within which the political is negotiated. Research on politics and art explores art’s engagement with politics and its vision of the world; it analyzes art’s contribution to both our understanding of politics and problem solving. Current research also explores art’s critical and emancipatory potentialities, as well as participatory art and social activism in light of new forms of political communication. Such research is interdisciplinary and open to methodological pluralism and innovation. This article discusses artistic and performative imaginations of the political; knowledge production through art; art’s engagement with violence and peace; the art-audience interface; ethics and aesthetics of political art; and art’s function as a political witness.

Keywords: art, politics, artists, art-audience interface, political art, ethics, aesthetics, participatory art, social activism, political communication

Introduction: The Gravity of Art

Work on politics and art is based on the assumption that art “plays a formative role in the constitution of social life, in the ways in which people take responsibility for creating their own histories, for participating in the management of their own social and political realities.”1 This role can be analyzed from an art theoretical and art historical point of view, but also from the point of view of political science. Art can be understood as a form of, or contribution to, political discourse; as a descriptive, interpretive, or explicitly critical approximation; or as a vehicle with which to transcend the political. Art’s contribution to political discourse can also be analyzed. Reflecting the (inter)textual turn,2 the pictorial turn,3 and the aesthetic turn4 in the social sciences, the relationship between politics and art has been analyzed in a huge number of academic studies, all of which engage with and expand the limits of research in political science. These studies understand art narrowly as fine art, address their subject matter from a popular culture point of view, or call into question the aptness of the distinction between fine art and popular art/culture. Especially with regard to participatory projects in photography, graffiti, and street or open-access art, a narrow analytical focus on fine art and the museum would miss some of the most important trends in current culture work performed by citizen artists, who put as much emphasis on “being a citizen” as they do on “being an artist.” Here, new political agents emerge and contribute to the constitution of social and political life in a manner insusceptible to traditional political analysis. Looking beyond fine art also seems to be mandatory with regard to photography and the visual arts. Visual image production is characterized by increasing overlap between photojournalism and art photography, with a number of photographers moving freely among subgenres or producing a body of work that does not easily fit into either category. The new phenomena of citizen photographers and independent documentary photographers also necessitate rethinking the operating procedures and typologies of photography. Indeed, there can be observed a “blurring of genre boundaries,”5 which makes insistence on established typologies seem anachronistic. Photography as an everyday activity performed by more people than ever before also requires rethinking of fundamental questions: Why do people photograph? Why do people take so many photographs? Why does photography matter? What is photography?6 These are profoundly political questions in connection with visual politics in general and the politics of photography in particular.7 Indeed, “How we now—today—understand what photography is and how it works tells us something about how we understand anything. And it may appear that how we understand anything is not unrelated to how photography works.”8

Art is political if it complicates, not simplifies, and if it “extends the thread of recognition and understanding beyond what previously was seen and known.”9 Art is political also if it reinterprets “what previously was seen and known” so that alternative understandings may emerge. These reinterpretations help reveal existing power relations within society, determining what previously was known and what was deemed worthy of analysis in the first place and identifying what previously was not seen and—therefore?—not known, including identification of what should be seen or known. There is a critical ingredient, and there is a moral ingredient, in much artistic work and also in many studies on politics and art. Art—and artists—may seek to catalyze political change.10 Artists may engage with political movements11 and humanitarian organizations,12 but they also may catalyze political change without joining or explicitly supporting political movements. Artists may be political without attempting to be political (in extremis: art cannot but be political), whereas those artists who want to exert political influence may fail. Art may include a utopian element. Nicholas Mirzoeff, for example, explicitly demands “utopian imagining” as “a necessary cultural response to the gloom-laden chorus that there is no alternative to the current doctrine of pre-emptive war and the politics of fear.”13 What was always includes what could have been; what is always includes the—as yet unrealized—potentialities of what could be. Revealing what could be and, by so doing, potentially altering the discursive frames within which politics is negotiated, is one of the things that art and political analysis of art can do.14

Art is critical if, as Michael Shapiro suggests, it transcends “the mere recognition of established opinion or the extrapolation from established versions of facticity.”15 Writing from a different theoretical perspective, Chantal Mouffe defines as critical those artistic practices that “can contribute to unsettling the dominant hegemony”16 by “bringing to the fore the existence of alternatives to the current post-political order.”17 Art, then, is not critical if it merely reconstructs or anticipates the motives of the political elite.18 Such reconstruction or anticipation, however, is a political act. Thus, art can be political without being critical (as defined above), but it cannot be critical without being political. Research on politics and art reveals the politically progressive potentialities of art and the progressive politics of artists without ignoring the fact that artistic manifestations may also (appear to) support repressive and violent politics.19 This work analyzes works of art that are critical of the existing social order but also artworks that affirm this very order. Indeed, there is no reason to assume that artists and artworks are necessarily progressive and critical. There is no reason to assume, either, that artists and artworks can achieve what other social agents fail to achieve. There is, however, reason to assume that such binaries as critical-uncritical or political-unpolitical obscure more than they reveal.20 And given art’s interpretive openness, there is also reason to assume that the search for a work of art that is universally regarded as “critical” or “political” will, in all likelihood, be in vain.

Research on art is based on the assumption that art gives us something that other human endeavors cannot give us. Otherwise, we would not need art. Art—and political analysis of art—may pave the way from the given—or the said-to-be-given—to the possible. Jacques Rancière emphasizes that “images of art … help sketch new configurations of what can be seen, what can be said and what can be thought,” but they do so only “on condition that their meaning or effect is not anticipated.”21 Art, thus, may move—and make audiences move—from what is or what is said to be to what may be or could be or even, normatively, should be. Indeed, artists often assume a normative position,22 accepting “the ethnographic and political responsibilities of the witness: to speak with, in dialogue with, those are [sic] who are the chosen subjects of representation in order to best represent the interests of those subjects.”23 This may be what many artists wish to achieve; as such, it is laudable. It is, however, problematic, as those “subjects” do not always ask artists to represent them. Furthermore, why should artists be expected to be capable of both identifying their subjects’ interests and best representing these very interests? Arguably, in a world “where individuals are spoken for, much more than they speak in their own name,”24 subjects might want to represent themselves and to speak—literally and figuratively—for themselves. They may wish to be agents of their own image rather than being represented by an artist, regardless of the artist’s motives. Participatory projects offer many possibilities to do this (within limits).

What I am offering in this contribution is neither an intellectual nor a disciplinary history of work in political science (loosely defined) on art and aesthetics,25 nor yet another defense of such work. Bernadette Buckley has clarified that, from a philosophical-cultural perspective, the “aesthetic does not need to legitimate itself in relation to any presumed to be ‘more real’ realm of political science or international relations.”26 In three sections I review and analyze three important current issues in the research on politics and art in political science: (1) politics, art, and knowledge; (2) politics, art, and violence; and (3) politics, art, and peace. The first section is divided into three parts: on method, words and images, and quantity and quality. The second section is also presented in three parts: art and violence, visibility and invisibility, and representing the aftermath. The third section also is divided into three parts: from aftermath to peace, artivism and participation, and memory remix. Much more can be said about the questions addressed in the sections and subsections and also about many other issues excluded from this article. My focus in this contribution is on the visual arts, very broadly understood, including photojournalistic image production. Any number of references could be given to substantiate the claim that within the overall field of politics and art, work on politics and visual art is particularly timely and important. More than twenty years ago, W. J. T. Mitchell wrote:

Certainly I would not be the first to suggest that we live in a culture dominated by pictures, visual simulations, stereotypes, illusions, copies, reproductions, imitations, and fantasies…. [However,] we still do not know exactly what pictures are, what their relation to language is, how they operate on observers and on the world, how their history is to be understood, and what is to be done with or about them.27

Regardless of the huge amount of work done in the meantime to answer some of Mitchell’s—and other—questions, there still is much we do not know about images and their operation “on the world.” Thomas Keenan writes, “If, today, actions in the political realm are rarely unaccompanied by images, the force and import—the gravity—of those images cannot simply be taken for granted.”28 That which cannot be taken for granted—the gravity of images, the gravity of art—has to be, and can be, analyzed. Although the focus in this contribution is on visual images, I suggest that questions such as the ones asked by Mitchell can also be asked with regard to other artistic genres. I hope this contribution is useful not only to readers with an interest in visual art and visual images but also to readers interested in the overall configurations of politics and art and to those with an interest in artistic genres other than visual ones.

Politics, Art, and Knowledge

On Method

Alex Danchev posits that “art articulates a vision of the world that is insightful and consequential; and the vision and the insight can be analyzed.”29 From this statement, three questions follow. By what means can the vision art articulates be analyzed from the point of view of political science? What kind of knowledge can be produced by analyzing art’s vision of the world? And what can viewers and readers do with knowledge thus generated; to what ends can they use it? Such analysis has to apply and develop methodological approaches suitable for the political analysis of art. The methodological approaches prevalent in other areas of social inquiry are not always suitable for the analysis of art; if applied, they will yield very limited results: aesthetic sources are expressions of “creativity and imagination.”30 Aesthetic analysis offers a “strategy by which to return to ‘the political,’ the power and significance of both the ‘sensible’ and the ‘imaginary.’”31

Approaches to the study of politics and art have to be aware of, and they necessarily reflect, the individual subject positions of the individual who is doing the analysis; hence the “auto”-element in many writings on politics and art either deliberately restricting analysis to first-person narratives or implicitly acknowledging that no text can be thought of without its author. The present text, for example, cannot be thought of without my academic socialization in peace and conflict research, my institutional affiliation with a “Western” university located in an academic environment strongly influenced by Anglo-Saxon social science (and this influence is reflected in the sources underlying this text), and my interest in visual images. This socialization to some extent predetermines what this text is about and what it is not about. To claim otherwise would be misleading. Such approaches to the study of politics and art as qualitative, interpretive, and episodic, noncausal ones will not always result in generalizable knowledge valid across cases and over time, but they will produce knowledge all the same, limited as it may be. Furthermore, equating science with the production of generalizable knowledge is one approach to science among others. Likewise, assigning to science—rather than art—a privileged position regarding knowledge production is one approach among others.

