Aug 04, 2013
Apr 17, 2008
May 31, 2010
Oct 17, 2012
Nov 10, 2008
Nov 26, 2012

Conference/Workshop on Photography, Nature, Human Rights

Capture 2012: Photography, Nature, Human Rights

Interdisciplinary Conference and Workshop at Yale

October 12-13


Photographic documentation has become a key tool in the fight for human rights and against political violence, mediating responses to global zones of distress.  Photography is often thought of as a way of disseminating evidence of human rights violations in order to call for immediate action.  Capture 2012 proposes to divert attention to another aspect of these broadly circulated images:  Human rights violations are never captured independently of their harmed environments.  At the same time, violations reported around the world are directly related to the devastation of natural resources like air, light and water, whether interpreted as catastrophic events or gradual declines.  Communities on the move after the Fukushima Daiichi explosion, or North African migrants landing in the Italian island of Lampedusa, were only tenuously represented in the media in connection to the ecological crises in the background of their flight.  However, those visual representations suggest new understandings of the conditions of visibility, the environment and the relationships among them.

From another perspective, photography can be perceived as subjected to parallel environmental transformations, as in the case of smog darkening the photographic images coming from places like Linfen, China.  We hope that by linking photography to the environment and to environmental critiques, we could start a discussion that enriches the discourse on human rights as a way of sharing the world and sustaining it.  We wish to bring together challenges to the claims of human rights and critical analyses of photography.  Therefore, we intend to include images and ideas in our conversation as a way of connecting theory and practice, scholarship and art, activism and writing.

Capture 2012 invites contributions and interventions from various fields and practices such as: international law, journalism, history of art, photography, political science, geography, literature, sociology and cultural studies.

Topics of visual and/or textual presentations may include, but are not limited to:

–          Human rights and contemporary visual culture

–          Cameras and activism: theoretical and practical perspectives

–          Human rights and animal rights in dialogue

–          Nature photography and the meaning of disaster

–          The politics of earthquakes, floods, and droughts

–          Environmental sensibilities in visual communication

–          Visual representation of uclear power in contemporary media

We seek short papers (10-12 pages) or visual presentations that will advance the conversation around the issues that Capture2012 embraces.  If you wish to present your work at the conference, please send a 300 word abstract (Word format only) and a short bio no later than September 15, 2012 to

Keynote speakers: Anne McClintock, the Simone de Beauvoir Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at UW-Madison, and Ariella Azoulay, Professor of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University and Director of Photo-Lexic International Research Group, Minerva Center, Tel Aviv University.

Capture 2012 is supported by the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, the Yale Law School, and the Yale Photographic Memory Workshop.



The White Party National Convention

Sometimes the facts are right there on the face of things.

I don’t mean to make light of what is almost a touching moment as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is being made camera ready by his wife, Maureen.  (Nice Scottish name, McDonnell, and Maureen is a fine Welsh name as well.)  They will have the skills, and the stress and strain, of any political couple, and this is not about them.  But does every woman in the picture have to be blonde?

Photographs are not logical arguments, and any one image is an extremely small, partial view of reality, so there is no need to remonstrate that some Republicans are people of color.  We know that, and if there is one black swan then not all swans are white, and if the convention speakers include a Hispanic or two then there is more to the Grand Old Party than a country club of blondes.  But when people gather for a specific purpose, the camera can do a good job of identifying how basic tendencies are there to be seen on the surface of things.  And because photographs do capture whatever is in front of the camera, they can be very good at revealing what is taken for granted or generally assumed or tacitly required for membership in a social group.

And at least since Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy, there do seem to be some basic demographic tendencies in the GOP.  Tendencies regarding, say, race and gender, as you can see in this photo of convention pages.

Nor are those biases likely to go away, as the pages will become leaders for subsequent generations of the party.  If there is a party.  (I could joke about an all-male party having trouble reproducing, but not all women are alienated yet by its program of gender hierarchy, and the Democrats still have a way to go on that point as well.)  Obviously, blonde is in fashion here as well, and in any case a narrow range of cultural conformity is already evident.  And if a great many Americans wouldn’t feel comfortable in this crowd, I don’t think their absence would be noticed.  With the Romney/Ryan (English/Irish) ticket, the Republicans have doubled down on whiteness.

That’s not how I would build an institution for the 21st century.  But I have this crazy idea that America’s beauty emerges from its diversity, and particularly so when everyone can work together to do their part for the common good.  When a major political party willfully ignores that idea, their campaign rhetoric can become even more obnoxious than usual.

