Title: "Picturing Absence: Photography in the Aftermath of Violence"
Abstract: Wars have changed; they are no longer primarily a confrontation between regular armies. The casualties of war have also changed; since World War II non-combatant civilians have increasingly become the main victims of war, against all precepts of international law. Very often these victims remain anonymous, unaccounted for except in abstract statistics. The distinction between all-out declared war and low (or high) intensity violence has become blurred, particularly in internal conflicts where it is difficult to distinguish between civil war, guerrilla insurgence and terrorism. The media tell this story repeatedly, but the strategies of institutionalized remembrance of conflict have not changed on a par with changes in the conduct and consequences of war. The way wars pass from experience into collective memory in many societies does not fit easily into the traditional pattern for memorializing earlier conflicts. The cultural inscription of these recent conflicts, which often have no clear beginning and end, does not allow for epic narrative of national glorification. More often than not, the inscription takes the form of a traumatic legacy. In that sense, debates about strategies for representing the Shoah have influenced new approaches to accounting for this different experience of war.
Photography, on the other hand, has operated since its early years as a valuable tool in the documentation of war. This operation has been conventionally grounded on the notion of “being there”: of a “being there” of the photographer at the front, taking pictures, and of a “being there” of the subject—the warrior, the victim, the event. What happens when the subject is absent? How to photograph the missing? How to document what is no longer there? How to represent the unscarred wound of loss? Marianne Hirsch’s category of postmemory has underscored the role of photography in mediating an individual or collective memory of an experience one does not own. In theory, and in practice, photography can only record what is present, but in the picture the past survives in the present. This role of photography after a traumatic event needs to be complemented nowadays with a discussion of what could be called retrospective or elegiac images: photographing the past in the present.
About Antonio Monegal:
Antonio Monegal is professor of literary theory and comparative literature at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona since 1994. He currently directs its doctoral program in the Humanities and the Research Group in Comparative Literature. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 1989, taught at Cornell University until his return to Spain, and has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Princeton and the University of Chicago. Among other publications, he is the author of Luis Buñuel de la literatura al cine and En los límites de la diferencia: Poesía e imagen en las vanguardias hispánicas . He has edited Literatura y pintura, En Guerra, Política y (po)ética de las imágenes de guerra, and García Lorca's Viaje a la luna and El público y El sueño de la vida. His research focuses on the politics of culture and on the representation of wars in literature and the visual arts. In 2004 he co-curated with Francesc Torres and José María Ridao an exhibition entitled "At War" at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. Between 2009 and 2013, he was the vice-president of the Arts Council of Barcelona and presided over its Executive Committee.
About the Elihu Katz Colloquium Speaker Series:
The Elihu Katz Colloquium Series is named in honor of Professor Elihu Katz, Ph.D., Distinguished Trustee Professor Emeritus of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and one the founding fathers of communication research.