Regarding the Imprisonment of Others: Prison Abuse Photographs and Social Change

Dan Berger


Through four case studies of U.S. incarceration, this paper explores the relationship between the visualization of abuse and change in policy. By examining the verbal and visual presentations of abuses at Andersonville (1864-1865), Attica (1971), Guantánamo (2002-2005), and Abu Ghraib (2003-2005), the paper argues that there is no simple correlation between images, outrage, and social change. Querying prison images currently and historically questions the assumption that simply rendering visible the unseen will limit abuse. Indeed, these case studies suggest a more ambivalent role for the power of images: sometimes causing great change, at times resulting in little difference, and other times having questionable impact. At question is what role images play in drawing attention specifically to those places where attention was never meant to be, the institutions that have defined themselves by being out of sight and thus out of mind. In examining the power, use, and impact of still photographs, this paper interrogates the role of the state and identity in approaching structures of incarceration.

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