The letters are colored white, as if to emphasize just who “we” is.  But that we didn’t build America or the Tampa Times Forum or the stage sets for the convention; nor do they clean the building at night.  Photographers have been challenging this arrogant delusion at least since Gordon Park’s “American Gothic,” which this photograph echoes.

It may be that the Republican Party core commitment goes beyond transferring wealth upward, but it certainly does not yet deserve to become a majority party.  To do that, it would have to learn how to live with the rest of the country, not just employ them.  The prospects are not good, however, because that would require changes that are more than skin deep.

Photographs 1 & 2 are by Lucian Perkins/Washington Post; no. 3 is by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Cross-posted at BAGnewsNotes.

Update: I had forgotten about a previous post that provides more context, verbal and visual, for this one.  So, you might want to also read America in Black and White.


“I Guess, You Know, Stuff Happens”

You might have heard that there was a shooting in midtown Manhattan late last week.  It was in all of the papers and on the nightly news. Of course, then again, such events seem to be routine so maybe you missed it.  The perpetrator got off five rounds, all aimed directly at his target; the police got off seventeen shots.  Nine bystanders were hit with bullets.  Do the math.

The photographic record of the event ranges from the somewhat clichéd representation of yellow and blue police line tape and numbered crime scene markers shot from on high and at a distance to mark the official response to a somewhat voyeuristic image of a dead body resting in a sea of red blood to the absolutely bizarre snapshot of smiling tourists (from France, no less) posing in front of the scene where the carnage too place.  But it is the photograph above that tells the story that really needs to be told.

The woman, Madia Rosario, is one of the nine innocent bystanders hit by police bullets (that’s right, all nine were wounded by police bullets or ricochets).  She is thankfully in stable condition, as are apparently the other eight bystanders who were wounded. But what should concern us is that she and the others were shot at all.  There have already been calls to investigate whether the officers were following regulations when they discharged their weapons with bystanders at risk, but there is a different point to be made.  Or maybe two.

The first point is that this is just one more of a continuing—weekly if not daily—litany of such shootings, each of which is treated as if it were an entirely individual and isolated event.  A disturbed individual goes berserk and shoots up a school yard or a campus or a church or a movie theater. As one of the bystanders hit by a police bullet put it, “You know, stuff happens.”  But of course these  are not isolated events, for what connects them quite palpably is the simple fact that in each case the perpetrators all had too easy access to automatic or semi-automatic weapons.  There is no easy way to represent that connection photographically, and so we resort to commonplaces that individuate the problem by emphasizing the perverse psychology of the perpetrator and/or visualizing the official response.  But of course  in countries with more restrictive access to such weaponry events like this happen far less frequently. On this point the facts are incontrovertible.  Once again, do the math.

The second point is really a response to those who claim that everyone will be safer when we all have guns and can thus protect ourselves from such violence and bloodshed. But the photograph of Madia Rosario suggests perhaps otherwise.  The police are enjoined never to “put civilians in the line of fire.”  And more, they are trained in how to respond to crisis situations in which chaos reigns and human behavior is animated more by fear and the rush of adrenalin than reason or common sense. And on par they do a pretty decent job.   And yet for all their training and preparation, “stuff happens.” One can only imagine what stuff would happen if bystanders not trained in crisis management of any sort were carrying weapons and started shooting.  Just do the math.

Photo Credit: Uli Seit/New York Times


Sight Gag: And Again … and Again, and Again, and …

Credit: John Sherffius

Sight Gags” is our weekly nod to the ironic, satiric, parodic, and carnivalesque performances that are an important part of a vibrant democratic public culture.  These “gags” may not always be funny or represent a familiar point of view, but they attempt to cut through the lies, hypocrisy, shamelessness, stupidity, complacency, and other vices of democratic life.  Of course, we invite you to comment … and to send us images that you think might deserve a laugh or at least a wry and rueful look by those who are thinking about the character of public life today.


Photobook Awards: Call for Entries

Paris Photo and Aperture Foundation announce The Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards, celebrating the book’s contribution to the evolving narrative of photography.

Paris Photo and Aperture Foundation have joined forces to celebrate the book’s contribution to the evolving narrative of photography by launching the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards.  Two categories have been created:
– First Photobook Prize
– Photobook of the Year Prize.

Entries will be accepted from July 15 through September 10, 2012.

