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Between Words and Images

Wednesday 16 November 2011, 2.00PM to 6:00pm

Registration is now open for the first Aftermaths workshop: “Between Words and Images”.  The workshop is open to all postgraduates, members of staff and the wider community in York.

To register please e-mail Helen Jacobs ( with the following information:

• Your name
• Your first and second choice of discussion group (see below)
• Your field of research
• Your stage of research (if a student)
• Your institutional affiliation

Workshop Theme

What are the intersections between words and images in representing suffering and its aftermath?  Writing about suffering often stresses the viewing of pain and the way in which we consume images of suffering.  Inspired by the incisive work of critics such as Susan Sontag and Elaine Scarry, literary theorists, historians and philosophers have consistently applied theory associated with visual depictions of pain more widely.  How transferable are theoretical and practical insights from the visual to the verbal?  Why do we continually return to visual representations of suffering?

Workshop Structure

We will begin with presentations by four of our speakers.  We will then break into discussion groups to discuss the key questions outlined by the speakers.  Each discussion group will also have a nominated respondent who is (jointly) responsible for reporting back to the main plenary.  After coffee, we will hear back from all groups and listen to the final presentations, followed by a panel discussion.

Please choose one of the following discussion groups

GROUP A:  Chad Elias, History of Art, York

Inspired by the events of the ‘Arab Spring’, this presentation will examine the role that digital media play in creating new political-aesthetic means of expression and modes of identification in times of revolutionary struggle and social upheaval.

Key questions: How are new modes of digital media implicated in the forms of violence that both precede and follow political and social upheavals in the Arab world?  How might this imagery relate to the iconography of martyrdom and ritual death which has so long dominated the modern Arab public sphere?

GROUP B:  Jean-Paul Martinon, Visual Cultures & Philosophy, Goldsmiths

This presentation will attempt to articulate the reasons that led a man (here a Rwandan genocidaire) to momentarily suspend the brutal massacre of an entire family and save the life of one young man. The presentation will look at the imagery used by the survivor’s own account of his ordeal.

Key question: Can one manage to write about one’s own suffering without also addressing the perspective of the person who inflicts the suffering? And if not, then what does it say of human violence in general?  Are written and visual accounts that stem from violent encounters further forms of violence themselves?
GROUP C: Richard Turney, English & Related Literatures, York

This presentation and discussion will engage with a close reading of how the images and words of John Berger’s 1967 text, A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor, operate together to represent suffering. We will relate this to Berger’s essay about Don McCullin’s pictures of Vietnam – “Photographs of Agony” and Berger's apparent interest in the relationship between time, Sartre's concept of anguish and the photographic form.

Key question (amongst others): How is the experience of time captured in an image changed by its position within a sequence or verbal narrative?

GROUP  D: Amy Barry, Communications Consultant (formerly with Oxfam and Global Witness)

This presentation will consider how charities use words and images to raise awareness of and money for their work – and the controversies they encounter and decisions they take in doing so.  There is a well-rehearsed debate about the effectiveness and morality of images of flyblown children with distended bellies – and a less polarised but similarly interesting discussion to be had about the use of language by campaigners and advocates. We will explore these issues with examples from a range of campaigns and organisations.

Key questions:  How do charities and campaigning organisations balance competing concerns when choosing words and images to represent suffering? What has proven most effective and why? Why are certain words and images considered too shocking or emotive? What sort of innovation are we likely to see in the future as groups compete for our attention and money?

Final Presentations

After reporting back there will be two final presentations.

  • Griselda Pollock (Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory & History, Leeds)
    “Can writing become deadly? the Case of Sarah Kofman's Father's Pen”
  • Erica Sheen (English, York)
    “The Problem of Collective Pain in Cinema”

We will then close with a panel discussion and a wine reception.

Location: The Treehouse, Berrick Saul Building