Photographic Portraits and the Violence of the Ordinary

By Marion K. McInnes.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

What does it mean to say that a photograph is violent? In this project, I explore ideas of violence and photography, using as examples a handful of photographs of women and men, mostly posed and mostly without suggestion of movement or activity. I begin by considering the proliferation of terms having to do with force, assault, and pain in central critical essays on photography by Susan Sontag, Walter Benjamin, John Berger, W.J.T. Mitchell, and Roland Barthes. I also consider the range of meanings we give to the word "violence," using Raymond Williams as a starting point. In the last part of the project, I try to determine how photographs, even some very ordinary ones, could be understood as violent, how we might categorize visual representations of violence, and why these things might be worth thinking about.

Keywords: Photography, Violence, Portraits, Representation

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 10, pp.11-22. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.213MB).

Marion K. McInnes

Dean of Academic Life, English and Women's Studies, DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana, USA

I teach English and Women’s Studies at DePauw University, a liberal arts college in Indiana, and I work as a dean in Academic Affairs. After using Susan Sontag and John Berger’s books in my courses for a number of years, I decided to design an interdisciplinary seminar on the intersections between literature and photography and an upper-level Women’s Studies course on poets, photographers, and visual culture. Preparing for these courses has inspired me to develop a cluster of scholarly projects on poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Bishop, and Ezra Pound and on the novels of W.G. Sebald.


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