The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence


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Rhetoric & Public Affairs

The important issue in this section is the complex ethics of looking at the images made by perpetrators of violence themselves. Another issue signaled here, relevant to all visual scholars, is how images of atrocity mirror the absence of things they try to render imaginable: human rights, moral norms, and ethics. When we look at images of atrocity, it is crucial to realize that each picture is always the product of a dialogue with the un-picturable, loss, and disavowal.

It is this section that draws attention to the erasure of women in the book as a whole. In a field where women have been prominent and active scholars, it is hard not to be taken aback by the extent to which The Cruel Radiance effaces them from photographic history and practice.

Those sacral metaphors certainly evoke emotions, yet it would be advisable to look critically at why such sublimation takes place see Luc Boltanski, Distant Suffering: Politics, Morality and the Media , trans. Graham D. Burchell, New York: Cambridge University Press, and also how it erases systems of power involved, enabling the elision of questions of political economy and multicultural affiliations.


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Can theory, practice, and criticism be reconciled within photography studies? Linfield does not seem to believe so. The lapses and tensions in the book reveal the lapses and tensions in photography studies as a whole, the dynamic but complex dialogue between the makers, the spectators, and the writers.

For all its faults, The Cruel Radiance reveals an important fact: photography criticism and theory have moved in different directions, even though the boundaries between them are fluid and tentative.

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While she does not reach across that breach, Linfield makes us realize how big it is. Please send comments about this review to editor. A Publication of the College Art Association. Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies. Review Categories. About caa. Book Reviews. Exhibition Reviews. Recent Books in the Arts. These are excellent, although they perhaps could have been amplified by a concluding chapter drawing together the themes of the book; by finishing instead on a case study one is left waiting for a more focused conclusion.

Her close reading of the hauntingly disturbing image of Memuna, a young girl from Sierra Leone who was mutilated by rebel forces, is especially powerful. She weaves into it an argument that the viewer must go beyond the frame of a shocking image to work hard at relating the content of the photograph to the broader context in which the suffering victim it represents is enmeshed. She maintains that: "To look at her photograph, at least with any insight or clarity, requires looking at what it does not show: at the choices and histories that preceded, yet created, the particular image of her that has caught our attention.

To look at Memuna means to look at how she came to be.

The cruel radiance : photography and political violence

By using the photograph to force the viewer into questioning what the image does not show, it can act as a motivation to take action. In doing so, she critiques the idea of "compassion fatigue" both by questioning when, if ever, society was sufficiently compassionate in the first place to be able to be fatigued by viewing violence, and by encouraging a process of engagement with the world outside the frame. As Linfield demonstrates when discussing the images of victims of the colonial conflicts in West Africa: "We look at Congo pictures with the full knowledge of the atrocities that would follow, which makes them more rather than less terrible to behold.

Her reassessment of the celebrated war photographer Robert Capa is as welcome as it is long overdue. She locates him firmly as a product of the left-wing political milieu he inhabited as a Hungarian Jewish emigre living first in Berlin and then Paris in the s. His early work documenting the demonstrations and activism of the Popular Front in France served as the perfect training ground for his abilities, and when he went to Spain in to cover the early days of the Spanish Civil War, he was going there as much to participate in the anti-fascist cause as to document it.

Linfield's focus on the emotional and political core of his work is excellent, and acts as a foil to the more popular view of Capa as a photographic "gun for hire", gambling and womanising his way across the battlefields of Europe in search of the next adrenalin rush.

Photography and Political Violence

Her final chapter on Gilles Peress firmly positions him as one of the most important photographers working today, and argues for his status as "the thinking person's photographer" by celebrating the intelligent uncertainty that is at the heart of his work. The complexity of his extended bodies of work that interrogate both the medium of photography and the journalistic story that he is involved in serve as a paradigm of how to approach the difficult task of documenting the horrors of the world around us.

Her closing question, as posed by Peress, leaves us with the central paradox of the photography of human rights: "How do you make the unseen seen? After taking a bachelor's degree in American history at Oberlin College , Ohio, she moved to Boston where she ran the feminist newspaper Wages for Housework. She studied journalism and documentary film-making at New York University , where she has been a professor in the journalism department since and director of the cultural reporting and criticism programme.

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Book Review: The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence by Susie Linfield

Promotion criteria requiring top researchers to also be good teachers and managers undermine the nature of universities, says Andrew Oswald. Skip to main content. Paul Lowe applauds a trenchant defence of photojournalism and the challenges it raises. December 2, Share on twitter Share on facebook Share on linkedin Share on whatsapp Share on mail.

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The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence
The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence
The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence
The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence
The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence

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