A shortlist of thirty titles will be profiled in The PhotoBook Review, will be exhibited at Paris Photo at the Grand Palais and at Aperture Gallery in New York, and will tour to other venues to be determined.

The award winners will be announced, at Paris Photo, November 14-18, 2012.

Additional information and entry forms are available here.


Todd Akin’s Right-Wing Science

If Congress had a committee on stupidity, we know who would be this week’s nominee to chair it.

The Huffington Post nailed it with this headline, and the triptych of images nicely captures how a blindly idiotic mentality can be hidden within the otherwise scripted demeanor of public performance.  (There are very few news photos of Akin that are not typical head shots of the Serious Public Official.)  Whether due to an offhand remark or the camera freezing a momentary blink of the eye, it’s only by accident, it seems, that we can see how a politician’s blue shirt, red tie, and white lies might be masking genuine stupidity.  After all, and I’m not making this up, Akin is a member of  the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Except that no one should be surprised, and not only because of the many well-documented examples of conservatism’s renewed commitment to the subordination of women.  The larger truth of the matter is this: Akin’s understanding of biology is no worse than the Republican party’s understanding of economics, climatology,  or the other sciences that are essential resources for sound policy in the 21st century.  Furthermore, he has provided a remarkably clear example of how the Right finesses the difference between rhetoric and reality: they just make stuff up.

Paul Krugman at the New York Times has been doing a masterful job of exposing the lies on economic policy being pushed by those who obviously must know better.  (You can see the most recent example here.)  But Krugman remains America’s Cassandra, while Akin has been subject to instantaneous and comprehensive scorn.  So, what’s the difference between being flat wrong about conception during rape and austerity measures during a recession?  The difference is this: false claims about rape and pregnancy directly contradict the experience, education, and common sense of almost the entire adult population, whereas economics and other sciences are encountered only very indirectly.  Few adults haven’t had to think about pregnancy as a real consequence of their own actions, while only a very few can connect the dots between Congressional Budget Office projections and their personal well-being.

For better or worse, the public discussion about the presidential campaign is likely to swing back to matters of economic policy. When that happens, the GOP will once again be able to safely deny the obvious, contradict scientific knowledge, ignore decades of hard-earned experience, and promise sheer fantasy.  And like stupidity–and rape–it will be difficult or morally impossible for photojournalism to show the public what really is at stake.  In those all too familiar circumstances, it might help to remind people that Todd Akin sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology–and the Committee on the Budget.

Cross-posted at BAGnewsNotes.


The Everydayness of War

I was having a conversation with a former student recently who was exasperated by the fact that the war in Afghanistan, approaching its twelfth anniversary, is the longest American history and yet it is rarely on the front pages of our newspapers and but for the occasional report of U.S. troops being killed—usually in small numbers—there is hardly any public debate or discussion about it.  And the question, of course, is why?  Why is it that a war that is costing us roughly $100 billion a year, and has taken nearly 2,000 American lives, while wounding another 15,000 seems to have no traction in the public consciousness?

I thought of this question when I came across this photograph circulating in a number of different slideshows this past week. The scene is from Syria, not Afghanistan, but what makes the image distinctive is the way in which it frames the act of war in an ordinary and everyday environment.  The soldier here is a sniper, but he doesn’t wear a uniform, dressed instead in a camouflage vest that covers what appears to be athletic running gear. He is not on a conventional battlefield, but rather in what appears to be someone’s living room.  And he has converted the equipment of everyday life into weapons of death as he perches himself on a couch and uses seat cushions and pillows to balance and aim his high powered rifle.  Curtains seem to provide him with a modicum of cover.  And more, he exudes an uncanny nonchalance, simultaneously focused on the task before him and yet altogether relaxed.  Notice for example how he holds his cigarette while adjusting his scope, implicitly dividing his attention between the two.  War for him has become routine, neither here nor there, a condition of everyday life that can’t be ignored and so becomes commonplace, part and parcel of living in a constant zone of conflict.

There is no parallel to this image or the experience it represents in the United States.  The wars we have been fighting in the Middle East over the past eleven years are wars fought at a distance.  We are typically reminded about them only when someone we know is directly affected by them—killed or maimed—but even then for most of us the effect tends to be temporary as we mourn our loss and then quickly return to going about our lives without any serious concerns for our immediate personal safety. In short, these wars have not become part of our everyday being.  And as such, they become too easy to forget, or worse, to ignore.

Photo Credit:  Goran Tomasevich/Reuters