Theorists critique photography for "objectifying" its subjects and manipulating appearances for the sake of art. In this bold counterargument, John Roberts recasts photography's violating powers of disclosure and aesthetic technique as part of a complex "social ontology" that exposes the hierarchies, divisions, and exclusions behind appearances.
The photographer must "arrive unannounced" and "get in the way of the world," Roberts argues, committing photography to the truth-claims of the spectator over the self-interests and sensitivities of the subject. Yet even though the violating capacity of the photograph results from external power relations, the photographer is still faced with an ethical choice: whether to advance photography's truth-claims on the basis of these powers or to diminish or veil these powers to protect the integrity of the subject. Photography's acts of intrusion and destabilization, then, constantly test the photographer at the point of production, in the darkroom, and at the computer, especially in our 24-hour digital image culture. In this game-changing work, Roberts refunctions photography's place in the world, politically and theoretically restoring its reputation as a truth-producing medium.
"Photography and Its Violations poses a world-transforming ethical challenge to photography's makers, subjects, and viewers alike: to reveal or conceal the exercise of power. Armed with John Roberts's insights into the often insidious, sometimes enfranchising, always intricate interplay of these two opposing violations, sensitive readers will be empowered and emboldened as they battle for position amid the tsunami of photographs that has come to define our world." — Blake Stimson, University of Illinois at Chicago, author of The Pivot of the World: Photography and Its Nation
"I know of no other work in photographic history or theory which takes such a wide survey of well-chosen examples in service of making profound and provocative sense of the whole field of photography. This book also successfully proposes a genuinely novel position from which to re-engage the most pressing, important, and persistent problems of photography." — Tom Huhn, School of Visual Arts
Introduction: The Social Ontology of Photography
Part I. The Document, the Figural, and the Index
1. Photography and Its Truth-Event
2. The Political Form of Photography Today
3. "Fragment, Experiment, Dissonant Prologue": Modernism, Realism, and the Photodocument
4. Two Models of Labor: Figurality and Nonfigurality in Recent Photography
Part II. Abstraction, Violation, and Empathy
5. Photography After the Photograph: Event, Archive, and the Nonsymbolic
6. Photography, Abstraction, and the Social Production of Space
7. Violence, Photography, and the Inhuman