Karin Becker

Karin Becker is professor emerita of media studies at Stockholm University. She has held positions at Indiana University (Ph.D. 1976), University of Iowa, Konstfack/College of Art and Design (Stockholm) and Linköping University. She has been a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the University of Munich (1983) and Stockholm University (1988). In 2012-2014 she led the Nordic Network of Digital Visuality (NNDV). Her research centers on visual media forms and practices, including documentary photography and photojournalism, vernacular photography, and artistic and performative practices in public space. She has led research projects on public art (Konst genom staden, VR 2006-2008) and on global media events as mediated through public space (Changing Places, VR 2010-2014). Her recent work includes analyzing protest images in global television news within the research project Screening protest (www.screeningprotest.com).

Karin Becker: karin.becker@ims.su.se, Department of Media Studies, Stockholm University, Sweden

Images of protesters in the photo essay, linked to their own words, lend support to the legitimacy of their demands and their status as citizens, in ways news broadcasts of these events rarely achieve.

The photo essay, a form of visual journalism that arose during the era of the picture magazines, has reemerged as a regular feature of global news channels, including CNN, BBC World, and, notably, Al Jazeera English, recognized for its live reporting of political unrest. In 2017, a year marked by protest around the world, AJE published over 200 photo-series, including 37 on public protest. An analysis based in a four-year study of protest on screen, revealed that these photo essays share characteristics that in turn distinguish them from video broadcasts of public protests. The photo-reportage on screen, like its classic forerunner in print, employs a variety of visual perspectives and focuses on participants who are often quoted and identified by name. Scenes of public protest are complemented by visual and textual reporting from the private/domestic sphere. This visual strategy, in contrast to the immediacy of video coverage from the streets, supports knowledge of the protest issue and engagement with its participants.

All the more shall this become a memory of the time you and your mother stood on a countryside road amid the agave fields and with the mountain range of Oaxaca in the background on one of countless journeys...

This essay traces the resurrection of the fotoescultura, a three-dimensional photographic portrait popular in rural Mexico in the early 20th century, as interpreted in recent works by Performing Pictures, a contemporary Swedish artist duo. The early fotoesculturas were an augmented form of portraiture, commissioned by family members who supplied photographs that artisans in Mexico City converted into framed sculptural portraits for display on family altars. We compare these »traditional« photographic objects with “new” digital forms of video animation on screen and in the public space that characterize Performing Pictures work, and explore how the fotoescultura inspired new incarnations of their series Men that Fall. At the intersection between the material aspects of a “traditional” vernacular art form and “new” media art, we identify a photographic aesthetic that shifts from seeing and perceiving to physical engagement, and discuss how the frame and its parergon augment the photographic gaze. The essay is accompanied by photos and video stills from Performing Pictures’ film poem Dreaming the Memories of Now (2018), depicting their work with the fotoesculturas.


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