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Photography and the Limits of the Visible

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Organizer: Ashley Brock

Co-Organizer: Ivett López Malagamba

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In the Americas, photography remains colored by its historic role as a tool of positivistic capture and control on the one hand and, on the other, of propaganda to project and create imagined communities. The implicit rhetoric of colonial photography -- that visualization is a means of domestication -- continues to be at play long after the independence of American nations. As a result, photography is often associated with state projects, from the consolidation of young nations, to the claims of populist leaders to represent the people, to the surveillance of citizenry by the government. This panel aims to explore ways that photography and its treatment in literature may subvert such official discourses. We are particularly interested in projects that grapple with the dialog between visual and linguistic media. How can words illuminate the temporality of photography and call attention to what escapes photographic capture? How can the evocation of photography critique the limits of linguistic representation? What is each medium capable and incapable of making visible? What obstacles to visibility has photographic technology yet to overcome? And when is visibility insufficient (or even counterproductive) in the aims of social critique, political representation, and the building of affective and ethical communities?   We welcome papers that focus on the hemispheric Americas and take as their object of analysis: photographs, photo-books, photo-essays, and photojournalism, as well as literary representations of photographs and the act of photography and literary engagements with photographic technology and photographic time. We are especially interested in comparative papers that bring multiple national and linguistic traditions into conversation.  Topics of investigation may include:  Photography’s relationship to nation-building, propaganda, and state surveillance The relationship between photography and travel writing, costumbrismo, ethnography, and the natural sciences. The circulation and reception of photographs The politics of spectatorship; the interpellation of audience; the act of witnessing; the stakes of consuming photographic images. Sensationalism, violence, photographic ethics Photographic time and its limits; challenges to historical processes and progress narratives; relationship to modernity; relationship to ethnographic time. Photography and the occult The inclusion of, allusion to, or ekphratic figuration of photographs in literature. Critiques at the limit between media: language and photography, photography and cinema, etc. Reconsiderations and/or new theoretical approaches to the photographic medium  

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