Knowledge on politics and art, modestly, supplements knowledge generated elsewhere in the social sciences and helps explain what other forms of inquiry cannot explain. More ambitiously (and controversially), it explains the world differently and renders visible what other forms of social inquiry hide (for a variety of reasons). Work on politics and art expands the discursive frames within which politics unfolds, thus paving the way to new forms of political activity, and reveals the limitations and biases of established forms of social research. By so doing, it challenges both the knowledge produced elsewhere and the power positions derived from this knowledge (within and without academia). Social science, seemingly to some extent unaware or ignorant of the limitations posed by its own analytical parameters,32 frequently understands these very limitations as that which establishes a specific form of social inquiry—one form among many others33 —as science:

Social science is an epistemically privileged discourse that gives us knowledge, albeit always fallible, about the world out there. Poetry, literature, and other humanistic disciplines tell us much about the human condition, but they are not designed to explain global war or Third World poverty, and as such if we want to solve those problems our best hope, slim as it may be, is social science.34

To privilege a specific way of doing things necessarily means marginalizing, by means of epistemic downgrading, other forms of inquiry; the knowledge thus produced cannot but be limited. Nor can the processes in the course of which some marginalize others be unpolitical.35 Social science “gives us knowledge,” whereas art only “tells us much,” but what it does tell us does not qualify as “knowledge.” Declaring a specific form of discourse “epistemically privileged” ignores contingency; epistemic privilege is a social construction, and the relationship between “the world out there” (Wendt) and the scholar “in here” has to be taken into account. Social science disregards its (over-)reliance on specific forms of analysis alleged to be systematic, rigorous, and often quantitative, coupled with verification or falsification of hypotheses and ostensibly decoupled from the subjective position of the person who is doing the analysis. Mimetic approaches, abstracting from individual researchers’ inevitable acts of interpretation, are based on the myth of the neutral, value-free, disinterested observer who, by rigorously applying social science methods, can objectively reveal the facts of “the world out there” (Wendt) and, equipped with such knowledge, help solve the problems of the world. Aesthetic approaches, affirming that analysis is necessarily interpretive, not only insist that solving current problems requires “employ[ing] the full register of human intelligence”36; they also acknowledge that representation, due to the inevitable act of interpretation, is necessarily nonidentical with that which it represents. They identify “the inevitable difference between the represented and its representation [as] the very location of politics.”37 And they suspect that social science is not always a part of the solution of the world’s problems, but occasionally is a part of the problem.38

Analysis of politics and art is essentially pluralistic and multidisciplinary, and pluralism and multidisciplinarity come in many forms. Poststructuralism and feminism have shown interest in art and visual representation since the 1980s.39 These approaches identified gaps and omissions in international relations theory; challenged the established, predominantly male culture of political analysis; and helped establish the use, in political science, of methods and approaches borrowed from other disciplines, such as philosophy,40 sociology,41 anthropology,42 and visual studies.43 Methodologically, work on politics and art unashamedly borrows from, for example, art history and theory,44 media and communication studies,45 film studies,46 semiotics,47 and discourse analysis,48 while “collaborative work with artists and practitioners” is still the exception.49 Thus the body of work on politics and art in political science is different from such work in other disciplines, not necessarily in that it is based on methodological approaches specifically tailored to the analysis of politics and art, but rather in that the explanandum is derived from political science and often linked to questions of power, violence, war, interests, and—increasingly—identities. This is also one of the limitations, because work on politics and art tends to follow wider trends, which can be observed in more established areas of social research and in the social and political world. For example, there is a substantial body of work in international relations and security studies on art’s operation in violent conditions, offering political interpretations of art (and culture) in the context of violence, terrorism, and war.50 However, reflecting international relations’ focus on large-scale violence and interstate war and the discipline’s comparatively shallow conceptualizations of peace,51 there is less interest in art’s operation under conditions of peace, peaceful adjustment, and nonviolent change (see “Politics, Art, and Peace,” below).52

Surely it would be futile to look for the method of work on politics and art in a research area characterized by creative eclecticism. In cultural studies, different methods can be combined, resulting in “an eclectic (‘multidisciplinary’) approach.”53 There is no reason to assume that such combinations would not be useful in political analysis as well. Such multidisciplinarity can even be based on incompatible approaches. The purpose here is to increase, in a process of “self-reflectiveness,” researchers’ awareness of the intricacies of their subject matter.54 Work on politics and art also combines academic and nonacademic sources, including artistic ones, and regards these sources—for example, academic philosophy and nonacademic poetry—as equally valuable in terms of knowledge production.55 Rather than “translating” nonacademic sources into academic language, some authors respect such sources on their own terms and offer little academic commentary. Ekkehard Krippendorff, for example, reproduces parts of Jonathan Swift’s and Leo Tolstoy’s work so as to illuminate foreign policy and sources of war.56 Other studies combine academic analysis with fictional narratives, thus creatively filling gaps in the available source material and challenging established patterns of analysis and presentation.57 Other scholars deviate from the standard academic operating procedure of writing books and produce documentary films accompanied by auto-ethnographic writings.58

There have been explicit attempts to formulate a theory of visual images from the point of view of political science,59 but many writings are theoretically less ambitious, presenting (self-reflective) first-person narratives offering “a particular reading of a particular text from within a particular institutional position.”60 Such readings, in communication with others and constructively interrogated in the evolving discourse on politics and art, help produce knowledge. Use of aggregate terms such as “people,” “audience,” or “we/us,” treated as unitary actors supposedly acting as the author, based on his or her expert knowledge, expects them to act, offers little satisfaction unless it can be shown that a specific group of people does in fact share the author’s analysis. There is “a measure of indeterminacy in moving from the text ‘in itself’ (as analyzed by the critic) to how it is actually read.”61 Audience analysis, however, is largely absent from work on politics and art in political science. There are exceptions, however.62

Images’ operations on observers always employ contextual clues; no image is seen in total isolation. For example, Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites’s reading of selected images in the context of US visual culture combines what can be seen in a given image with knowledge derived from sources exterior to the image: for example, that the subject depicted in one photograph (Nick Ut’s photograph titled Accidental Napalm) suffers from “napalm burns on her back and arm” cannot be seen in the image; this interpretation, as the authors acknowledge, requires additional information.63 The extent to which interpretation depends on contextual clues is open to debate, as is the question of what images are capable of communicating to viewers without such clues. Critics often focus on what images do not tell their viewers without additional information, but they do not often ask what images do tell them without contextual clues.64 Even without additional information, the photograph discussed by Hariman and Lucaites might touch viewers for a variety of reasons, including the extent of pain it communicates and the indifference, casualness, and business-as-usual attitude of the soldiers depicted in the same image seemingly disregarding the pain of others. This is “a picture that shouldn’t be shown of an event that shouldn’t have happened.”65 However, because the event did happen, the picture has to be shown, because it reveals something not only about a particular event but also about war in general. What it reveals exactly to individual viewers has to be analyzed.

While images should be analyzed on their own terms, such analysis is impossible due to the inevitable involvement of language in any act of analysis translating what can be seen into what can be said; hence approaches to the study of images derived from discourse analysis. Each person operates within larger discursive formations of which the experience of images is only a part, and no one is exposed only to images. Discourse analysis benefits from established methodologies but addresses images in terms other than their own, thus disregarding “the necessity of reading photographs, not just the text surrounding them.”66 Instead of studying “the general field of images and their relation to discourse,”67 as iconology demands, there is a tendency to reduce the study of the general field of images to the study of their relation to discourse, generating important, but limited, insights into the operation of images in society. As such, discourse analysis offers approximations to images—important ones, but approximations all the same.

Focusing on what can be said or written about an image implies that what cannot be said or written about it escapes attention. Emphasis on text reflects tradition,68 but also the subordination of the visual to the written prevalent in journalism,69 whereas in art photography, skepticism about verbal explanations of the visual can be very strong.70 Emphasis on text ignores that there is something evasive in images, which cannot be grasped by means of words but has to be analyzed all the same if images are to be fully understood. “The social-relational content of the photograph is not simply descriptive-historical, but affective and empathic: in short, it provides an emotional ‘hold.’”71 Questions pertaining to emotive and affective dimensions of the visual experience, however, are notoriously difficult to grasp; hence the tendency in liberal thought to declare the affective dimensions of art “personal matters.” This designation has the additional benefits of depoliticizing emotions and strengthening liberal politics by excluding those from full participation who are alleged to be less rational and more emotive.72

Words and Images

Political analysis of the visual arts includes critical investigation of the connection between what is seen and what is known. However, how do we know what we see? Mitchell explains “that ‘language’ (in some form) usually enters the experience of viewing photography or of viewing anything else.”73 The knowledge that images are capable of generating is (“usually”) produced by means of language (“in some form”) based on a translation of what we see into what we say or write about what we see. This form of knowledge production requires reflection on the relationship between words and images in general. Addressing images through language means addressing images in terms other than their own. This may be inevitable, but has to be reflected upon all the same. Sociologically, the first question that has to be asked when confronted with written or verbal interpretations of images is “says who?,” because “concrete individuals and groups of individuals serve as definers of reality,”74 visually communicated or otherwise.

Surely the relationship between words and images cannot be reduced to meaning assigned to images by means of words. Peter Gilgen understands this relationship as an “intellectual stereoscopic effect” and specifies that “the image gains in profile through the verbal information conveyed in the caption; from the accompanying image this information gains persuasive power.” In this understanding, words and images seem intimately connected, equally important and mutually supportive; their relationship “is one of a certain mutual critique.”75 Other authors insist on the untranslatability of words into images and vice versa. Michel Foucault, for example, argues that “it is in vain that we say what we see; what we see never resides in what we say.”76 Jae Emerling states that “one never sees what one says, and vice versa.”77 Writing or talking about images, then, can never adequately represent what one sees; like every translation, it is the invention of something new. One of the problems when trying to “say what we see” (Foucault) is that “[i]mages and written texts not only tell us things differently, they tell us different things.”78 More specifically, “[w]riting contrives to evoke the ordinary features and substructure of an entire scene by implication, and then concentrates its attention on a few notable details.” In visual representation in film and photography, “[w]hat is noted and what is left unnoted form a continuous co-presentation, even when details are singled out for attention.”79 From this it follows that it is difficult visually to reduce a person to one, and only one, specific subject position, be it a “terrorist,” a “freedom-fighter,” or a “president.” Images testify to “the commonalties of being human.”80 Discourse analysis can show the processes in the course of which the multitude of subject positions that each person carries is being reduced to one, dominant subject position, marginalizing intended and unintended connotations. Having little to say about the image as such, however, discourse analysis cannot show what an image shows.

Individuals contextualize images also by means of “pre-existing representational resources,”81 including images they already carry with them as visual memories derived from their own experience, the culture industry, or, increasingly, photo-sharing forums on the Internet. For example, “[w]hat we see in the movies and on television provides a context and prior set of meanings within and with which we interpret events like the 9/11 attacks.”82 The photoessayistic tradition in journalism contextualized images by means of other images and constructed powerful visual narratives.83 This tradition depended on political awareness among readers/viewers and some degree of knowledge acquired prior to the viewing experience; it largely disappeared with the disappearance of such journals as Life but is currently being revitalized in online publications. Exclusive focus on images, while an established practice in artists’ monographs, cannot normally be found in academic writings in the social sciences characterized by emphasis on the written word; images, if used at all, often serve the purpose of illustration of what has already been established by means of text. However, exceptions exist and deserve attention. For example, a book on the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda published by political scientist Scott Straus and photographer Robert Lyons combines “two separate projects of disparate origins, one written and academic, the other visual and aesthetic.”84 Both parts of the book—the written and the visual—are to some extent autonomous; the written and the visual parts can be regarded on their own terms. However, approaching the photographs as photoessay may make viewers misunderstand the people depicted and their subject positions during the genocide. It is for this reason that the biographical descriptions at the end of the book are essential, thus undermining the images’ autonomy. Spatially separated from the photographs, the biographical sketches do not necessarily predetermine the viewing experience, thus allowing for some degree of interpretive openness on the part of viewers and complicating the viewing experience. Interpretive openness is not always appreciated. For example, photographer James Nachtwey, who regularly publishes photographs of human suffering without explanatory texts, has been criticized for so doing. His photographs are said to be capable only of triggering “bewilderment and hopelessness,” if not “disgust and contempt,” on the part of viewers.85

The absence of more experimental approaches to images in academic writings reflects not only academic conventions but also profound difficulties in connection with nonverbal approaches to the visual. Furthermore, it reflects that even seemingly purely visual narratives require language to assign meaning to them. After all, the experience of watching an image cannot be decoupled from language; all media are mixed media. Pure verbal representation does not exist, and pure visual representation does not exist, either.86 The issue thus is one of raising awareness about the intricacies of any experience of, and meaning making in connection with, images. Designations of meaning, rather than “encouraging the free play of the spectator’s faculties,”87 ultimately patronize viewers, denying them the right to independently assign meaning to what they believe they see. Viewers’ independence, however, is precisely what some critical voices fear, suspecting that the visual is either “too open to misinterpretation” or “too engaging, for it draws the viewer into an interpretive relationship that bypasses professional mediation.”88 Especially in the context of visual representations of human suffering, however, precise contextualization is often required so as not to misrepresent and violate the people depicted. Art photography’s interpretive openness and its insistence on various connotations that images carry with them appear inappropriate when it comes to representations of people in pain (and a substantial portion of the recent work on politics and art focuses on such representations). It is arguable that in such cases, connotations and designations of meaning other than those intended by the photographer and the subject have to be marginalized by means of captions or other written explanations. It is a balancing act trying to reconcile the interests of the subjects depicted—for example, to be recognized as a victim without being reduced to a victim—and the interests of viewers who want to be addressed as autonomous subjects.

