Witnessing violence through photography

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Frank Möller Tampere Peace Research Institute, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland

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In this article, I think about photojournalists and citizen photographers as, respectively, political and moral witnesses to violence, the one testifying to what it is like, the other showing what it feels like to live in extraordinary circumstances. This distinction is Avishai Margalit’s, developed in his work on bearing witness to twentieth-century totalitarianism. To explore the potentialities of citizen photography decoupled from established photojournalistic discourses on documentation and verifiability, I think with Margalit, but in a different context, about what it means to be a photographic witness to violence. Focusing on what it feels like to be exposed to extraordinary circumstances and thus emphasizing the affective dimensions of being a witness makes us understand that the victim's truth need not reflect objective, empirically measurable and realistically photographable facts. It can be photographed in other ways, especially if photographed by citizen photographers who qualify as moral witnesses. Citizen photography is called upon to contribute to a politics of testimony to violence by utilizing its own capacities instead of copying photojournalism's operating procedures. I suggest capitalizing on the combined strengths of citizen photography and professional photojournalism in order to take advantage of all the possibilities photography offers when bearing witness to violence.

Frank Möller Tampere Peace Research Institute, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland

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An interdisciplinary journal of current affairs