Reframing Acts of Violence in the Digital Age
This paper examines the ethical and aesthetic consequences of the proliferation of digital images that blur the origins and the agents of photographs that depict bodies in pain within the framework of extreme acts of violence. How does the digital remediation of photographs depicting bodies in pain further blur the actual material history of the photograph itself and its origins in ways that mirror the transformation of acts of violence into iconic images that bear resemblances over time, despite the drastic differences in historical contingency, medium, and means of dissemination? First, I will track the creation of iconic images of “bodies in pain” as conceptualized in Elaine Scarry’s study of torture in The Body in Pain (1987) and Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others (2004) through the remediation and reframing of images that both predate photography (Goya’s Disasters of War, 1810-1820) and usher in the mass distribution of digitized photographs as represented by the photos taken at the Abu Ghraib prison by United States military personnel (2004). Second, I suggest that the recent digital reworking of Holocaust photographs drawn from the work of the deceased German writer, W.G. Sebald in the collection Terezín by Daniel Blaufuks (2010) and in Grant Gee’s film Patience provide us with an alternative framework for examining how digital afterlives of bodies in pain mimic the creation of iconic images of pain predating photography. I will end by offering a conceptual framework for refocusing critical attention toward the consequences of eliding violator agency in the growing digitalization of direct torture and murder as portrayed by the Abu Ghraib photos and by the real-time streaming of brutal acts of terrorism.