The Politics of Images

A place of study and discussion on the relations between images and politics

Pretty as a picture, as the old saying goes, but it is not simply for aesthetical reasons that images are increasingly cropping up at the centre of contemporary political-social issues. Mindlessly disseminated by new media dispensing of any explanatory text or commentary, images circulate and migrate from one culture and one society to another, a cause of cross-contamination between cultures but also the genesis of new forms of syncretism.

We might not be able to recall the events of September 11 without thinking of those images of both planes crashing into the Twin Towers captured by amateurs, nor probably would the events of the Arab Spring have received as much coverage in Europe without videos being posted all over the Internet.

However, while images have progressively and unequivocally emerged and proliferated in our post-industrial societies, the same cannot be said of our capacity to receive and "read" them. To return to the examples above, images from September 11 did not foster or transmit a collective memory, rather they put up a "screen" between the events and the world[1]; too, images of the riots broadcast over the web were seen by some as an instrument promoting not so much access to democracy but mass surveillance and political repression[2].

There are many questions about the images raised by the events mentioned above, commencing with that of the relationship between "eyewitness testimony" and fiction. While this question emerged since the appearance of mechanical systems for reproducing images, it takes new meaning in the wake of the introduction of electronic and digital technologies where the qualification of "objective" is no longer a priority.

An image is neither good or bad in itself, images have their own grammar and language just as words do and which need to be identified at each viewing such that they become politically conscious subjects.

Today, theoreticians of images tend more and more not to consider an image as being isolated in time and space, but rather to have it resonate with images that are contemporary to it as well as images from the past that may haunt it still. Every image has a memory; it consciously or subconsciously repeats former actions, former expressions. Aby Warburg referred to these image artefacts as pathosformel. In Georges Didi-Huberman's work, he applied these image artefacts to contemporary images and identified their profound political dimensions.

Following these directions, we hope to create an interdisciplinary and international forum for exploring and discussing the relationship between images and politics, one which dovetails contemporary developments of studies into visual culture and political iconography with other social and human sciences.


 

Research topics

We have outlined three key research topics and are aware that crossovers and exchanges between these three themes are possible and even necessary.

  1. The memorial and testimonial function of images
  2. New media and new approaches to the production and receiving of images
  3. Political iconography: visual strategies of domination, power and forces of opposition.

 

The cycle of conferences Power of Images/Images of Power, organised under the direction of Sara Guindani, provides a double perspective on the subject of the power of images:

  • the way in which power is created, driven and legitimised by images – Louis Marin's study on the "portrait of the king" is an attested reference on the subject.
  • the intrinsic powers of an image – the rise of iconoclasm and challenges to freedom of expression reflect the sense of threat engendered by images.

 

Both aspects of this perspective raise the question of the role of images, their interpretation and the conditions of their circulation in a "globalised" space that remains mostly undefined and whose effects are often unpredictable.

The shifting of images between the protection of instituted power and their capacity for insubordination will be the common thread of this cycle of conferences.

 

Conferences:

Images of law and order in new audiovisual narratives. From 24 heures chrono to House of Cards

Images of Powers: The Black Bloc, between political corporeality and the critique of visibility

Visual Panic: the war of images

Response from violence, response to violence. Iconic traumas in the age of the Internet meme

 

Publications related to the programme

S. Guindani, M. Piazza (dir.), Effetti di verità. Documenti e immagini tra storia e finizione, TrE-Press, Rome, 2016. 

 

Partnerships

Jeu de Paume | Università Roma Tre | Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint Denis | Labont-Università di Torino

 

Contact

Lead: Sara Guindani

 


[1] Pour une analyse plus approfondie des images du 11 septembre je renvoie au texte de J. Baudrillard Power Inferno. Requiem pour les Twin Towers. Hypothèse sur le terrorisme. La violence du mondial (Paris, Galilée 2002). Un travail intéressant sur les images du 11 septembre a été fait dans le recueil de court métrages intitulé 11'09''01 - September 11, et notamment dans celui proposé par Alejandro González Iñárritu où une mémoire partagée de cet événement ne semble pouvoir surgir qu’à condition d’éloigner les images « cliché ».

[2] Parmi ces voix critiques, voir Evgeny Morozov The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (2011) .