A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words. On Photographs, Talking Contexts and Visual Silences
This paper’s point of departure is that historic silences are socially constructed and culturally productive, and that photographs in archives participate in the creation of historical silences despite, or maybe thanks to, their convincing depicting qualities. In this essay, photographs from three occasions have been studied in detail in order to elucidate different kinds of visual silences. The occasions are i) a funeral where it is the photographer’s own mother that is being buried, ii) a funeral where the coffin is covered in a draping with a swastika, and iii) a royal funeral. Adopting a self-reflexive outlook, the purpose of this essay is to suggest a few possible ways of addressing silences that can occur when the presumptions of a beholder meet the image content of a photograph from the past. The three examples show that the concept of visual silence can be applied in different ways. In the first example, the technical and artistic shortcomings are interpreted as silencing components, which can convey information. In the second example, the (to a contemporary beholder) provocative silence around the historically charged symbol of a swastika becomes an analytical resource in its own right. The last example illustrates how a lot of information can compose such a dominant narrative, that it silences other stories.
Barthes, Roland (1993): Camera Lucida: reflections on photography. London: Vintage.
Batchen, Geoffrey, (2008): "Snapshots", Photographies 1, 2: 124, 121-142.
Becker, Karin (1992): "Picturing our past. An Archive Constructs a National Culture", The Journal of American Folklore, 105: 415, pp. 3-18.
Burke, Peter (2001): Eyewitnessing: the uses of images as historical evidence. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Dahlgren, Anna (2013): Ett medium för visuell bildning: kulturhistoriska perspektiv på fotoalbum 1850-1950. Göteborg: Makadam.
Durkheim, Émile (1952): Suicide. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Dayan, Daniel & Katz, Elihu (1992): Media events: the live broadcasting of history. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Kirkegaard, Søren (1848): Journals IV 164
Lööw, Heléne (2004). Nazismen i Sverige 1924-1979: pionjärerna, partierna, propagandan. Stockholm: Ordfront.
Manson, Rhiannon & Sayner, Joanne (2018): Bringing museal silences into focus: eight ways of thinking, International Journal of Heritage Studies. 10: 1, 1-16.
Sandbye, Mette (2014): "Looking at the family album: a resumed theoretical discussion of why and how", Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, 6: 1, 1-16.
Sekula, Allan (2003): "Reading an archive. Photography between labour and capital", Liz Wells (ed.) The photography reader, London: Routledge, 443-452.
Strandroth, Cecilia (2009): "På resande fot i det digitala bildarkivet: ett brukarperspektiv," Pelle Snickars & Anna Dahlgren (eds), I bildarkivet: om fotografi och digitaliseringens effekter, Stockholm: Kungl. Biblioteket, 91-120.
Taylor, Joel, and Laura Kate Gibson (2017): "Digitization, Digital Interaction and Social Media: Embedded Barriers to Democratic Heritage." International Journal of Heritage Studies 23: 5, 1-13.
Copyright for all manuscripts rests with the author(s). The editors reserve the right to edit manuscripts. Contributors are responsible for acquiring all permissions from the copyright owners for the use of quotations, illustrations, tables, etc. Each author must, before final publication fill, in a publishing agreement provided by LiU E-Press.
Since 2021 Culture Unbound uses a Creative Commons: Attribution license for new articles, which allows users to distribute the work and to reform or build upon it without the author's permission. Full reference to the author must be given. For older articles please see each article landing page.