SSCS Speakers Series: Susie Linfield on "What is the Image We're Looking For? Depictions of Race and Class in American Journalism and Photojournalism"

6:34 PM

Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies 
Fall 2013 Speakers Series

Susie Linfield
Director of Cultural Reporting and Criticism at the Aurthur L. Carter Journalism Institute 
New York University

"What is the Image We're Looking For? 
Depictions of Race and Class in American Journalism and Photojournalism"

November, 21st
5:00 pm
Engineering Building Room 307
(Free and Open to the Public)

 Susie Linfield is the author of The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism and has been translated into Italian and Turkish.  She is an associate professor in the journalism department at New York University, where she directs the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program. Linfield writes about politics and culture for an array of publications including the Nation, the Washington Post Book World, Aperture, Dissent, the New Republic, the Boston Review, and Guernica.

 An excerpt from "The Exchange: Susie Linfield on Photography and Violence"  
The New Yorker by Ian Crouch
November 29, 2010 
"This suspicion, even dislike, of photographs was absorbed by many subsequent critics, including Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes; and certainly by the postmodern critics who came after them. Of course, that kind of skepticism and suspicion can lead to certain insights; but at a certain point, it also occludes. The Frankfurt-Sontag-postmodern critique has made it too easy for us to not look at photographs. We’re so afraid to look—we fear that looking is voyeuristic, that it’s exploitative, that it’s a cheap form of knowledge. Not-looking has been endowed with a kind of moral sanctity and intellectual respectability, which I don’t think it deserves....
We often don’t have the “right” reactions to photographs of violence and oppression. This is certainly true for me. Sometimes you feel irritation—victimhood can be irritating. Sometimes you feel contempt or disgust. Photographs of suffering and violence do not always call up empathy and solidarity. Some such photographs—especially today, when we often lack the political context in which to understand these conflicts—actually call up anti-solidarity.....
So photographs are very good at conjuring up a conflicted stew of emotions. But rather than censor ourselves, we should allow ourselves to experience the photographs, and then analyze what those reactions mean. We need to look at these images with a more open mind and a more open heart, and allow ourselves a free reign. Then we need to do the analytic work, the historic work, the political work. Emotion is not an endpoint—I too am a Brechtian in some ways!—but it can be the starting-point to investigating what it means to be a victim, what it means to be defeated, what political oppression does. Photographs illuminate the terribly damaged family of man to which, I’m afraid, we all belong."
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