Charles Loring Elliott, Portrait of Matthew Vassar, 1861

In the News

New installation at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center: Haunting Legacies: Photography and the Invisible, March 10-April 12, 2015


Haunting Legacies: Photography and the Invisible
An exhibition curated by Philosophy 240: Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics, taught by Professor Giovanna Borradori


The rise of social media combined with the cellular phone’s retooling as a camera has given photography a political role of unprecedented scale. Photographs of detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison and of police brutality in Ferguson and Staten Island have helped mobilize grassroots movements of resistance against violence and oppression. But what is it that these photographs convey that no text can possibly tell us? Does the moral outrage they foster stem solely from what they explicitly denounce, or does it also implicitly engage the normal flow of life that the photograph interrupts and that remains outside the frame?

Haunting Legacies is one class’s exploration of photography’s unique ability to point to the flow of normal life and the way in which it invisibly regulates whatever is being represented. The six pairs of photographs that constitute the exhibition, entitled Being, Human, Animal, Machine, Beauty, and Justice, interrogate the norms that establish differential allocations of visibility: what makes up the recognizably human, who is and is not publicly grievable, and finally, which lives are worth being recorded in collective memory.

While firmly rooted in the past, the photographic frame is the elusive testimony of a moment, presented to us in isolation, but that never existed as such. The experience of taking photographs, viewing photographs, and even being photographed opens a splintered temporality, because the click of each shot belongs simultaneously to yesterday, today, and tomorrow. All photographs have for this reason the spectral quality of disjoining time. In their role as curators, this group of students has taken it upon itself to offer hospitality to some of the specters that haunt them as members of the Vassar College community today. These are the tacit premises that, in their being taken for granted, exist unnoticed while framing the ways in which we think. As Roland Barthes said, “to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes.”

In association with the exhibition there will be a talk with Andreas Huyssen on Thursday, March 12, at 5:30pm in Taylor Hall Room 203. Andreas Huyssen, Villard Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, is an orienting figure in the study of collective memory and the dynamics of historical trauma in transnational contexts. Among his books are Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (2003) and Other Cities, Other Worlds: Urban Imaginaries in a Globalizing World (2008). A reception at 6:30 pm in the Art Center Atrium will follow Professor Huyssen's talk.

Posted by Office of Communications Thursday, March 5, 2015

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