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War Culture and the Contest of Images

War Culture and the Contest of Images

Dora Apel
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    War Culture and the Contest of Images
    Book Description:

    War Culture and the Contest of Imagesanalyzes the relationships among contemporary war, documentary practices, and democratic ideals. Dora Apel examines a wide variety of images and cultural representations of war in the United States and the Middle East, including photography, performance art, video games, reenactment, and social media images. Simultaneously, she explores the merging of photojournalism and artistic practices, the effects of visual framing, and the construction of both sanctioned and counter-hegemonic narratives in a global contest of images.

    As a result of the global visual culture in which anyone may produce as well as consume public imagery, the wide variety of visual and documentary practices present realities that would otherwise be invisible or officially off-limits. In our digital era, the prohibition and control of images has become nearly impossible to maintain. Using carefully chosen case studies-such as Krzysztof Wodiczko's video projections and public works in response to 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the performance works of Coco Fusco and Regina Galindo, and the practices of Israeli and Palestinian artists-Apel posits that contemporary war images serve as mediating agents in social relations and as a source of protection or refuge for those robbed of formal or state-sanctioned citizenship.

    While never suggesting that documentary practices are objective translations of reality, Apel shows that they are powerful polemical tools both for legitimizing war and for making its devastating effects visible. In modern warfare and in the accompanying culture of war that capitalism produces as a permanent feature of modern society, she asserts that the contest of images is as critical as the war on the ground.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5396-2
    Subjects: History, Film Studies, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-14)

    In modern warfare and the accompanying culture of war that capitalism produces as a permanent feature of modern society, the contest of images is as critical as the war on the ground. We might say that the contest of images is the continuation of war by other means, affecting not only our political understanding of the present, but also of the past, in ongoing battles for meaning that are fought out on the field of visual representation. At stake are the prevailing myths of national identity and the social and political policies of the state in relation to the lives...


    • 1 Technologies of War, Media, and Dissent in the Post-9/11 Work of Krzysztof Wodiczko
      (pp. 17-46)

      In the U.S. war on Iraq and the elusive, euphemistic “global war on terrorism” manufactured in response to the events of September 11, video and surveillance have been used in radically diverse ways, eroding the line between public and private in the service of state control, political recruitment, terror, individual curiosity, and radical critique. These technologies have been used to scrutinize the body by government agencies, publicize beheadings by Iraqi insurgents, send global messages by Osama Bin Laden, and produce a recruitment tool by al-Qaeda now on the Internet.¹ Many independent agents have produced private videos that have found their...

    • 2 Historical Reenactment: Romantic Amnesia or Counter-Memory?
      (pp. 47-76)

      War reenactors and “living history” groups (who perform for the public only while reenactors perform both publicly and privately) have grown from a small phenomenon when reenacting began to a startling array of contemporary groups and events. In the United States alone, war reenactments draw thousands of participants and spectators each year; in 1998 as many as twenty-five thousand “troops” took part in a huge re-creation of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Reenactment has grown to encompass nearly every war that has been prosecuted. Who reenacts? What is the appeal? Are all reenactment projects more or less the same in...


    • 3 Abu Ghraib, Gender, and the Military
      (pp. 79-111)

      The Abu Ghraib photographs join a genealogy of iconic war images despite the ever greater state efforts to control and contain images of war, an effort that fails in inverse proportion to the growth and availability of digital technology. After U.S. government censorship of photographs from World War II and Korea, photos such as the Saigon girl burned by napalm and the Communist guerrilla executed at point blank range in Vietnam as well as nightly videos of returning American dead in body bags had a shocking effect on the American public.¹ Similarly, the Abu Ghraib photos stand in stark contrast...

    • 4 The Body as Political Corpus
      (pp. 112-148)

      In response to the revelations of torture and their justification in recently declassified CIA documents, Guatemalan artist Regina José Galindo enacts and externalizes bare life as constitutive of the new political body by submitting her own body to an act of torture. ForConfesión(Confession), Galindo’s 2007 performative reenactment of waterboarding, she traveled to Palma de Mallorca, the capital city on the island of Majorca off the coast of Spain, because it had been revealed that the CIA used it as a transit point for its “extraordinary rendition” flights of men they had kidnapped to countries where they could be...


    • 5 Controlling the Frame: Photojournalism, Digital Technology, and “Modern Warfare”
      (pp. 151-182)

      I have been defining the public sphere as “the spaces, sites, and technologies available for public discourse that is critical of the state,” in Peter van der Veer’s terms, but with a focus on its constitution through documentary practices of visual representation that call into place a shared way of seeing, a “citizenship of photography” in Ariella Azoulay’s terms, which excludes no one, even if they are not citizens of a sovereign power. For those who have no sovereign rights, this public sphere, which is constituted through photography, is the primary vehicle of visibility for their grievances and claims. It...

    • 6 Israel / Palestine and the Political Imaginary
      (pp. 183-231)

      The technologies of video and surveillance fundamental to “homeland security” and the “war on terror,” the pursuit of perpetual war on the domestic front, and the ensuing collapse of public and private space are all nowhere more deeply entrenched than Israel/Palestine. At the same time, the production of documentary photography and artistic interventions deployed against the logic of the Occupation of Palestine and the militarized homefront has produced among the most compelling uses of documentary practices. An example of the contest of images may be seen in the dueling videos that were aired on television and the Internet following the...

  9. Conclusion: On Human Rights
    (pp. 232-238)

    While images are easily framed to serve the interests of the state, contemporary documentary images are also used to construct counterhegemonic narratives and to call into place public spheres, based on shared ways of seeing, that are critical of and outside the control of the state. In addition, critical documentary practices have merged with artistic genres such as video, reenactment, performance, and conceptual art in powerful and dynamic ways. Such practices make visible the state violence that often remains invisible, either because it is normalized by the institutions and discourses of the state, or because it has been left outside...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 239-254)
    (pp. 255-260)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 261-273)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 274-274)