Photography

“Photography” is a large and complex phenomenon, with diverse histories, driven by everything from aesthetics to technology. My interest is in those photographic practices that contribute to visual storytelling – including documentary or editorial photography, news photography, photojournalism, visual journalism, remote-sensing and satellite imagery – and portray our world to us. Photography is a technology through which the world is visually performed, and with the blurring of the boundary between still and moving images we now have an expanded understanding of “the photographic.”

The pictures that the technology of photography produces are neither isolated nor discrete objects. They have to be understood as being part of networks of materials, technologies, institutions, markets, social spaces, emotions, cultural histories and political contexts. The meaning of photographs and other visual stories derives from the intersection of these multiple features rather than just the form and content of particular pictures.

This means we have to be concerned with how images work as they circulate. While it is not possible to discount the individual biographies, habits and skills of selected image makers, my major concern is with the practices through which a place and its people are enacted, and how our response as distant observers is made possible.

Following along these lines, I have researched particular photographs of atrocity, famine and HIV/AIDS in order to understand how they have functioned. Details of these projects are available on this site.

In addition, I have published a series of essays dealing with related themes. In Representing Contemporary War I reviewed Susan Sontag’s book Regarding the Pain of Others in the context of photography covering the invasion of Iraq, while Cultural Governance and Pictorial Resistance considered how war photography by Don McCullin and others might resist the performative constitution of state identity. In Salgado and the Sahel I examined Sebastiao Salgado’s 1984-85 reportage of famine in the Sahel, while in Horrifc Blindness I explored the issues of when and how we saw images of death in the media.

In Geopolitics and Visuality I began to ask a series of conceptual questions about how photographs make geopolitics visible to us, using coverage of the crisis in Darfur as an example, while in Tele-Vision I considered the production of satellite images in recent conflicts. In 2009 I wrote “Constructed Visibility“, a paper analysing the photojournalistic coverage of Israel’s 2008-09 invasion of Gaza. I have also written an essay for Simon Norfolk’s Burke and Norfolk book (“How has photojournalism framed the war in Afghanistan?“), a chapter on “The Iconography of Famine,”and a paper on the myth of compassion fatigue.

During my time at Colgate University in Spring 2012 I was interviewed by Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst about my research in photography: