The Power of Images: The Ethics and Efficacy of the Photograph

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41st Anniversary Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
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Panel at the 41st Anniversary Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA, April 7-11, 2010 Montreal, Quebec - Hilton Bonaventure.

In a recent article, Susan Buck-Morss brings together two "modern judgments of the image"—one, Julia Kristeva's "images are the new opium of the people," the other, Walter Benjamin's "only images in the mind motivate the will." She arrives at a set of questions: "are images the inhibitor or are they the enabler of human agency? Can these two apparently contradictory claims be reconciled?" (artUS 2005, 50). With these questions, Buck-Morss articulates the long-standing dilemma of those who claim to use or consider the photograph as a political instrument. Can photographs bring about social or political change, or do they merely inure viewers to whatever reality they depict?

This panel proposes to present a collection of papers on the ethics and political efficacy of the photographic image. Panelists are invited to address topics running the historical gamut of photography—from its earliest art or documentary texts, to photographs by contemporary artists or of our most recent atrocities. Panelists are equally welcome to approach the subject from the position of other media such as literature, film or visual arts.

Papers might address topics in the photographic essay and social documentary genres, the subject of text and image relationships, the photography of conflict or torture, or the ethics of photographic representation and reception.

Please send abstracts of 200-400 words to Kelly Klingensmith at by September 30, 2009.