The “excess meaning”89 images carry with them can always be translated into a multitude of interpretations and designations of meaning for each and every single image. This is not always unproblematic, but it might also be understood as a platform for discursive engagement with what we believe we see. This engagement should not be limited to the issues artists, editors, critics, or anybody else speaking with sufficient authority wishes to discuss.

Quantity and Quality

In the digital age, many more images are being produced than ever before. How does this increase in the number of images affect knowledge production? How do viewers cope with the number of images they are regularly exposed to? How can they respond to conditions depicted in images when the mere number of images overwhelms them? Writing in 1927, Siegfried Kracauer speculated that there is something wrong with the assumption that the more we see, the more we know. In light of illustrated magazines, he noted, “Never before has an age been so informed about itself.” But he also observed, “Never before has a period known so little about itself.” Kracauer did not understand information provided by illustrations as knowledge: the “blizzard of photographs betrays an indifference toward what the things mean.”90 Writing in 1994, Mitchell speculated that the problem of the twenty-first century might be “the problem of the image,”91 and roughly ten years later, Susan Sontag complained about a world “saturated, no, hyper-saturated with images.”92 And already in the mid-nineteenth century, abolitionist Frederick Douglass had referred to the planet as “a picture gallery.”93 Thus, there is a slightly repetitive element in the photographic discourse, complaining not about the image as such, but rather about the number of images produced at any given point in time. Few images, it seems, do not pose a problem; many do. For example, “hypervisibility”—“constant simulation”—is said to infringe upon the ability to be critical about the image: “[W]e can’t manage and digest it, and are thus manipulated by it.”94 In the photographic discourse, there can be observed a huge degree of mistrust of human beings’ ability to decide what images to study and regard seriously (just a few) and what images to ignore or to glance at in passing, if at all (the vast majority of images produced at any point in time). This mistrust is neither entirely justified nor entirely logical, as it emphasizes the quantitative dimension of image production at the expense of qualitative considerations: just because there are more images than individuals can deal with—and there have always been more images than individuals could deal with—does not mean that it is impossible for individuals to engage with selected images; it is a choice, and this choice often reflects the quality of images. Photographic image production cannot be limited to quantitative considerations, but has to include qualitative assessments as well.95

It is also argued that (seemingly identical) images of victims “can produce a generalized and standardized visual account that anonymizes victims and depoliticizes conflict.”96 Images of victims, rather than increasing critical awareness, which can then be transformed into politics—the hope underlying concerned and social documentary work in the visual arts—are said to paralyze viewers and make them politically inactive. This argument can often be found in work on viewers’ exposure to visual, in particular photographic, representations of human suffering. For example, “people may feel so helpless from seeing repetitive shots of horror that they do not want to see more than they are already seeing.”97 The mere number of published images of human suffering—alleged to be routinely exaggerated98—is said to result in dulled and desensitized viewers who increasingly ignore the conditions depicted in images; they are supposed to be too tired to respond to these conditions because they have the impression—generated by images—that there is nothing they can do anyway. As David Campbell has shown, this argument—especially when it is linked to what is called “compassion fatigue”99 —is not convincing, because in addition to its incoherence, there is scant empirical evidence to support it.100 Sontag, who helped establish this idea in her early writings on photography, later criticized it, not only asking for evidence with which to support it,101 but also arguing that “showing something at its worst … invites an active response. For photographs to accuse, and possibly to alter conduct, they must shock.”102 (“Shock can wear off,” however.103) Even without evidence, the notion of “compassion fatigue” has become a standard ingredient of the photographic discourse, routinely rehearsed and taken for granted in connection with all sorts of images.104 More fundamentally, some authors argue that compassion is “a trap. Its limitations give rise to a set of politically repugnant temptations—pity, indifference, cynicism and resentment.” Creating compassion should therefore be replaced with “creating solidarity” as the main aim of documentary photography.105

In another variation, this argument is applied to those viewers who are neither depoliticized nor desensitized as a result of their viewing experience, viewers who do not capitulate in light of the number of images of human suffering seemingly communicating helplessness and hopelessness and who would want to respond to the conditions depicted in images. These viewers, so the argument goes, cannot, whatever they do, respond adequately to conditions of human suffering depicted in images.106 Political responses to such images would seem to be necessary, because “what has been deemed most intolerable is … the person who simply notices but does not act.”107 Acting adequately, however, is said to be impossible, because “one’s response to photographs can do nothing to alleviate the suffering depicted.”108 This assessment appears convincing with regard to representations of dead bodies: the dead are dead; there is nothing viewers can do to undo these deaths. If an individual’s response to conditions of human suffering depicted in images is adequate only on condition that it alleviates the suffering depicted, then there is in most cases no such thing as an adequate response. This is a very ambitious and ultimately debilitating understanding of adequateness, and there are many possibilities for individuals to respond to conditions depicted in images below the threshold of immediate alleviation of the suffering depicted. A possible response, for example, is acknowledgment of “the relationship between oneself and the depicted other including, arguably, acknowledg[ing] the other’s not-so-otherness without, however, conflating one’s own perception of the depiction of an other’s pain with the other’s physical and mental experience of pain.”109

The number of images of human suffering reflects the number of people in pain, and no individual can hope to alleviate the suffering of all of them, visually represented or not. Viewers have to make a choice—one that may be unethical and painful but is unavoidable. Furthermore, the focus on individual viewers and their potential responses disregards the fact that individuals may “act politically as a part of the public,” together with others.110 If individuals are regarded as parts of the discursively visually constructed public, defined through “common spectatorship”111 or connected with one another as participants in the visual construction of the world on the basis of a “contract,”112 then the sum of the individual responses (each of which may be inadequate, in the sense that it does not directly or immediately contribute to the alleviation of the suffering depicted) “may ultimately form an adequate response.”113 Only as a member of the discursively organized public and as a part of a potential collective action can the individual viewer hope to respond adequately to conditions depicted in images.

Politics, Art, and Violence

Art and Violence

Artists representing acts of violence are not immune to committing acts of violence while so doing. This assessment reflects an extended understanding of violence, decoupled from mere physical force and close to cultural violence.114 It is said, for example, that the act of taking a photograph of someone equals an act of violation: to “photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.”115 However, why does seeing people “as they never see themselves” constitute an act of violence? After all, as Chinua Achebe notes, “a visitor can sometimes see what the owner of the house has ignored.”116 Thus, differentiation is required. Achebe, in the same interview, explains that visitors “must visit with respect and not be concerned with the color of skin, or the shape of nose, or the condition of the technology in the house.” Molly Rogers’s analysis of the practice of US American race theorists, who in the mid-nineteenth century had photographs (daguerreotypes) taken of selected slaves shows that the photographic act can indeed be an act of violation:

[T]he experience of being daguerreotyped was unlike any other they [the subjects depicted] had known. No one had asked them whether they wanted their pictures made. They were simply called from the field, the house, the workshop, or the slave quarters, taken into town, and led up the stairs of an unfamiliar building and into rooms with a powerful, dense odor that no perfume could hide…. They were not supposed to be there.117

However—and this complicates the notion of violence—as was observed at that time by Pearl Cleage Polk when she was photographed:

He would take our pictures and let us see that those who said we were invisible were lying. That those who said we were ugly were lying. That those who claimed we were less than human were lying. That those who said we did not love each other, and marry, and produce children, and suffer, and grow old were lying. [The photographer] would let us bloom in the safe zone before his camera, and we saw ourselves differently through his lenses. We saw ourselves shining in all our specificity. In all of our generalities. In all our terrible humanness. We saw ourselves just shine.118

That the photographer would let his or her subjects “bloom” in the ”safe zone” before his or her camera is an unusual approach to photography and the photographer–subject relationship. It is more common to suggest that it is the photographer who operates in a safe zone offered by the camera which protects him or her from the surrounding environment. That the subjects depicted see themselves “just shine” is also an unusual interpretation. It is more common to argue that the photographer, exploiting the subject depicted, attracts the spotlight. Pearl Cleage Polk’s assessment reflects, I think, what David MacDougall had in mind when he wrote that photographs cannot but show the commonalities of being human, regardless of the photographer’s intention. This element of photographic representation is often overlooked in critical assessments focusing on the violence of the photographic act, just as is the fact that nowadays many subjects ask photographers to take their pictures so as not to become invisible in a world where what cannot be seen does not exist.

The violence inherent in the act of photographing a person committing a murder is different from the violence inherent in the act of actually killing a person. The violence inherent in the act of looking at a photograph of a person committing a murder is different from the violence inherent in the act of photographing a person committing a murder. Photographs of acts of violence are different from—and represent a different degree of violence than—photographs of acts of violence that have specifically been committed for the purpose of the production of images.119 It is thus problematic to use the term violence indiscriminately when discussing photographic representation (and, indeed, in its stead such terms as exploitation, subjugation, or violation appear in the photographic discourse). But even photographers acknowledge the inherent violence of their work. Don McCullin, for example, self-critically acknowledges this when saying that his work on wars and violent conflicts is “in many respects … almost a crime.”120 (The focus, I think, should be on “almost,” not on “crime.”) It is violence exerted on the subjects depicted (see below); it is violence exerted on viewers who are exposed to scenes they would rather not see and to which they have to respond, but whatever they do, they cannot directly influence the conditions depicted (see above); and it is violence exerted on the photographer himself or herself.121 McCullin, in the video referenced above, is not the only photographer who suspects he has been damaged by the conditions in which he worked all his life.

