December 16, 2019

Marija Velinov Sonderkommando Photographs as a disobedient act of seeing

In his book Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz Didi-Huberman indicates that the four photographs in question were taken as a counterweight or in spite of something. They show the activities of the Sonderkommando, whose task was to escort other Jews into the gas chambers, as well as to dispose and burn the corpses that were left behind. In the dual role of victim and perpetrator, members of the unit, in spite of the ban and the danger they were in, created four photographs showing their own activities inside the camp. Throughout the work, different modes of beeing in spite of characteristic of the aforementioned photographs are separated and explained with regard to whether they relate to the need for, production or reception of photographs. The first two are referring to the interpretation of Didi-Huberman’s analysis, while the third is presented as a necessary supplement to his considerations. Namely, photographs were created in spite of, but also based on, the inconceivability of the situation they portray (as a need to create photographs as evidence), in spite the prohibition of photographs (as an obstacle in production) and, we may add, in spite the representational framework or representability of humans (as an obstacle in reception). Inconceivability brings us to the notions of evidence, truth, but also power and representability, which are, in turn, closely linked to the concepts of prohibition and rules. When, further, we speak of the representability of man, we mean the recognizability of the representation of man, which we accept and reproduce again as certain and perceived as reality, as a part of our culture. Thus, the photographs in question are created in spite of being unrealistic, in spite of the fact they portray non-humanity. Also, based on the representability of the photographs and notion of cultural memory, we considered the possibilities of the photographs representing Judith Butler’s  disobedient act of seeing. It will be shown that emergence in spite of as Didi-Huberman would say, or disobedient act of seeing, in Judith Butler’s words, is readable more through the way the images are made than through what they depict. Unlike the usual, “allowed” war photographs, they are specific proof of the prohibition against which they are made.

Marija Velinov (1987) got her bachelor and master degree in philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade. She is employed as a researcher trainee at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory and she is a PhD student at the University of Arts in Belgrade in an interdisciplinary program of Theory of Arts and Media. Her areas of research interest stretch from theory of art and media to a more specific, relation between ethics and aesthetics and concepts of documentary, memory, remembrance, and visual heritage.


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