Phantasmal Histories and War Photography

I was just recently reading some chapters out of Alloula‘s text on colonial representations and I felt that there might some interesting analogues drawn between his notion of coming to grips with his own subaltern representation and what is going on in the war on terror. He describes his cultural history as something which he had to reclaim out of thousands of misrepresentations created by the colonizing French.

He describes a sort of guilt inherent with it, that his own people (Algerians) corroborated by this false history by allowing themselves to be photographed and allowing themselves to be taken advantage of so easily. Alloula claims that his history is one which will never be clear of the mar of a westerner’s camera. This is so strongly tied to the article we read by Haim Bresheeth on “War Photography and the Public Sphere,” that I am reminded of a quote from his piece which I pulled out reading:

“{true] Trauma is the result of meeting the other’s pain and horror through representation, either by those not directly involved or by later generations.”

I do not have to wonder if the same things are going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. I know there is no form of representational “getting it right” because the term “right” is unquantifiable and too differentiated between borders. I believe there is a sense of harm felt by those recorded in such a distanced, distorted medium as the American camera.

Alloula describes these histories as phantasms, as they are not representative of the true culture of his people, and yet – in their very testimony- not completely false either. This is the true nature of war photograph, of all photography, that it can exist in a plain of inexusable signifigance as a testimony of a specific time/place archival, yet inevitably limit itself through the record in a physical and cultural lens.

LensesThrough what lenses do we view the War ofTerror?

They assume a sort of liminality between the two structures of social responsibility and orientalism. I can imagine sometime in the near future when young Iraqi’s will have to piece together their history from fetishized images taken by the west.

Out of all of this, it is important to recognize that as much as there is a market for cultural production, there will always be an issue of biography inherent in that. It is disconcerting, in light of Alloula’s text to think about how our current media is affecting the future histories of the generations we are supposedly not colonizing.


~ by 1womanarmy on April 28, 2008.

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