The photographic act is an act of choice and discrimination, assigning importance to something or someone at the expense of something or someone else, which or who remains unphotographed. As such, the photographic act “cannot but be violating.”122 The photographic act is said to violate not only those who are not depicted, by discriminating against them, but also those who are. It is alleged to exploit the subjects depicted, to misrepresent them, and to fix them in the subject position of “victim” without their own agency and in need of help from others; to create—rather than portray—victims123; to revictimize and retraumatize people; to turn individuals into specimens representing, for example, preconceived “racial types”124; to expose people to the gaze of others who are said to be “stronger than the one who is watched”125; to contribute to “the asymmetrical ethical viewing position” characterizing the viewer-subject interface126; and, ultimately, to reproduce power relations including gender relations. Photography is an intricate, sensitive and ethically problematic balancing act, and different interests, not all of which are compatible, have to be considered carefully.127 Surely it matters whether the photographer exploits “suffering for pleasure or money”128 or depicts it to raise political consciousness; the photographs may be the same, but the underlying politics and ethics are different, just as is the photographer-subject relationship. Surely it matters also whether or not a subject agrees with her or his picture being taken and whether or not a subject knows what this means in a time of social media, online dissemination in real time, and numerous forms of manipulation, appropriation, and alteration. Surely, too, the relationship between a photographer and his or her subject, especially in wars and violent conflicts, is not always a mutual one but a one-directional one—one person taking a photograph of another person without offering much in return except vague promises to raise political awareness—and as such includes, reflects, and reproduces unequal power relations, equaling those prevailing in the social world, as Abigail Solomon-Godeau has observed with regard to documentary photography:

We must ask, in other words, whether the documentary act does not involve a double act of subjugation: first, in the social world that has produced its victims; and second, in the regime of the image produced within and for the same system that engenders the conditions it then re-presents.129

Both the social world and its photographic representation involve acts of subjugation. Martha Rosler adds, “Documentary testifies, finally, to the bravery or (dare we name it?) the manipulativeness and savvy of the photographer, who entered a situation of physical danger, social restrictedness, human decay, or combinations of these and saved us the trouble.”130 Mieke Bal, discussing the relationship between photographic representation (especially representation of people in pain) and viewers, refers to the act of looking at photographic representations of human suffering as a “secondary exploitation” owing to “theft of [the subjects’] subjectivity,” the first exploitation committed by a photographer, the second by a viewer.131 Thus, there would appear to be a chain of acts of violence (or subjugation or exploitation), from the social world through the photographic act to the act of looking. The act of photographic violence exerted on the subject depicted cannot be separated from the violence of looking at the resulting photograph; the violence of photographic representation is inseparable from the violence of witnessing through photographic representation.132 The critique of photographic representation is especially pronounced when applied to perfectly composed images, often referred to as aestheticization. Beauty—undermining authenticity—is said to be inappropriate and ethically problematic with regard to representations of human suffering. Furthermore, beautiful photographs are alleged to direct attention away from the conditions depicted in a given image toward the technical brilliance and sophistication of the photographer, thus effectively depoliticizing the conditions depicted. A photograph’s main subject, then, appears to be the photographer; the conditions and subjects depicted escape attention. Bal specifies:

Beauty distracts, and worse, it gives pleasure—a pleasure that is parasitical on the pain of others. Representation is here perceived as turning violence—events, victims, consequences—into something that can be perceived as “art,” which is different than documentation, journalism, or critical writing. “Beautifully” representing suffering is not in itself an act of political art, but on the contrary, it threatens to neutralize such acts of violence.133

The cautious use of the verb “threaten” implies that beauty does not necessarily neutralize acts of violence, and Bal acknowledges that representation “does not … necessarily stylize violence away.”134 It “can also place [horror] in the foreground in novel ways that do justice to the political content.”135 If beauty is capable of either neutralizing violence or doing “justice to the political content,” then the aestheticization critique loses much of its power and has to be transformed into analysis of the conditions in which beauty neutralizes violence as opposed to those in which it does not.

Given that representation necessarily transforms and aestheticizes, criticism of visual representation in terms of aestheticization appears slightly pointless: the option not to aestheticize does not exist,136 and “[u]glifying,” suggested by Susan Sontag as a counter-approach to “[b]eautifying,”137 also aestheticizes. But also apart from terminology, the critique is not entirely convincing. Beauty, as David Levi Strauss suggests, can be “a call to action,”138 and many photographers—including Simon Norfolk in his work in Afghanistan in the footsteps of John Burke—explicitly capitalize on beauty and its supposed capability of tricking viewers into engagement, not only with aesthetics but also with politics. Beauty, thus, is not an end in itself but a means to an end—engaging vision. Mark Reinhardt specifies with regard to circumstances in which “photographers approach real human beings in their moment of affliction”:

If such a circumstance becomes the occasion to produce an image offering pleasure, and only pleasure, through an exclusive focus on the work’s formal or internal properties—so that not only the causes of and responsibility for suffering but also its meaning and implications are wholly obscured while being used as resources for gratification—then the aestheticizing work of photography would obviously be an especially unproductive, indeed pernicious, response to the world’s calamities and injustices.139

Thus, in order for the aestheticization critique to be convincing, an image has to offer pleasure (and nothing else); the focus on the work’s formal or internal properties has to be exclusive; the causes of and responsibility for suffering and its meaning and implications have to be wholly obscured; and the work has to be used as a resource for gratification. But “‘[w]hat photographs are like that?’”140 Indeed, it hardly seems possible for a photograph to be indisputably “like that,” given that every photograph carries with it numerous sites of connotation and speaks to different viewers differently. But even if we agree that the photographic act necessarily includes (an element of) violence, how could this be otherwise in a world characterized by physical and structural violence in abundance? It is for this reason that some authors, while acknowledging that photography is violent, insist that this violence is not only inevitable but necessary.

John Roberts explains why human suffering has to be represented all the same, despite the above critique.141 If we agree with him that “violation is always the precursor to the production of knowledge,” (p. 152) then we may also agree that “it is the truth of violation that has to be honored, even when this violation produces images that subvert or weaken the dignity or autonomy of the other as other” (p. 153). Or, elsewhere: “[A]t some point in the interest of truth the preservation of the integrity of the ‘victim’ has itself to be violated” (p. 149). Thus, both the photographic act and the act of witnessing through photographs may be violent, but both acts of violence are necessary in the interest of truth. But what kind of truth? The violations inherent in the photographic act seem acceptable on condition that the photographer, first, adheres to the notion of nonfigural, documentary photography in search of a conflict’s “truth,” “(some truth, that is)” (p. 153), and second, generates “a respect for the moment of the inhuman in the representation of truth, that is, an identification of truth with the making visible of the truth of the ‘victim’” (p. 150). The truth of the victim is what matters, and it is the photographer’s task to make this truth visible even if the visualization violates the victim’s dignity. Roberts calls this form of visualization “representational intolerance,” which “becomes the affirmation of the inhuman in representation in defiance of a culture where the representations of direct violence are constantly being dissolved into humanist empathy and human tragedy” (p. 150) and equally constantly being dissociated from underlying systemic forms of violence. The violations inherent in the photographic act seem acceptable furthermore on condition that the “photographer ‘looks at’ in order to look beyond, look elsewhere, look awry, so that the beholder in ‘looking away,’ after looking at, also looks awry, as the active producer of secondary ostension” (p. 155).142 Representational intolerance is, however, in itself intolerable as a general rule for photographic representations of violence. Revealing what Roberts calls “the ‘thing itself’” (p. 160)—be it war, be it genocide—is not always recommended. He asks:

For example, how is revealing the “thing itself” of the interethnic violence in Rwanda in the 1990s respectful, helpful, or protective of those who were butchered? For it is hard to think of the benefits of “looking at” as the dead children’s bodies lie on top of one another, as children’s severed arms pile up on piles of other children’s arms. This is why many photographers who had access to the Rwanda war zones and the aftermath of the violence took the other route and excluded images of direct violence altogether. (p. 160)

Revealing the “thing itself” is neither respectful nor helpful nor protective of those depicted. Nor is it protective of the beholder: “in order to recover our (critical) composure and equilibrium” and “to try to protect the human being we are looking at” (p. 160), we have, in this instance, to look away—only, crucially, to return to the image later “as a critical assimilation of the perceived suffering” (p. 163). Without such a return to the image, we would “concede ground to the perpetrators of state violence and the systematic violence of the capitalist system” (p. 161) in a world dominated by images, in which what cannot be seen can easily be, and is routinely, denied.

Visibility and Invisibility

Recent interest in questions pertaining to invisibility acknowledges the invisibility of many forms of violence.143 Invisibility requires artistic strategies with which to visualize things that are not supposed to be seen or that cannot be seen due to technological, geographical, and/or political conditions. Indeed, many trends in current military and security policies are neither supposed to be seen nor easily accessible due to geographical remoteness. Citizens’ “[r]ight to look”144 faces numerous regulations, prohibitions, and attempts either to make things invisible or to make them too visible, that is, to multiply them in such a manner that they escape attention because they seem obvious. However, since Leonardo da Vinci, authors have also emphasized the merits of the invisible. Mitchell, for example, notes that the invisible affects the imagination more strongly than the visible.145 Artist João Louro, in his work shown at the Venice Art Biennale in 2015, focuses on the invisible—on “what’s behind, what’s hidden, covered, veiled from the mirror”146 —with the aim of countering manipulation by the image. Politically, the invisible has also gained in importance. Mirzoeff shows that the modern state has replaced permanent visibility (Bentham’s panopticon) with permanent invisibility (the camp and its inhabitants) as an organizing principle underlying social control.147 Disappearance often includes invisibility (although photographs remain, testifying to existence).148 Invisibility is one organizing principle among others: simultaneously the state develops and uses remote-controlled aerial photographic devices—satellites and drones—with which to expand domestic systems of surveillance, to establish permanent external control, and to monitor and kill people (accompanied by a fine-meshed net of CCTV cameras in metropolitan areas). There can be no doubt that these are important political developments, shaping both the wars to come and future domestic conditions, but why are they important in connection with politics and art? After all, the images drones and CCTV cameras produce hardly qualify as art.

Trends in current security policies, including military technologies relying on multiple forms of obscurity, remoteness, inaccessibility, and invisibility, can be understood neither from a conventional political science point of view nor by focusing entirely on technological developments. Current wars are to a large extent invisible; they cannot be visually documented by means of traditional photojournalistic approaches, either. Rather, in order for them to be visualized, sophisticated visual approaches are required, political analysis of which helps us understand the artistic projects and their underlying politics but also the politics these projects reference and critically engage with. If they want to visualize that which cannot be seen, artists such as Norfolk, James Bridle, and Trevor Paglen have to visualize their subject matter in a way that affects viewers and tricks them into engagement. Otherwise their work (being as much about politics as it is about aesthetics) would be utterly pointless. These artists do not follow the simple belief in the power of the visible to trigger political responses among viewers, but acknowledge that “[f]aced with something obscure … it is radically insufficient merely to shine the light of publicity.”149 It is therefore not sufficient for artists to make technological developments and infrastructures pertaining to warfare visible (just as it is insufficient for political analysis to focus on technological developments). What is required is a certain type of visibility linked to and derived from the invisibility of the represented. Sticking to some degree of obscurity and invisibility while representing the obscure and invisible is hoped to result in viewers’ engagement—engagement with that which even after it has been rendered visible still retains some degree of obscurity and incomprehensibility, requiring further investigation on the part of viewers; in other words, engagement with the artists’ politics and not only with their aesthetics.150

Alternatively, artists such as Tomas van Houtryve employ drones—the same technology, lethal use of which in such seemingly faraway places as Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia they aim to criticize—and bring them home, thus bridging the gap between “them” and “us” and indicating that in slightly different conditions, “we” could be “them” and “they” could be “us.” (It is just a matter of time, anyway, “as it is in the nature of such a weapon to proliferate.”151 ) As part of his visual approach to drone warfare, van Houtryve “bought a small drone, fitted it with a camera, and flew it in the US over the sorts of gatherings that have become habitual targets for airstrikes abroad—weddings, funerals, groups of people praying or exercising.”152 Aerial shots of distinctly civilian gatherings in the United States make viewers, so it is supposedly hoped, contemplate not only the violence of drone attacks but also the violence of drones as institutions of social control, domination, intimidation, and power projection, and as such, as ingredients of a politics of fear exerted on, and dehumanizing, faraway others. That a part of the horror drones exert on people stems from the sound of the propeller153 necessarily escapes photographic representation, however. Van Houtryve’s photographs from the series Blue Sky Days,154 reminiscent of photographic experimentation with forms, shapes, and shadows in interwar photography, appear indeed irritatingly tranquil and aesthetically appealing. Grégoire Chamayou writes that according to Walter Benjamin, “technology, today used for death-dealing purposes, may eventually recover its emancipating potential and readopt the playful and aesthetic aspirations that secretly inspire it,”155 and that is one way of addressing van Houtryve’s art politically.

