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IDSEMUG 1856 - The Politics, Ethics and Aesthetics of Photography

The seminar begins with a critical history of photography, and a consideration of the technology’s advent as something of a misfit art, before focusing on its increasing use as an instrument of visual evidence. We turn then to a series of case histories, from the early use of photography as a forensic tool at 19th century crime scenes, to the counter-forensic visual reconstructions of contemporary drone strikes in Pakistan, or recent police violence against unarmed civilians of color in the US. In each instance we ask how photography shapes what becomes visible or legible as violence, and what kinds of suffering—and what modes of resistance—move different spectators affectively, ethically, and politically. The seminar will rely on key theoretical works on photography as well as more recent critical interventions that help us reckon the use of surveillance and its neoliberal logics (Cole, Farocki, Steyerl, Weizman). How might the ubiquity of cameras inure or blind us to photography’s work? The seminar seeks to help students better understand the complex linkages between perception and understanding, and how photographs, as the modern visual form par excellence, shape our sense of the political world and our place in it.
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