This talk examines how human rights activists negotiate the interplay between the law and today’s visual culture to leverage the evidentiary potential of video. The law has long been an institution that considers words to be the best vehicle for transporting its logic. It associates words with reason, systematic thinking and deliberation, pushing aside the value of images as tools that work differently from words. Yet, in the current media moment, the law is increasingly turning to visuals—whether in the form of evidence, testimony, confession, closing argument or record of trial proceedings—while failing to take images seriously. The commonly held assumption that seeing is believing lingers in legal practice despite doctrines that sideline the unique function of visual meaning making. At this crucial juncture where the law confronts digital visual culture, human rights activists have sought to intervene in the legal space by actively shaping the evidentiary power of visual media. Through an analysis of news coverage of legal cases associated with the activist collective eyeWitness and interviews with staffers from the human rights groups Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and WITNESS, this talk scrutinizes how and to what ends video can serve as a legal tool for human rights. In doing so, this talk argues that it is of great social importance for the law to take visual culture seriously.
About Sandra Ristovska
Sandra Ristovska, Ph.D., is the George Gerbner Postdoctoral Fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and a Fellow at the Information Society Project at the Yale Law School, where she serves as an advisor for the Visual Law Project. She sees her research and filmmaking as interrelated endeavors through which she explores how visual media facilitate processes of knowledge acquisition and social change. In particular, her work examines issues around global media activism, human rights, video evidence and media ethnography, and it has been featured in the Journal of Human Rights, Media, Culture & Society and The Communication Review. She is a co-editor of a forthcoming Palgrave volume Visual Imagery and Human Rights Practice. Ristovska is the recipient of the NCA’s Outstanding Dissertation of 2016 in Visual Communication Award, IAMCR’s 2013 Herbert Schiller Prize and ICA’s 2013 Top Paper Award by the Philosophy, Theory and Critique Division. She has held visiting fellow appointments with the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University and the Center for Media, Data and Society at the Central European University. She is a past co-director of CAMRA, an interdisciplinary media collective at the University of Pennsylvania that examines media practices as a form of scholarship, and a past co-chair of IAMCR’s Emerging Scholars Network Section. She now sits on the International Council of IAMCR.