That the photographs are tranquil and aesthetically appealing makes the viewing experience (at least my viewing experience) profoundly unsettling when compared with the devastation that drones are capable of wreaking—and regularly do wreak—on people. The tension between the tranquility of the photographs and the violence of the drone attacks that these photographs reference offers another access to van Houtryve’s work because, as Strauss explains, for an image to “be compelling, there must be tension in the work; if everything has been decided beforehand, there will be no tension and no compulsion to the work.” Tension is the condition of possibility for viewers to become involved in the work in a position other than as mere recipients of an artist’s message, thus enabling “a more complex response.”156 Furthermore, if art is political if it “extends the thread of recognition and understanding beyond what previously was seen and known,”157 then we have to add that art is also political if this extension does not produce knowledge conventionally understood and instead confuses, irritates, and unsettles the recipient. It seems to be a part of the visual strategies applied by many visual artists to make the viewers’ subject positions more complicated. Rather than offering simple answers to complicated questions, the visual arts, as has been noted in the context of identity and identification, indeed “complexify the perceptual experience of the spectator.”158

Representing the Aftermath

The “complexification” of the perceptual experience of the spectator is also at the core of aftermath photography, currently thriving. Aftermath photography is a form of war photography; war is the condition of possibility for both war photography and aftermath photography. Since one of the criticisms of documentary representations of violence is that they “repeat[] that which the [artist] wishes to critique and dismiss,”159 aftermath photographers concentrate on postconflict situations, often equating conflict with the use of physical force and misunderstanding the end of the use of physical force as an indicator of the end of the conflict. This misunderstanding, however, prepares the ground for one of aftermath photography’s most important political tasks: to visualize that for many people suffering is not over once the use of physical force has stopped.160 A second important political task of aftermath photography—offering a vision of peace—has not yet entered the photographic discourse and photographic practice except in exploratory and rather rudimentary form, often indicating rather shallow conceptualizations and understandings of peace, war, and conflict.

Aesthetically, aftermath photography is closer to art photography than it is to photojournalism. It would be misleading, however, to understand it as art. Its main purpose is not to be aesthetically appealing (although very often it is). Rather, as Debbie Lisle has suggested with regard to what she calls the “Late Photography of War,” it is politically important due to its “capacity to interrupt familiar ways of looking.”161 This photography challenges routinized patterns of interpretation and undermines privileged viewing positions, because viewers cannot immediately know what they are looking at and how what they are looking at relates to the war it is alleged to reference. This is aftermath photography’s third important task: critical attention can be achieved through an artist’s utilization of art photography’s openness (problematized above when applied to the documentary) with which to create ambivalence, and ambivalence “is politically compelling precisely because of its unruly, open, and contingent character,”162 enabling viewers, in the process of reflection however short it may be, to recognize that there are always more interpretations of a given image than the one they finally accept as the (from their individual point of view) most compelling one (if they arrive at such a decision in the first place). There are always more interpretations of a given image than the hegemonic one. This means that aftermath photography can become “a space for the discursive reconstruction and extension of the event” and this “reconstruction can … be, in principle, infinite.”163 Such discursive reconstruction has been defined above as an ingredient of critical art. Emphasis on ambivalence and openness implies that captions, specifying what a given image shows and aiming to rescue this image from irrelevance, are problematic with regard to this photography. The “approximate”—against which Benjamin argued164 —is exactly what this photography capitalizes on.

To be sure, photographs that abstract from the conditions they reference without specifying these conditions with nonphotographic means are problematic. “Habits of seeing are estranged strategically in the hope of opening up a space to think differently (about warfare, about landscape, about photography, about vision).”165 David Campany continues by warning that this is “a risky strategy, always provisional and contingent upon the cultural norms that are being challenged.”166 However, the traditional photojournalistic approach resulting in “generally interchangeable images of violence’s apex”167 is equally risky in that it may produce and reproduce predictable—and deeply problematic—patterns of viewing. And the “hope” Campany writes about is actually more than a hope, as artists have many means at their disposal to trick viewers into engagement, to make them do things they did not intend to do, and to seduce them into engagement, not only with aesthetics but also with politics.168 And this engagement has to include, in order to understand the emergence and persistence of aftermath photography, reflection on the political conditions determining how photography operates:

Much photography is late photography now, and therefore outside of what we commonly regard as documentary culture, precisely because the critical and cognitive link between the photodocument and the transformation of social experience is suppressed, not just in the wake of the hegemony of the nonsymbolic, but as a result of the determination of the state to decouple where necessary the “singular event” from the political process.169

Photography, then, produces knowledge not only about the event it references but also about the wider social, economic, and political configurations within which it operates.

While the Late Photography of War focuses on “absence, belatedness, and ruin”170 decoupled from immediacy, other forms of aftermath photography focus on people.171 This is not to say that there are no people in the Late Photography of War: “[M]ost images without faces or people are actually full of people: they are places where people can find themselves in imagination.”172 This is the power of the invisible (see above). While some artists “deliberately ‘turn up late’ after the victims, bystanders, witnesses, photojournalists, editors, cameramen, soldiers, bereaved families, distraught friends, security officers, and aid workers have all disappeared from the scene,”173 other artists acknowledge that for victims and bereaved families, the option of “disappear[ing] from the scene” does not exist, because even if they manage physically to move to another place, they carry “the scene” with them as traumatic memories. Aftermath photography shifts emphasis from “the event” to “the event-as-aftermath”174 and by so doing moves from moment to process. Many aftermath projects are indeed characterized by a photographer’s long-term engagement with his or her subject. In the course of the project, the subject moves from being a subject to being a co-artist, exerting much more influence on the way he or she gets represented than can normally be observed in photojournalism. A photograph of one person taken by another person morphs into a person’s self-portrait by means of another person’s photograph of him or her; the photographer is a vehicle through which a person represents himself or herself. I revisit this idea in the section on peace and participation.

By defining “war, conflict, or atrocity”—the traditional subjects of photojournalism—as “the main event,”175 which aftermath photography references by implication or discursively reconstructs, epistemic priority is assigned to war, rather than peace, reconciliation, and reconstruction. But what prevents us from defining peace as the main event?

Politics, Art, and Peace

From Aftermath to Peace

Visual representations of peace in journalism and the visual arts most often reference peace negatively: by depicting its absence; by showing war, violence, and destruction realistically (within the limits of visual representation) in order to trigger opposition to war; and by intervening photographically in violent situations so that others can intervene in the conditions depicted with other, nonphotographic, and supposedly more effective means. Positive approaches to the visualization of peace are not the rule; the question of what a photography of peace would have to look like is not often asked.176 This omission reflects not only the powerful photojournalistic tradition of war photography,177 but also the formidable difficulties faced by photographers interested in the positive visualization of peace. For example, Philip Jones Griffith’s Vietnam at Peace is said to have communicated primarily that Vietnam “is not yet ‘at peace’ with itself.”178

Peace photography as a concept depends for its emergence and establishment on the linguistic designation of meaning: a specific body of photographic work has to be defined and subsequently understood as peace photography by a significant number of people in order for peace photography to come into existence. Thus, what are the conditions for a specific body of photographic work meaningfully to be referred to as peace photography? Meaningfully, because in principle, every photographic work can discursively be constructed as peace photography. Furthermore, based on a narrow, negative understanding of peace—peace as absence of organized, large-scale physical force—the vast majority of photographs produced at any given point in time, including the most trivial ones, would qualify as peace photographs; every photograph of a conflict that is dealt with nonviolently would be a photograph of peace. Such a wide understanding of peace photography (reflecting a narrow, negative understanding of peace) would be misleading. Many photographs collected in family albums or their electronic equivalents are, due to the absence of depictions of physical force, photographs of (at least negative) peace. Such photographs tend to hide power relationships and forms of domination and exploitation that would undermine the seeming peacefulness of both the photographs and the relationships depicted; other portraits may fail to communicate patterns of love and amity prevailing among those depicted. Thus, a wide understanding of peace photography would offer little satisfaction, devaluing and trivializing the whole idea of peace photography by endlessly expanding it. One path toward a narrow concept of peace photography is a wider understanding of peace; the more ambitious the understanding of peace is, the fewer pictures qualify as peace photographs.

What some viewers, based on their individual and collective socializations, may regard as a photograph of peace may be seen by others as a photograph of violence. For example, Fred Ritchin refers to an aerial view of the World Trade Center taken months before the attacks on September 11, 2001, “showing the Towers as if in heavenly repose—peaceful reflection on what was no more.”179 His interpretation, however, is unlikely to be shared by those people for whom the Twin Towers symbolized structural violence: economic inequality, the North-South divide, arrogance of power, and forms of institutionalized exploitation inherent in global politico-economic structures. Seemingly peaceful photographs may show conditions that, for some at least, are not peaceful at all. It is for this reason that no attempt is made here to identify a given image as a universal peace photograph. Perceptional discrepancy, interpretive openness, and cultural contextualization make the search for generalizable laws governing the operation of peace photography and its perception difficult and perhaps even pointless. What is not pointless, however, is exploring the general conditions of possibility for peace photography. Such conditions can be revealed, while the identification of any given photograph as a peace photograph is always subjective and context-dependent, reflecting a given interpreter’s individual points of view; while searching for peace photographs is ultimately an empirical task, identifying the conditions of possibility for peace photography is a conceptual task.

However, any conceptualization of peace photography is derivative of the underlying concept of peace, and this dependence limits the applicability of any conceptual approach to peace photography. Given the absence of a universal understanding of, and the impossibility of a neutral, unpolitical approach to, peace, any conceptual approach to peace photography reflects the culture within which it is being developed and can claim validity only within this culture. The present contribution, for example, follows the culture of Galtung-inspired peace research, which understands peace not only as the absence of physical violence but as “the absence of violence in all of its forms and the presence of mutually beneficial cooperation and mutual learning.”180 This is one approach to peace among others, and a rather utopian one. In the absence of universal agreement on the meaning of peace, there can be no universal agreement on peace photography, either. Any conceptual approach to peace photography is limited, but different approaches to peace photography can be discussed and compared with one another. Furthermore, it is also difficult to establish a causal connection between photography and peace. Even in the absence of a causal connection, however, things may be connected with one another. For example, they may be connected episodically. Episodic writing emphasizes that “[w]hat happened in Scene A might not be causally related to Scenes B and C, but their placement either in space or time asks us to think them together.”181 Photographs ask us to think them together with that which they reference even if no causal relationship can be proven to exist.

A good starting point for reflections on peace photography—or peace photographies—is aftermath photography (see above). After all, aftermath photography visualizes the end of the use of physical force. It alludes to violence by its (seeming) absence, thus reversing the photojournalistic practice of referencing peace by its absence, but its main reference point remains violence: war is the condition of possibility for both war photography and aftermath photography, narrated and visualized in multiple forms of representation, including “black humor, poignant reflection, or simply iconic mythologizing.”182 Competing with “the visual domestication of conflict that occurs in more official pictorial regimes,” such representation may be “subversive,” but its reference point is nevertheless the preceding violence.183 There is thus a categorical difference between aftermath photography and peace photography, the one referencing violence, the other nonviolent ways of dealing with conflict. Without visualizing paths to peace, then, aftermath photography does not qualify as peace photography. Expanding the conception of the aftermath seemingly endlessly and thus establishing temporal distance between a photograph and the violence it references184 is not a convincing approach to peace photography either, because its reference point remains violence, and temporal distance may result in images’ irrelevance. One possible approach to peace photography would be to focus on the visualization of the evolution from aftermath of war to prelude to peace. Without ignoring history, such an approach would have to go beyond constantly referring back to what was and instead point forward to what will be or to what might be, to peace or to peace as a potentiality. Such photography would at the same time be linked with and decoupled from preceding violence, the existence of which it nevertheless acknowledges. Focusing on peace as a potentiality makes peace photography possible even in the absence of peace (and this would be the answer to the question of how that which does not exist could possibly be visualized).

