search the archive
search the archive
Documentary and Forensic Media
full name / name of organization:
Visible Evidence XVI Conference Panel
Panel co-chairs: Greg Siegel, UC-Santa Barbara & Jules Odendahl-James, Duke University
When faced with the unknown, legal and scientific institutions invoke authoritative means and methods of converting “facts,” “data,” and “evidence” into culturally accessible ideas, images, and narratives. The shape and substance of this unknown are inspected, represented, and disseminated by what we call “forensic media.” Broadly conceived, forensic media are audio, visual, or information technologies pressed into service for the production and reproduction of legal, scientific, or other institutional truths. Impelled by the always ambivalent forces of longing and loss, forensic media anatomize events, objects, and bodies — especially those entangled with discourses of crime or catastrophe — in an effort to make those events/objects/bodies speak their secret truth and, in so doing, surrender their terrifying power. Although forensic media aspire to pure positivism, their reliance on narrative codes and representational conventions exposes their imbrication within an array of popular anxieties, alienations, and imaginings.
This panel aims to explore the idea of “the forensic” in relation to documentary scholarship and practice. Like documentary film, forensic media can be said to articulate a profound epistephilia, whether those media are used (as they have been since the nineteenth century) to convert corpses and crimes scenes into texts to be read, or (as they have been since the twentieth century) to render natural disasters and technological failures as codes to be cracked. Forensic media frequently borrow documentary codes and conventions to reinforce normative logics of causality and to establish the conditions necessary for ideological closure.
We invite submissions that investigate the following (and related) questions and concerns from a range of critical and scholarly perspectives.
Jules Odendahl-James is a Lecturing Fellow in the Thompson Writing Program and Department of Theater Studies at Duke University. She holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.F.A. in Theatre and Dance from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently working on a book titled Evidence Never Dies on the interdisciplinary features of documentary film, photography, and theater in the U.S. since the 1930s.