English and Theatre Studies seminar: Professor Laurie Beth Clark - Selfies at Sites of Atrocity

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 16:30 - 17:30

(a chapter on photography and performance from the book in progress, Always Already Again: Trauma Tourism and the Politics of Memory Culture)

The next English and Theatre Studies seminar is to be presented by Professor Laurie Beth Clark (University of Wisconsin - Madison) on Wednesday, April 20.

Seminars will be held throughout the semester on Wednesdays at 4:30pm in the fourth floor link way, John Medley (Building 191). All are welcome. Questions about the seminar can be directed to email Sarah Balkin or email Joe Hughes.

Photographs permeate commemorative sites. From the three oversize portraits of descaparecidos that confront visitors as they enter Villa Grimaldi to the reproduction of the famous photograph of child victims running from napalm in Vietnam, photographs are an integral part of the rhetoric of a memorial.

We often know trauma through photos. We come to stand in the place where the trauma we have seen represented in the media has taken place. Because it is rarely the case that atrocity is accompanied by systematic documentation, the photographs that trauma sites use are gathered from a variety of contexts and, along with their role in "humanizing" the victim population and corroborating the atrocity, the photographs also suggest readings that exceed their curatorial intentions.

This chapter looks at the multiple ways that photography is used at memorials. In it, I examine two broad classes of photographs - documentary photographs that picture the mechanisms of the trauma or the context of the society that gave rise to it and portraits that focus more closely on victims, survivors, and occasionally perpetrators. Finally, the chapter turns its attention towards the way that tourists and pilgrims use their cameras when they visit memorials and the unique contradictions that these practices generate. Nothing shows up this contradiction more than a souvenir postcard - except perhaps a selfie.

But perhaps because we are engaged with the practice of photography at the same time as we are looking at photographs, their meanings as records of the past are multiplied by the performative present, causing us to identify not only with the victims but also with the photographers, who may or may not have had laudable roles in the histories depicted.


Event type



Fourth Floor Linkway, John Medley (Building 191)