Urgent images: Temporal engagements with images of violence

Seminar with: Nina Grønlykke Mollerup, University of Copenhagen

The past decade witnessed historic uprisings against Middle Eastern dictatorships. The violence that followed has been visually documented to an unprecedented extent. In this talk, I will draw on previous and ongoing ethnographic fieldworks with Egyptian and Syrian activists, photographers, journalists and archivists as well as NGO-workers, who have all contributed to the documentation, sharing and preservation of images of often state-sanctioned violence over the past decade in the two countries. At the time of documentation, many of these images were urgent. During the early years and months of street protests and clashes, images would be shared promptly, encouraging people to join ongoing protests and battles and demanding political responses. Protests in Egyptian and Syrian streets have largely been eradicated by a restoration of military dictatorship (in the case of Egypt) and a prolonged war with international involvement (in the case of Syria). Meanwhile the urgency of the present shifted towards temporal orientations towards the future and the past through archiving, making these images available for justice processes and collective memory-making.

I propose that examining the temporality of images, not only through their immediate or most prominent uses, but also through later re-uses, re-circulations and re-significations, will allow us to move beyond understandings of images as political, emotional or aesthetic. I thus seek to illuminate the social life of images by exploring how images engage both urgently and latently in the present, how they reach into the past and how they enable orientations towards the future.

Short bio
Nina Grønlykke Mollerup is Associate Professor in Ethnology and at the Centre for Advanced Migration Studies (AMIS) in the Saxo Department, University of Copenhagen. She was trained as an anthropologist and holds a PhD in communication. She has done substantial ethnographic research with Egyptian and Syrian activists, photographers and journalists over the past 13 years. Her research revolves around visual documentation of conflict and related claims to knowledge. She participates in the research project, Archiving the future: Re-collections of Syria in war and peace. She has published in Social Analysis, Journalism and International Journal of Communication, among others.

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