Sunday, June 8, 2008

Photojournalism and democracy

The current Perspectives on Politics (June 2008, pp.372-73) has a review of Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites, No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2007).

The reviewer, Michael J. Shapiro, praises various aspects of the book and notes that its argument is that "photojournalism participates effectively in the constitution of liberal democracy." Shapiro says that the authors discuss something they call "visual democracy," but unfortunately he does not explain very clearly exactly how the authors contend that photojournalism and democracy are connected.

Instead, Shapiro finds fault with the authors' alleged lack of theoretical sophistication, complaining that they refer to the "obviousness" of photographic images -- something that, according to Shapiro, a careful reading of Roland Barthes and Jacques Rancière should have led them to avoid. He grumbles that there are virtually no "theoretically guided analyses of photographic images" and moans that the authors' "impoverished notion of ideology" will disappoint "those who reside in a post-Lacan, post-Althusser, post-Zizek intellectual world."

With all due respect to Professor Shapiro, I would have preferred to hear more about exactly what the authors are arguing and a little bit less about their insufficient appropriation of the alleged insights of post-structuralist theory.

It so happens that the editor of Perspectives on Politics, James Johnson -- who, I should note, does not edit the book review section of the journal -- has a blog called (Notes on) Politics, Theory and Photography. The link is here.

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