Photography can also look back, in times of, or following, war and violence, at photographs taken at a point in time when peace still prevailed. Regarding such photographs may seem to be looking at photographs of peace (at least in comparison to what came later). Rather than being only an expression of nostalgia (which probably is part of the viewing experience), showing that (some form of) peace had been possible before violence gained the upper hand may also indicate that peace might be possible again should violence stop. Photography can also visualize postconflict cooperation between former perpetrators and victims. If such cooperation emerges authentically from the community (bottom-up) rather than being imposed by policymakers (top-down), then photographic documentation, as one element among many others, can contribute to the normalization of cooperation and perhaps to reconciliation. Peace photography may also reference a point in time when the preceding violence stops being the single most important reference point for individuals and groups of people formerly exposed to violence. It may visualize the replacement of experiences of violent change with expectations of peaceful change while simultaneously acknowledging that this is not a linear process, but rather one characterized by ups and downs, progression and regression. None of these visual approaches, however, will create peace photography without assistance to be provided by linguistic designations of meaning shared by a significant number of people.

If we agree with Sontag that photography “is a way of at least tacitly, often explicitly, encouraging whatever is going on to keep on happening,”185 then there would seem to be many possibilities for photographers, professional and nonprofessional, to assume a proactive role as peace photographers and peace activists,186 or artivists.

Artivism and Participation

Artivism is a term used by the visual artist JR to describe his double subject position as an artist and a political activist acting on behalf of and together with the subjects depicted in his work.187 There is a long tradition in photojournalistic work of combining political engagement as citizens and objectivity as photojournalists,188 but JR’s approach differs from that tradition. In order to assess his work adequately, it is insufficient to look only at the final pictures, large-scale photographs of women and women’s faces placed in urban landscapes. This is what photographic criticism, always in search of “icons,” does, a focus strengthened by the elevation of selected photographers to the status of celebrities (while the majority of photographers remain rather anonymous). To assess his work, it is insufficient to analyze audience response, either. A large portion of the recent photographic discourse has been devoted to the ethics of spectatorship, and while this is an important question, it is arguably not the most important one in connection with JR’s and related work.

The most important element in JR’s work is the extent to which his subjects are involved in the process in the course of which photographs come into being. Participation in this context does not only mean that subjects agree to their pictures being taken, but rather that they become co-artists who, together with the “main” artist, produce works of art that they would not have produced without the artist’s initiative. Ideally, the artist takes exactly the pictures that the subjects depicted would have taken had they themselves taken the pictures. The subjects depicted become agents of their own image, and the photographer becomes a vehicle by means of which the subjects exert agency. Why is this important? First, being an agent of their own image is important because, based on a belief in the power of the visible, it gives the subjects the chance to present their points of view; to break with visual stigmatization and routinized patterns of representation; to transform representation into self-representation; and to confront viewers with unexpected images, thus potentially altering the ways the subjects depicted are seen by others. Representation by others may not only exploit the subjects depicted but also patronize them, as indicated above when referring to the responsibility of the photographic witness, emphasized in the photographic discourse, “to best represent the interests of [the] subjects.”189 In addition, JR does not, with the authoritative voice of the artist, explain his photographs, but relies on discursive and potentially open-ended meaning making resulting from the ongoing dialogue between the spectator and the subjects depicted.

Second, being an agent of their own image is important because it challenges some of the criticisms regularly articulated in connection with photographic representations of human beings (see above), especially criticisms of exploitation and subjugation, indicating that things are slightly more complicated. The women represented by JR, or better, the women who represent themselves with the help of JR, do not seem to feel exploited, exposed as they are to the gaze of others. Some of the women acknowledge that they are suffering from unfavorable living conditions, but as one woman living in a neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya, puts it: “I am very happy that this project shows how the women here are suffering and how they carry on their daily lives despite their problems. I think that this project will help the women of Kibera.”190 Of course one should not jump to conclusions here; the inclusion in the book of voices critical of JR’s project would not seem to be very likely. Furthermore, that individual voices support this project, hoping that visibility will somehow improve their living conditions, is sociologically quite irrelevant as long as it disregards the overall political and economic configurations within which the project unfolds. Still, many critics focusing on exploitation and subjugation seem to underestimate the importance of such projects to local people, and this importance stems from two factors: visibility (connected with hope; hope, however, can be frustrated) and participation.

As I have suggested elsewhere when discussing Vik Muniz’s work in a popular community in Rio de Janeiro, which like JR’s is based on close cooperation between the artist and local people, being an agent of their own image is important, third, because—no matter what happens with the resulting images, no matter how audiences respond, and whether or not living conditions improve in fact—the experience of having participated in the production of works of art not as subjects of somebody else’s projects but as co-artists, as agents of their own image, is something that “nobody can take … away from them because this experience is ingrained indelibly in their individual and social memory.”191 This is also an important ingredient of those participatory photography projects in which people who have formerly been represented by others take their own pictures by means of cameras given to them by the people who are in charge of the projects. This is so regardless of the limitations of such collaborative projects—and the occasional hyperbole linking such projects with emancipation, democratization, and empowerment—as noted by photographer Eric Gottesman:

I have often seen images from projects that undercut the good intentions of the projects’ initiators by falling back into the old stereotypes and power dynamics that the collaborative process intends to avoid. There are questions like: Who is editing this material? Where is it being shown? For what purpose? It bothers me when these projects use a pseudo-democratic rhetoric to describe the act of handing out cameras, as though distributing cameras alone is “empowerment” or “giving voice to the voiceless.” When I see this kind of stuff, I become listless; the process is so much more complicated than that.192

Politics and Art

Figure 1 “You Are the Artist”

(photograph: Frank Möller)

Collaborative photography projects cannot be reduced to what Gottesman calls “pseudo-democratic rhetoric”; indeed, his criticism targets processes of editing and publishing photographs, not the production process (which was emphasized above). As such it does not devalue the importance of collaborative projects to those who are involved in them as co-artists and therefore as political actors communicating, through art, with a wider community.193 It does not devalue the relevance of artistic work for citizens, either. Artivism is not limited to artists. Politically engaged citizens can become artivists too—as citizen photographers (see Figure 1), for example, or as citizens engaged in countersurveillance that challenges authority.

Including politically engaged citizens who operate with images to visualize their politics in an article on politics and art may mean stretching the concept of “art” beyond recognition. However, concepts such as art are not fixed; they evolve by people “doing” them, either reaffirming or modifying them.194 Furthermore, such image-makers are political agents; their activities cannot be excluded from political analysis. And the open-access nature of their work is a contribution not only to political transparency, but also to the visual-discursive construction of democracy.195 As always, the danger inherent in such practices is involuntary confirmation, by repetition, of the very practices that are the object of one’s critical engagement. Furthermore, challenging state authorities as citizen photographers is not a contest among equals, but one characterized by profoundly unequal power positions from which actors operate. “The lack of proportionality underlying official responses to the taking of pictures shows the extent to which governments feel threatened by the uncontrollable production and dissemination of images” in the digital age,196 characterized by social networks by means of which individuals operate politically together with others, defending the right not only to look197 but also to show, to document, and to reveal.

Memory Remix

Writing from a psychoanalytical perspective, Dominick LaCapra argues that “art, in its specific (often highly mediated, indirect, darkly playful, powerful but other than narrowly documentary or informational) forms of bearing witness or testifying to that [traumatic] past, might assist in partially working that past over and through, thereby making more available other possibilities in the present and future.”198 Other authors, neither writing from a psychoanalytical perspective nor necessarily addressing traumatic memories, have also explored the relationship between memory and art and the political functions of artistic engagements with memory and identity. Indeed, identity cannot be thought of without memory; it serves as glue with which to connect with one another otherwise disconnected points in time so as to form a seemingly coherent narrative.199 While the construction of such a narrative is influenced by all sorts of artistic experiences, it is arguable that photographs have a paramount role in it. Sontag notes that “people remember through photographs.” She also notes that this is a “problem” because “they remember only the photographs,”200 and James Elkins adds that “photographs of people I know and love are actually a poison to memory, because they remain strong while my memories weaken.”201 Photographs as two-dimensional representations, which are never identical with that which they claim to represent, tend to replace what Primo Levi called “the raw memory” and to grow “at its expense.”202 The idea of raw memory, fixed and unchangeable, is also problematic, as memory tends to evolve, adapted to the requirements of the present. Furthermore, for people who have nothing other than photographs to remember people they knew and loved by, photographs have an important memory- and identity-constructing purpose.203 And for people whose memories have been distorted in such violent social processes as colonialism, the reappropriation of individual and collective memories is crucial for the re-establishment of one’s peace of mind. Art assists marginalized people in reappropriating memories that have been expropriated in violent social processes.

The title of this section is derived from Africa remix, a project of “artists subverting colonial imagery”204 by means of digital collages, who by so doing redefine history, memory, and identity individually and collectively. Africa remix is part of a larger trend to address African photography—and to address Africa photographically—in terms of African subjectivity, self-determination, and self-representation.205 In part, this photography engages with the colonial past and the post(neo-)colonial present; in part, it playfully and skillfully interrogates stereotypical colonial objectifications, thus offering “a counter-modernist and interrogative re-working of these photographic conventions”206; in part it presents counter-visualizations insisting on the non-reducibility of the African subject to the colonial experience; in part it “searches through the remainders of the colonial and postcolonial past to question the emancipatory philosophy and utopianism of decolonization”207; and in part it tries to escape from the shadow of distorted memories so as not to become entangled in the past.

This photography avoids visual fixations of the continent and its inhabitants as victims of political, economic, cultural, and social exploitation; as an environment plagued by war, disease, and violence; or as a “threat,” which still seem to be the most prominent visual approaches to Africa in photography208 and mainstream media (with which Africa is in fact constructed in the above terms), just as it avoids the “exotico-beautification” found in such popular journals as National Geographic.209 This photography acknowledges violent and traumatic events in the past (and present), but its focus is slightly different from artistic engagements with trauma,210 and it is as much interested in participating in and triggering African dialogues about the past, present, and future as it is in participating in international, indeed global developments of the visual arts. Africa remix and other projects feature the work of African artists seeing and representing Africa, thus helping outsiders to see Africa through their, the artists’, eyes. Such self-representation has been noted above in connection with participatory photography projects as an important departure from traditional ways of representing marginalized groups of people. It is also important to note that these artists, by employing all sorts of digital technologies and combining them skillfully, successfully challenge widely held assumptions of African backwardness, technological and otherwise. While it would be tempting to engage with this photography in detail, I want to stop here. I want to address you not only as reader but also as viewer, to invite you to make your own visual investigation by visiting the website referenced above or to have your own visual experience rather than listening to what I have to say about these images. If “we still must learn how to become spectators of images,”211 then this moment is as good as any to start this learning process.


