Susie Linfield, The Cruel Radiance, Ch. 2 “Photojournalism and Human Rights”

Susie Linfield, The Cruel Radiance Ch. 2

“Documents of suffering are documents of protest”. p. 33

Fits w/Agamben in that she says: the photograph shows a form of the exception–they document or display what a human without rights is or looks like. p. 37

What of images of suffering, tortured bodies where the torture is not meant as a documentation (and cannot be read of a documentation) of a human deprived of rights but instead re: Agamben is of a sacred life? Mayan codices showing sacrificed prisoners, for example.

Photography of torture, violence, suffering is defended against the charge of pornography: it shows “something that ought not to exist”. Are there photographs of tortured or suffering bodies which are about normalcy? What about Stelarc? Surgery? Boxers after the fight? Saints?

“Too-beautiful” is defended just on the notion that “portraying suffereing” is imperfect and impure. I think she’s not really coming to grips with the beautiful, interesting, enthralling, etc. of violence–but then the critics who charge “pornography” are equally not coming to grips with that. Re: Laura Kipnis, Bound and Gagged: this is collapsing many genres, texts, and desires into the need to read out one category or sensation and either permit or forbid it ethically.

I agree w/Linfield that “desensitization” is a nonsense argument that has all sorts of flaws in the way that it connects media observers/consumers with crimes of commission–it is a subset of all the bad arguments about media and violence. It also has within it the equally flawed assertion that somehow “good representation” creates sensitivity–this is the whole awful infrastructure of art-as-intentional-politics rising up into this space.

What does it mean, in terms of her interpretation, that all these torturers and murderers filmed themselves? What does it take for it to be a sabotage, or for these photographs to be on the side of the victims, to be accusations? Isn’t most of our reaction, re: Agamben, that they had no right? E.g., that these are only murderers? (or in the context of Abu Ghraib, “bad apples”). When a photograph is taken of an exception that is broadly granted to the sovereign–the battlefield dead, Dillinger dead, does it accuse anyone? What about Mussolini hung? Qaddafi dead?

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