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Memory, photography, and the politics of abuse : the ambiguous nature of photography

Barrett, Estelle 2009, Memory, photography, and the politics of abuse : the ambiguous nature of photography, Australasian journal of artshealth, vol. 1, pp. 16-30.

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Title Memory, photography, and the politics of abuse : the ambiguous nature of photography
Author(s) Barrett, EstelleORCID iD for Barrett, Estelle orcid.org/0000-0001-9112-249X
Journal name Australasian journal of artshealth
Volume number 1
Start page 16
End page 30
Total pages 15
Publisher ArtsHealth Centre for Research and Practice, Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
Place of publication Newcastle, N.S.W.
Publication date 2009
Keyword(s) affect
memory
desire
trauma
photography
Summary Critical commentary on Australian artist Bill Henson’s work including the series Untitled 1994-1995 which represented Australia at the Venice Biennale is frequently framed within the discourse of the ‘white cube’. Its contextualisation in predominantly art historical and formalist perspectives tends to operate as a mechanism that denies affective and embodied dimensions of meaning making. Much the same could be said of the work of Marian Drew who uses road kill in her photographic still life works. However, the ‘distancing’ in these works is also achieved through historical allusion, which at the same time reactivates the fl ow of emotional empathy and desire. In this paper, I ask the question: “What distinguishes the work of these two artists with media images of torture?”

My attempt to address this question will involve a narrative re-reading of selected works of Henson and Drew incorporating notions of affect, identification, memory and desire as processes which operate non-discursively, but which are inseparable from memory and lived experiences. This will permit a double exposure of the work of these artists. Within a psychoanalytical context, my re-reading will be used to extend an understanding of the now familiar press and Internet images of the torture of Iraqi prisoners.

As a metaphor for desire and ideology, photography operates within manifest and latent registers. I will argue that certain forms of photographic practice may be understood in terms of a politics of abuse — instantiating an uneven differentiation of power between actants, the winning (forcefully or otherwise) of consent or complicity, the silencing of refusal of resistance and/or the incriminating of the ‘victim’ — whilst at the same time upholding the claim of verisimilitude and aesthetic or ethical intent. Critical engagement with such practices is crucial to an understanding of the relationship between institutional discourses, trauma and abuse in contemporary society.
Notes Reproduced with the specific permission of the copyright owner.
Language eng
Field of Research 199999 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing not elsewhere classified
Socio Economic Objective 970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing
HERDC Research category C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
ERA Research output type C Journal article
Persistent URL http://hdl.handle.net/10536/DRO/DU:30020274

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Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that permission has been obtained for items included in DRO. If you believe that your rights have been infringed by this repository, please contact drosupport@deakin.edu.au.