According to Jorge Amado, “we have to recognize that no word spoken against violence and tyranny is entirely vain and useless: Somebody who hears it just might overcome fear and start to rebel.”212 We also have to recognize that no photograph taken against violence and tyranny is entirely vain and useless, because somebody who sees it just might overcome fear and rebel. As should be clear by now, due to, among other things, photography’s interpretive openness, intended and unintended connotations that images carry with them, different forms and degrees of visual socialization among viewers, and the dependence of the viewing experience on the context within which it takes place, the concept of “photography against violence and tyranny” is as vague and nebulous as is the concept of peace photography. This vagueness, however, also implies that any image could trigger Amado’s rebellion. Images are unpredictable and uncontrollable, no matter how hard authorities try to control them.213 Every image is thus potentially political, because every image may find itself “caught up in a process of domination and resistance.”214 And nowadays there are more images than ever before.

Hyperbole should be avoided, however. Causal connections alleged to exist between the regime of the image and the social world—for example, between images and digital culture on the one hand and emancipation, democratization, and empowerment on the other—are often wishful thinking and largely useless unless supported by evidence. The editor in chief of the British Journal of Photography recently wrote: “Now we live in the digital present, connecting online as global communities; communicating via vast, interlinked networks that bypass geographical, economic, and sociopolitical boundaries; using photographs where common languages don’t exist.”215 Who is this “we?” Is photography a “common language?” How can it be a common language when its interpretation is context and culture dependent? And if it is a common language, are we facing a non-hierarchical kind of communication among equals? Do networks bypass boundaries—and if so, what does that mean precisely?—or do they also create boundaries? The production and distribution of images may be more democratic than before, but it does not follow that each and every person worldwide would equally participate in image making and dissemination. Patterns of exclusion and inclusion can be observed with regard to both people participating (in different subject positions) in digital media and areas covered by digital media. Furthermore, the method of gazing, recommended by Christine Sylvester “to see things” excluded from traditional political theory,216 clashes with digitization just as does the idea of “slow looking” suggested by Bal,217 because digital culture does not favor “viewers who scrutinize [photographs] with concentrated interest.”218 Thus, as has been argued with respect to the global reach of the Internet, there is reason for both “celebration and concern.”219 Regarding the overall regime of images and the visual arts in the twenty-first century, also, there is reason for both celebration and concern, but they should follow from analysis and not precede it.


(1) Ajay Heble, Landing on the Wrong Note: Jazz, Dissonance and Critical Practice (New York and London: Routledge, 2000), 78.

(2) (James Der Derian and Michael J. Shapiro, eds., International/Intertextual Relations: Postmodern Readings of World Politics (Lexington and Toronto: Lexington Books, 1989).

(3) W. J. T. Mitchell, Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 16.

(4) Roland Bleiker, Aesthetics and World Politics (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 18–47; Michael J. Shapiro, Studies in Trans-Disciplinary Discourse After the Aesthetic Turn (London and New York: Routledge, 2013).

(5) Caitlin Patrick, “Ruins and Traces: Exhibiting Conflict in Guy Tillim’s Leopold and Mobuto,” in The Violence of the Image: Photography and International Conflict, ed. Liam Kennedy and Caitlin Patrick (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2014), 240.

(6) Robert Adams, Why People Photograph: Selected Essays and Reviews (New York: Aperture, 1994); Robin Kelsey and Blake Stimson, eds., The Meaning of Photography (Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute/New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2008); James Elkins, What Photography Is (New York and London: Routledge, 2011); Jerry L. Thompson, Why Photography Matters (Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press, 2013).

(7) James Johnson, “‘The Arithmetic of Compassion’: Rethinking the Politics of Photography,” British Journal of Political Science 41, no. 3 (2011): 621–643; Mark Reinhardt, “Painful Photographs: From the Ethics of Spectatorship to Visual Politics,” in Ethics and Images of Pain, ed. Asbjørn Grønstad and Henrik Gustafsson (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), 33–56.

(9) John Elderfield, Manet and the Execution of Maximilian (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2006), 44.

(10) Aleš Erjavec, ed., Aesthetic Revolutions and Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde Movements (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2015).

(11) Claudia Mesch, Art and Politics: A Small History of Art for Social Change since 1945 (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2013).

(12) Sharon Sliwinski, Human Rights in Camera, foreword by Lynn Hunt (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

(13) Nicholas Mirzoeff, Watching Babylon: The War in Iraq and Global Visual Culture (New York and London: Routledge, 2005), 25.

(14) See Ekkehart Krippendorff, Die Kunst, nicht regiert zu werden: Ethische Politik von Sokrates bis Mozart (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1999), 277.

(15) Michael J. Shapiro, War Crimes, Atrocity, and Justice (Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2015), 10.

(16) Chantal Mouffe, Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically (London and New York: Verso, 2013), 91.

(17) Mouffe, Agonistics, 92–93.

(18) Ekkehard Krippendorff, Kritik der Außenpolitik (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2000), 91. In such cases art, though not being critical of the established opinion, may or may be regarded, by some at least, as critical of something else: it may be critical of criticism of the established opinion, for example, thus stabilizing the prevailing power configurations.

(19) Christine Sylvester, “Picturing the Cold War: An Art Graft/Eye Graft,” Alternatives 21, no. 4 (1996): 393–418; Bernadette Buckley, “The Workshop of Filthy Creation: Or Do Not Be Alarmed, This Is Only a Test,” Review of International Studies 35, no. 4 (2009): 835–857.

(20) Gerald Holden, “Cinematic IR, the Sublime, and the Indistinctness of Art,” Millennium 34, no. 3 (2006): 793–818.

(21) Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator (London and New York: Verso, 2009), 103.

(22) Alex Danchev, On Art and War and Terror (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), 3.

(23) John Roberts, Photography and Its Violations (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 61.

(24) Nick Couldry, Inside Culture: Re-imagining the Method of Cultural Studies (London, Thousand Oaks, CA, and New Delhi: Sage, 2000), 58.

(25) Bleiker, Aesthetics and World Politics; Cerwyn Moore and Laura J. Shepherd, “Aesthetics and International Relations: Towards a Global Politics,” Global Society 24, no. 3 (2010): 299–309.

(28) Thomas Keenan, “Disappearances: The Photographs of Trevor Paglen,” Aperture, no. 191 (Summer 2008): 38.

(33) Steve Smith, “Singing Our World into Existence: International Relations Theory and September 11,” International Studies Quarterly 48, No. 3, (2004): 502.

(34) Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 90.

(39) Michael J. Shapiro, The Politics of Representation: Writing Practices in Biography, Photography, and Policy Analysis (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 124–178; Christine Sylvester, “Postmodern Feminist Methodology and International Relations: Learning from the Arts,” in Feminist IR—Problems, Debates, Prospects, ed. Henriette Riegler (Vienna: Austrian Institute for International Affairs, 2004), 21–30.

(40) Roland Barthes, Image Music Text. Essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath (London: Fontana, 1977); Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, trans. Gregory Elliott (London and New York: Verso, 2009); Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image, trans. Gregory Elliott (London and New York: Verso, 2009).

(41) Douglas Harper, Visual Sociology (London and New York: Routledge, 2012).

(42) David MacDougall, Transcultural Cinema, ed. and with introduction by Lucien Taylor (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998).

(43) Gillian Rose, Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials, 3rd ed. (London, Thousand Oaks, CA, and New Delhi: Sage, 2012).

(44) Axel Heck and Gabi Schlag, “Securitizing Images: The Female Body and the War in Afghanistan,” European Journal of International Relations 19, no. 4 (2013): 891–913.

(45) Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites, No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

(46) Michael J. Shapiro, Cinematic Geopolitics (London and New York: Routledge, 2009).

(47) Rune S. Andersen and Frank Möller, “Engaging the Limits of Visibility: Photography, Security and Surveillance,” Security Dialogue 44, no. 3 (2013): 203–221.

(48) Lene Hansen, “Theorizing the Image for Security Studies: Visual Securitization and the Muhammad Cartoon Crisis,” European Journal of International Relations 17, no. 1 (2011): 51–74.

(49) Alex Danchev and Debbie Lisle, “Introduction: Art, Politics, Purpose,” Review of International Studies 35, no. 4 (2009): 777.

(50) Caroline Brothers, War and Photography: A Cultural History (London and New York: Routledge, 1997); David D. Perlmutter, Visions of War: Picturing Warfare from the Stone Age to the Cyber Age (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999); Allen Feldman, “Violence and Vision: The Prosthetics and Aesthetics of Terror,” in Violence and Subjectivity, ed. Veena Das, Artur Kleinman, Mamphela Ramphele, and Pamela Reynolds (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2000), 46–78; Michael C. Williams, “Words, Images, Enemies: Securitization and International Politics,” International Studies Quarterly 47, no. 4 (2003): 511–531; David Campbell, “Cultural Governance and Pictorial Resistance: Reflections on the Imaging of War,” Review of International Studies 29 (2003): 57–73; Daniel J. Sherman and Terry Nardin, eds., Terror, Culture, Politics: Rethinking 9/11 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006); David Campbell and Michael J. Shapiro, eds. “Securitization, Militarization, and Visual Culture in the Worlds of Post-9/11,” special issue, Security Dialogue 38, no. 2 (2007); Matti Hyvärinen and Lisa Muszynski, eds. Terror and the Arts: Artistic, Literary, and Political Interpretations of Violence from Dostoyevsky to Abu Ghraib (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Danchev, On Art and War and Terror; Stephen F. Eisenman, The Abu Ghraib Effect (London: Reaktion Book, 2007); Shapiro, Cinematic Geopolitics; Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (London and New York: Verso, 2010); W. J. T. Mitchell, Cloning Terror: The War of Images, 9/11 to the Present (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Ben O’Loughlin, “Images as Weapons of War: Representation, Mediation and Interpretation,” Review of International Studies 37, no. 1 (2011): 71–91; Dora Apel, War Culture and the Contest of Images (New Brunswick, NJ, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2012); Nathan Roger, Image Warfare in the War on Terror (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013); Liam Kennedy and Caitlin Patrick, eds., The Violence of the Image: Photography and International Conflict (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2014).

(51) Oliver P. Richmond, Peace in International Relations (London and New York: Routledge, 2008).

(52) The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis University runs a Program in Peace Building and the Arts, focusing on the contributions of arts and culture to peace.

(54) Bleiker, “Pluralist Methods for Visual Global Politics,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 43, no. 3 (2015): 872.

(56) Ekkehard Krippendorff, Staat und Krieg: Die historische Logik politischer Unvernunft (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1985), 296–299 and 406–411.

(57) Molly Rogers, Delia’s Tears: Race, Science, and Photography in Nineteenth-Century America (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2010).

(58) Cynthia Weber, “I Am an American”: Filming the Fear of Difference (Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2011).

(59) Lilie Chouliaraki, The Spectatorship of Suffering (London, Thousand Oaks, CA, New Delhi: Sage, 2006); Ariella Azoulay, The Civil Contract of Photography (New York: Zone Books, 2008); Hansen, “Theorizing the Image for Security Studies,” 51–74; Heck and Schlag, “Securitizing Images,” 891–913; Lene Hansen, “How Images Make World Politics: International Icons and the Case of Abu Ghraib,” Review of International Studies 41, no. 2 (2015): 263–288.

(64) Susie Linfield, “Shooting Conflict,” Aperture, no. 213 (Winter 2013): 14.

(66) Ritchin, In Our Own Image (New York: Aperture, 1999), 41.

(67) Mitchell, Picture Theory, 36 (emphasis added).

