This panel engages debates about 'disaster photography'. It examines how a comparative ethnographic perspective may extend our understanding of the politics, ethics, and affective force of this genre specifically, and of the position of photography in socio-cultural contexts of disaster in general.
Photographic scholars have long recognized a genre of 'disaster photography', which is characterized by a predominant use of portraiture, especially of children, a focus on the traumatized body, and a repetition of key symbols denoting an unsettled landscape (be this a 'natural' landscape or a built environment). Debates have focussed on how and why the 'visual-economies' of this genre so frequently result in images of individual lived experience becoming iconic of entire disaster events, even of 'human suffering' in general? They have engaged the ethics of this imagery, and asked what emotional impact, or affective force it has upon it viewers who in the contemporary age of global media are often far removed from the disaster context itself. This panel aims to examine how a comparative ethnographic perspective may extend our understanding of the politics, ethics, and affective force of disaster photography. We are particularly interested in how the production, circulation, reception and materiality of such photographs may be alternatively shaped by such factors as different cultural sensibilities, political ideologies and alternative collective historical memories. We want to go beyond questions of 'disaster photography' per se, to look at the position of photography in socio-cultural contexts of disaster more broadly. How and why do pre-existing images and image-objects also become reworked following a disaster, through new practices of advertizing, archiving, display, memorialisation and preservation? How and why do other photographic practices and genres - those of family photography, tourist imagery and ethnographic photography - become changed following a disaster?