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Posts Tagged ‘Judith Butler’

February 10, 2012 Comments off

b) Images concerning the truth, documentary images

The new image is not a manifestation of god in visual form, rather it is in the image that truth reveals and conceals itself. God’s presence manifested in the image provided a window to truth. However, an image could not contain all of the truth, and God did not [could not] reveal its totality in one image.

But every truth needs to be analyzed according to a politics of truth, a series of rules and conditions that determine its production. Using Foucault’s notion of govermentality “as a specific form of exercising power, which operates through the production of truth”, Hito Steyerl coins the term documentality for the visual productions under the corresponding conditions of truth production[i]. Documentality according to Steyerl “describes the permeation of a specific documentary politics of truth with superordinated political, social and epistemological formations.” An example of this form of documetality is Colin Powel’s presentation before the UN Security Council, in support of the invasion on Iraq. The presentation backed up its arguments with a set of visual material such as satellite photos and aerial surveillance pictures, provided evidence that pointed to existence of weapons of mass destruction developed under Saddam. Here photography’s indexicality was used as a vehicle to displace the very semiotic category that it operates under. The concept of the photograph in and of itself is used in a constellation of devices that constitute the desired results: indexicality as form. Photography’s claim to truth becomes rhetorical device similar to expression of feeling in rock music.

Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, Paramount Pictures, 1944

Writing on images of war, Judith Butler suggests the term field of representability, the state operates on in “order to control affect, and in anticipation of the way that affect informs and galvanizes political opposition to the war.”[ii] Similar to Steyerl’s notion of documentality this field is an active construction that delimits what can be represented, an operation of power (in Butler’s text the US government) that defines the frames of the visual. The photograph therefore not only represents the event, but it also perpetuates it. It becomes a part of the event itself. Any such operation of power [war] constitutes its field of representability and the construction of this field is an integral part of the operation itself. The kind of image that represents the reality of war therefore, is the image that documents the documentality, a photograph of the frame itself.

In order to transcend this impasse of human agency, and the possibility of functioning outside of the predefined frames of visibility, Steyerl via Benjamin’s notion of dialectic image—that “conveys the constructedness of every depiction together with the impossibility of relativizing truth that continues to persist despite this—proposes “moments of truth” and discusses the four only images of Auschwitz. What makes possible for an image inseparable from its production conditions to point to something beyond that is danger. Where danger becomes the very condition of production, the indexicality of the photograph goes beyond form, the image becomes an index of death.


[i] Steyerl, Hito. “Documentarism as Politics of Truth.” eipcp.net (2003).

[ii] Butler, Judith. “Torture and the ethics of photography.” Environment and Planning 25 (2007).

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