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Special Issue: The visual politics of the human

Chouliaraki, Lilie, Orwicz, Michael and Greeley, Robin (2019) Special Issue: The visual politics of the human. Visual Communication, 18 (3). pp. 301-309. ISSN 1470-3572

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Identification Number: 10.1177/1470357219846405


In this article, we approach the news photojournalism of the 2015 European migration ‘crisis’ as a political encounter between western publics and arriving migrants, where the latter are not simply ‘the represented’ but people who act within the photographic space. Inspired by Azoulay’s view of photography as ‘civic duty’, where “those represented continue to be present there at the time they are being watched in the photograph” and, in so doing, actively call for a response from their publics (2010:16), we ask the question of who acts and how as well as what bonds of civic duty such action puts forward for those publics. At the heart of these questions on agency lies a conception of arriving migrants as specifically vulnerable actors – people whose very precarity becomes a resource for meaningful action. Our visual analysis of news images across nine western countries, 84 images in total, in June-November 2015 demonstrates that their ‘front-page’ news imagery enables two types of political encounters with arriving migrants: ‘action on migrants’, where migrants are mainly acted upon within the procedural encounters of border institutions, and ‘action by migrants’, where migrants act upon and affect others within existential encounters that can potentially touch upon people’s emotional and activist sensibilities. While, in line with the canons of photography and migration studies, both types of political encounters restrict precarious agency within the binary positions of victimhood and threat, it is the latter, ‘action by migrants’ that has the potential to break with such binaries and cast vulnerability as resistance – as deliberate exposures of the body to the power of the border, which present migrants as political actors in activist practices of transnational solidarity (Butler, Gambetti and Sabsay, 2016).

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2019 The Authors
Divisions: Media and Communications
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Date Deposited: 30 May 2019 10:27
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2024 22:54

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