(71) Roberts, Photography and Its Violations, 4. See also Jill Bennett, Empathic Visions: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005).

(72) Nancy S. Love and Mark Mattern, “Introduction: Art, Culture, Democracy,” in Doing Democracy: Activist Art and Cultural Politics, ed. Nancy S. Love and Mark Mattern (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013), 7–8.

(74) Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (London: Penguin, 1991), 134.

(75) Peter Gilgen, “History after Film,” in Mapping Benjamin: The Work of Art in the Digital Age, ed. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and Michael Marrinan (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), 56.

(76) Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 9.

(77) Jae Emerling, Photography: History and Theory (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), 119.

(81) Colin Wright, “Media Representations of 9/11: Constructing the Different Difference,” in Post-Conflict Cultures: Rituals of Representation, ed. Cristina Demaria and Colin Wright (London: Zoilus Press, 2006), 15.

(82) Terry Nardin and Daniel J. Sherman, Introduction to Terror, Culture, Politics: Rethinking 9/11, ed. Daniel J. Sherman and Terry Nardin (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006), 3.

(83) Brian Wallis, “Recovering the Mexican Suitcase,” in The Mexican Suitcase: The Rediscovered Spanish Civil War Negatives of Capa, Chim, and Taro, ed. Cynthia Young, vol. 1, The History (New York: International Center of Photography/Göttingen: Steidl, 2010), 13–17.

(84) Robert Lyons and Scott Straus, Intimate Enemy: Images and Voices of the Rwandan Genocide (New York: Zone Books, 2006), 16.

(85) Susie Linfield, The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 217.

(90) Siegfried Kracauer, “Photography,” Critical Inquiry 19 (Spring 1993): 432 (originally published in 1927).

(92) Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), 105.

(94) João Louro, as quoted in Maria João Guardão, “Tratado da invisibilidade,” Up Magazine, no. 91 (May 2015): 38.

(95) David Levi Strauss, Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics, introduction by John Berger (New York: Aperture, 2003), 9.

(96) David Campbell, “Cultural Governance and Pictorial Resistance: Reflections on the Imaging of War,” Review of International Studies 29, special issue (2003): 67.

(97) Barbie Zelizer, Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera’s Eye (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 218.

(99) Susan D. Moeller, Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, and Death (New York and London: Routledge, 1999).

(100) David Campbell, “The Myth of Compassion Fatigue,” in The Violence of the Image: Photography and International Conflict, ed. Liam Kennedy and Caitlin Patrick (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2014), 97–124.

(104) Fred Ritchin, After Photography (New York: W.W. Norton 2009), 139.

(105) James Johnson, “‘The Arithmetic of Compassion’: Rethinking the Politics of Photography,” British Journal of Political Science 41, no. 3 (2011): 622–643.

(106) Jenny Edkins, “Exposed Singularity,” Journal for Cultural Research 9, no. 4 (2005): 372.

(107) David Simpson, 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 3.

(108) Sharon Sliwinski, “A Painful Labour: Responsibility and Photography,” Visual Studies 19, no. 2 (2004): 154.

(109) Frank Möller, “The Looking/Not Looking dilemma,” Review of International Studies 35, no. 4 (2009): 788.

(113) Möller, “Looking/Not Looking Dilemma,” Review of International Studies 35, no. 4 (2009): 786.

(114) Johan Galtung, Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization (London, Thousand Oaks, CA, and New Delhi: Sage, 1996), 196–210.

(115) Susan Sontag, On Photography (London: Penguin, 1979), 14.

(116) Quoted in Caryl Phillips, “Out of Africa,” The Guardian, February 22, 2003, (accessed June 10, 2015).

(118) Rogers, Delia’s Tears, 293 (brackets in original).

(119) Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris, Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story (London: Picador, 2009), 195–196.

(120) Don McCullin, in Kontaktabzüge: Die Große Tradition der Fotoreportage—Don McCullin, dir. Sylvain Roumette, video, ARTE Développement (2008), 3:21–3:23.

(121) E. Ann Kaplan, Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature (New Brunswick, NJ, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 21.

(123) Jay Prosser, Light in the Dark Room: Photography and Loss (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), p. 90.

(126) Debbie Lisle, “The Surprising Detritus of Leisure: Encountering the Late Photography of War,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 2011, Vol. 29 (2011):, p. 874.

(127) Asbjørn Grønstad and Henrik Gustafsson, eds. Ethics and Images of Pain (London and New York: Routledge, 2012).

(128) Mieke Bal, “The Pain of Images,” in Beautiful Suffering: Photography and the Traffic in Pain, ed. Mark Reinhardt, Holly Edwards and Erina Duganne, (Williamsburg/Chicago: Williams College Museum of Art/University of Chicago Press, 2007), 93.

(129) Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institutions, and Practices, foreword by Linda Nochlin (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 176.

(130) Martha Rosler, “The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems: In, Around, and Afterthoughts (on Documentary Photography),” in 3 Works (Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 2006), 77.

(132) See Frank Möller, “The Violence of Witnessing,” in Art as Political Witness, ed. Kia Lindroos and Frank Möller (Leverkusen, Germany: Barbara Budrich Publishers, forthcoming).

(136) David Levi Strauss, Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics. Introduction by John Berger (New York: Aperture, 2003), 9.

(139) Mark Reinhardt, “Picturing Violence: Aesthetics and the Anxiety of Critique,” in Beautiful Suffering: Photography and the Traffic in Pain, ed. Mark Reinhardt, Holly Edwards and Erina Duganne (Williamsburg/Chicago: Williams College Museum of Art/The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 21.

(141) Roberts, Photography and Its Violations. The following page references in the text are to this book.

(142) Roberts explains the “process of secondary ostension” as follows: “by pointing at one thing, we may in fact be making clear that we are pointing at something else, relating one thing metonymically, synecdochically, to another thing” (154–155).

(143) Mirzoeff, Watching Babylon, 117–171; Hanna Rose Shell, Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance (New York: Zone Books, 2012); David Campany, “What on Earth? Photography’s Alien Landscapes,” Aperture, no. 211 (Summer 2013): 46–51.

(144) Nicholas Mirzoeff, The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011).

(145) Mitchell, Cloning Terror, 84.

(146) Maria João Guardão, “Tratado da invisibilidade,” Up Magazine, no. 91 (May 2015): 38.

(148) Joseph McGonagle, “Dispelling the Myth of Invisibility: Photography and the Algerian Civil War,” in The Violence of the Image: Photography and International Conflict, ed. Liam Kennedy and Caitlin Patrick (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2014), 87.

(151) Grégoire Chamayou, Drone Theory (London: Penguin, 2015), 78.

(154) See (accessed May 15, 2015).

(158) Christine Ross, “Introduction: The Precarious Visualities of Contemporary Art and Visual Culture,” in Precarious Visualities: New Perspectives on Identification in Contemporary Art and Visual Culture, ed. Olivier Asselin, Johanne Lamoureux, and Christine Ross (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), 7.

(160) Bennett, Empathic Visions; Kaplan, Trauma Culture; Lizelle Bisschoff and Stefanie van de Peer, eds., Art and Trauma in Africa: Representations of Reconciliation in Film, Art, Music and Literature (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2013).

(163) Roberts, Photography and Its Violations, 112. See also Simon Baker and Shoair Mavlian, eds. Conflict ▪ Time ▪ Photography (London: Tate Publishing, 2014).

(164) Walter Benjamin, “Kleine Geschichte der Photographie,” in Walter Benjamin, Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit: Drei Studien zur Kunstsoziologie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1963), 64.

(165) Campany, “What on Earth?,” 51.

(166) Campany, “What on Earth?,” 51.

(168) Ernst van Alphen, Art in Mind: How Contemporary Images Shape Thought (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

(170) Lisle, “Surprising Detritus of Leisure,” 874. In addition to the work referenced by Lisle, see, for example, Joel Meyerowitz, Aftermath (London: Phaidon, 2006); Guy Tillim, Avenue Patrice Lumumba (Munich: Prestel/Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, 2008); or Pieter Hugo and Linda Melvern, Rwanda 2004: Vestiges of a Genocide (London: Oodee, 2013).

(171) Jonathan Torgovnik, Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape, introduction by Marie Consolée Mukagendo (New York: Aperture, 2009).

(176) Fred Ritchin, Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary, and the Citizen (New York: Aperture, 2013), 122–141.

(177) Anne Wilkes Tucker and Will Michels, with Natalie Zelt, War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts/New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2012).

(178) Liam Kennedy, “‘Follow the Americans’: Philip Jones Griffith’s Vietnam Trilogy,” in The Violence of the Image: Photography and International Conflict, ed. Liam Kennedy and Caitlin Patrick (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2014 ), 53 (emphasis added).

(180) Dietrich Fischer, “Peace as a Self-regulating Process,” in Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies, ed. Charles Weber and Johan Galtung (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 188.

(181) Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2003), 274.

(182) Cristina Demaria and Colin Wright, “What Is a Post-Conflict Culture?,” in Post-Conflict Cultures: Rituals of Representation, ed. Cristina Demaria and Colin Wright (London: Zoilus Press, 2006), 9.

(186) See Peace & Change 40, no. 1 (2015): 1–121.

(187) JR, Women Are Heroes: A Global Project by JR, text by Marco Berrebi (New York: Abrams, 2012).

(188) Richard Whelan, This Is War! Robert Capa at Work (New York: International Center of Photography/Göttingen: Steidl, 2007).

(191) Frank Möller, Visual Peace: Images, Spectatorship and the Politics of Violence (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 123.

(194) Bill McSweeney, Security, Identity and Interests: A Sociology of International Relations (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 165.

(195) Nancy S. Love and Mark Mattern, eds., Doing Democracy: Activist Art and Cultural Politics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013).

(196) Frank Möller, “Photography after Empire: Citizen-Photographers or Snappers on Autopilot?” New Political Science 32, no. 4 (2010): 513.

(198) Dominick LaCapra, History in Transit: Experience, Identity, Critical Theory (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 2004), 43.

(199) Eviatar Zerubavel, Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

(200) Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, 89 (emphasis added).

(202) Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, trans. Raymond Rosenthal from the Italian (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 24.

(205) Okwui Enwezor, Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography (New York: International Center of Photography/Göttingen: Steidl, 2006); Erin Haney, Photography and Africa (London: Reaktion Books, 2010), 152–176; Awam Ampka, ed., Africa: See You, See Me; African Influences on Contemporary Photography (Lisbon: Sextante Editora, 2012); António Pinto Ribeiro, ed., Present Tense (Lisbon: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 2013); Christopher Morton and Darren Newbury, eds., The African Photographic Archive: Research and Curatorial Strategies (London: Bloomsbury, 2016).

(206) Awam Ampka, “Africa: Colonial Photography and Outlaws of History,” in Africa: See You, See Me, ed. Awam Ampka (Lisbon: Sextante Editora, 2012), 182.

(208) See, for example, Pieter Hugo, Permanent Error (Munich, London, New York: Prestel, 2011); Sebastião Salgado, Africa (Cologne: Taschen, 2010); Hugo and Melvern, Rwanda 2004.

(212) Jorge Amado, The War of the Saints, trans. Gregory Rabassa (New York: Dial Press, 2005), 37.

(214) Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture (Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000), 123.

(215) Steven Bainbridge, “The Case for Digital,” The Photobook Review, no. 006 (Spring 2014): 27.

(218) Martin Lister, Introduction to The Photographic Image in Digital Culture, 2nd ed., ed. Martin Lister (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 7.