Susie Linfield ~ The Cruel Radiance
"But one of the things that makes looking at such images especially difficult today is that we no longer have the same kind of moral and political framework to help us understand the violence. Capa’s photos of the Spanish Civil War, or of China after the Japanese invasion, were very clear on political context. You knew what to do with your anger and your horror. Today, looking at images from Sierra Leone or the Congo, one can feel horror, disgust, and great sadness—but what to do in response is much less apparent. Which of the twelve militias now fighting in the Congo do you support? Visual atrocity is much clearer today, but we no longer have the political clarity to accompany it." ~ Susie Linfield (ArtForum, November 2010)
And so, liberals, mostly in the north and the west, averse to politics and comfortable with charity blame the messenger. They wallow in resentment - aimed at the photographer - or cynicism. Both reactions (and that is what they are, reactionary) are symptoms of a politics of displacement. They are symptomatic of the emaciated state of liberal politics.
Susie Linfield, with whose extremely smart views I often disagree, has a new book coming out.* It collects (and, I assume, refines and revises) her essays on photography and politics that have appeared over the past over the past several years. She is always worth reading. The comment I lift above comes from a short notice she gives of the book.
* Susie Linfield. 2010. The Cruel Radiance: Photography & Political Violence. University of Chicago Press ~ find details here.