On Psycho-Photography: Shame and Abu Ghraib

Elissa Marder

in The Mother in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780823240555
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823240593 | DOI:
On Psycho-Photography: Shame and Abu Ghraib

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This chapter is devoted to an analysis of the Abu Ghraib photographs and proposes that there is a formal connection between the temporality of anxiety, the psychic structure of shame, and the photographic medium itself. It suggests that shame can be considered a photographic affect. In shame, as in photography, there is an emphasis on acts of looking and effects of exposure. In both shame and photography, aspects of an inner life, individual body or personal history can become (or threaten to become) available to public view. The Abu Ghraib photographs derive their meaning and force by making use of the potential for collaboration between the political effects of the photographs and the psychic affects stirred up by them. The chapter gives the name “psycho-photography” to the conjunction between the political effects of this photographic event and the photographic temporality of shame anxiety. In “psycho-photography,” politics and history become imbued with mechanically reproduced images (images that are neither strictly conscious or unconscious, nor personal or historical) which produce new historical associations and political effects.

Keywords: Abu Ghraib photographs; shame anxiety; psycho-photography; torture; political punctum

Chapter.  7548 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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