Lynchings, Abu Ghraib

Over the weekend I read Shawn Michelle Smith's great book, Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture (Duke University Press (2004) ISBN: 0822333430). Smith has a terrific chapter on lynching photography, especially photographic postcards that whites collected, mailed, and exchanged as souveniers of lynchings. Smith analyzes these as not only part of lynching as a racial technology of terror, but also a disciplinary technology of gender (cautionary tales for wayward white women) and a technology of constituting whiteness. She makes an interesting choice in how she handles the photos in the book... ... which are cropped to only show closeups of the white spectators looking at the camera. This avoids reproducing the spectacle of horror in the black corpses, but also focuses on how the spectators engage the camera, and reaffirm their participatinon in this white event to the presumed white viewer. It was powerful, and got me wondering what would happen if you applied the same thing to the Abu Ghraib photos, which of course it turns out Smith has thought of as well :)

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