History of Art
Time: 4:00PM - 6:00PM
Location: 180 Tappan Hall, 855 S. University, Ann Arbor
In this talk, Lorena Rizzo will present her new research project on colonial police photography in southern Africa. She will discuss examples from Namibia in the early 20th century in order to investigate some of the theoretical and historiographical assumptions concerning this kind of photographic practice. In scholarly work police photographs are often understood as evidence for the repressive function the medium and technology played in modern (bourgeois) society. Following Michel Foucault’s notion of the Panopticon, police photographs have been 'read’ by authors such as Allan Sekula and John Tagg, as a ‘means of surveillance’ and as an instrument of knowledge production about individuals and groups conceived as politically, morally, or culturally deviant and as threats to social order and welfare. While this line of argument remains powerful and legitimate, Rizzo will try to show how the colonial context complicates instrumental understandings and interpretations of photographs. What images want, and what they eventually do – to echo a phrasing by W.J.T. Mitchell – varies through time and space, and the meaning generated by police photographs remains deeply informed by the specific historical context in which they were produced and circulated. The lecture will hence show how detailed empirical study might enhance theoretical understandings of this kind of photography.
Lorena Rizzo is a CAAS post-doctoral fellow. In 2009 she completed her PhD in history at the University of Basel.