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May 08, 2011

The Gestural Economy of Hands and Faces

Images of hands (and feet) have become stock images in the photojournalist’s tool kit.  If you look at the slide shows that appear daily and weekly on the web you will find them to be ubiquitous.  Indeed, they have become something of a gestural remediation in the movement from oral to visual representation.  This should not surprise us since hand movements have long been an important part of the orator’s stock in trade.  And what is especially important is that such images access and animate an important gestural economy of emotions and identifications that cross all manner of affective relations and demographic boundaries even as they accent race, gender, age, and other categories as well.  What is most significant here is that they challenge the more common convention of identifying and representing actors is featuring their faces (the primary marker of liberal individualism).  We typically do not identify individuals by their hands or feet alone, and the reason is palpable: hands and feet underscore human similarity even as they mark difference.  And as a result, they become important sites for encouraging empathy or compassion—although these are clearly not the only emotions that such images underscore.

The photograph above is interesting in this regard as it places two conventions in tension with one another, as both face and hands are present, though it is the hands that are most prominent, and not simply because they are larger and more to scale, or because they are more prominent in the photograph, but also because they are a first order representation, while the face on the bumper sticker is a second order representation (a photograph of a photograph).  The hands, in this sense, are “more” real, and while they could belong to the child pictured on the bumper sticker, we can’t know that for sure.  And so the photograph encourages us to consider the relationship between the two—both the hands and face and the orders of representation in which they operate.  In short, the hands, which are front and center and mark a universal humanity, hold and display a sentiment that no doubt effects the child pictured, but potentially extends beyond him or her as well—one can imagine other children on display.  The photograph is part of a slide show that marks a peace rally on Chicago’s South Side, and so it marks a particular event, but it also stands as an invitation to consider the sense in which the random and criminal violence that cuts young lives (and others) too short is larger than any one city.

But of course, there are limits here as well.  And the juxtaposition of face and hands indicates that as well.  To get the point, substitute the face of a white child on the bumper sticker.  There is no doubt that white children are the victims of random and criminal violence in our urban centers, but on the whole that is not the core of the problem (though a problem it is, to be sure).  And so even as the focus on the hands frames exigency as more or less universal—and thus invites a more generalized compassion, if not responsibility for the situation—the face in the background is a reminder that like most problems this one is localized by particular sites and circumstances.

Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America

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Sight Gag: Join, or Die

Credit: Joe Heller

Sight Gag 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.

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Call For Papers: The Asch Drone Project

The Solomon Asch Center is starting a web project on drones–how they function in the present and what they may become in the future. This project aims to explore the politics of government use of drones for surveillance and interdiction, private and corporate use of drones; privacy and due process issues raised by use of drones, fifth generation warfare using drones, and any issue relating to how the technology used in drones will play out in the future.  The Asch Drone Project seeks contributions from scientists, engineers, social scientists, lawyers, artists, journalists and citizens to provide a multi-faceted online presentation incorporating text essays and visuals relating to drones.  An online gallery will display Afghan folk art, fine art, cartoon, and photographic representations of drones.  The Project is open to all types of interpretations and opinions, and to any length text from a paragraph to a multipage essay.  If you have visuals or links to existing blogs to suggest, or if you are able to write something for the project, please get in touch with Asch Associate Director for Conflict and Visual Culture Initiatives Jonathan Hyman at jhyman@brynmawr.edu and identify your inquiry or submission in the subject  field as such: attention Asch Drone Project.

The Asch Drone Project expects to open on the Asch web site (www.aschcenter.org) no later than 1 January 2013.  If enough good essays are contributed, authors may be invited to participate in a Special Issue of the journal Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict (www.informaworld.com/dac), edited by Asch Co-Director Clark McCauley.

For a decade the Solomon Asch Center for the Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict, now located at Bryn Mawr College, has brought together social scientists from many disciplines-history, political science, psychology, linguistics, economics, law, sociology and anthropology — to analyze the underlying causes of conflict, how conflict can be managed constructively to avoid widespread violence, and how to ameliorate the refugee problems that flow from intergroup violence. 

Credit: File Photo

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Under The Weather (#4)

We had hoped to be back this week, but too many travels and the seasonal flu have us under the weather and so we will take another week off.  We will be back on December 3.  But in the meantime we hope to offer pictures of the planet, which is also under the weather.  We trust that no captions will be needed, but of course we invite and encourage your comments.

Photo Credit: Bitterroot National Forest, Montana, John McColgan/USDA

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Under the Weather (#3)

We had hoped to be back this week, but too many travels and the seasonal flu have us under the weather and so we will take another week off.  We will be back on December 3.  But in the meantime we hope to offer pictures of the planet, which is also under the weather.  We trust that no captions will be needed, but of course we invite and encourage your comments.

Photo Credit: Argentina’s Upsala Glacier, Top Photo – Unknown, Bottom Photo – Gary Braasch

Photo Credit: David Brashears, West Rongbuk Glacier and Mt. Everest, 1909 v. 2009.  See also here.

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Under The Weather (#2)

We had hoped to be back this week, but too many travels and the seasonal flu have us under the weather and so we will take another week off.  We will be back on December 3.  But in the meantime we hope to offer pictures of the planet, which is also under the weather.  We trust that no captions will be needed, but of course we invite and encourage your comments.

Credit: Ethiopia, Oxfam International

 2 Comments

Under the Weather (#1)

We had hoped to be back this week, but too many travels and the seasonal flu have us under the weather and so we will take another week off.  We will be back on December 3.  But in the meantime we hope to offer pictures of the planet, which is also under the weather.  We trust that no captions will be needed, but of course we invite and encourage your comments.

Photo Credit: Greenland Glaciers, Slim Allagui/AFP/Getty Images

 

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Movin’ Right Along

 

Your NCN guys are “moving right along” as we head to our national professional organization meetings and then take off some time to be with family for Thanksgiving.  But we will be back to close out the year on November 26.  And for a special treat click here or on the photo above.

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Honoring Our Vets

Credit: Plante, Tulsa World

While the unemployment rate for all people in the United States has edged itself below 8%, the rate for Veterans of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars hovers between 10-11%.  For veterans of Gulf War II it is closer to 29%.  And of course this number does not take account of the underemployed or those who have simply stopped looking for work and are homeless (conservatively estimated to be around 67,000 veterans).  Surely we can do better than this.

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Sight Gag: Damn the Facts, Full Speed Ahead

Credit:  Mike Luckovich

 Sight Gag 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.

 0 Comments