Publishing and viewing photographs of torture, mutilation, and death is not exploitative, but a necessary step in alleviating political violence, Susie Linfield, an associate professor in New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, concludes in her new book, The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence (University of Chicago Press, 2010).
Since the early days of photography, critics have maintained that taking and publishing photos of political violence is exploitative, deceitful, and pornographic while looking at these images is voyeuristic.
But in The Cruel Radiance, Linfield contests this perspective, arguing that viewing such photographs—and learning to see the people in them—is an ethically and politically necessary act that connects us to our modern history of violence and probes our capacity for cruelty. Analyzing photographs from the Holocaust, China’s Cultural Revolution, and recent terrorist acts, Linfield explores the complex connection between photojournalism and the rise of human rights ideals.
“It’s not enough to say that Susie Linfield looks at photography with fresh eyes,” observes cultural critic Greil Marcus. “Throughout this book—for me, most powerfully when she takes on Nazi extermination camp photographs—she sees with a mind unintimidated by fashion, shibboleths, attitude, cliche. She sees behind the pictures she looks at, to their motives, fears, ambitions, and lies. She writes through them.”
Susie Linfield has been an editor for American Film, the Village Voice, and the Washington Post and has written for a range of publications, including the Los Angeles Times Book Review, New York Times, Bookforum, Rolling Stone, and the Nation. At the Carter Journalism Institute, she directs the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program.
For review copies, contact Levi Stahl, director of publicity, University of Chicago Press, at 773.702.0289 or firstname.lastname@example.org.