Contested Visibilities and the Anthropogenic Image (working title)

When does an image cast shadow rather than illuminate “truth”? Art history and visual studies are understandably dominated by the seeable: images, sculptures, and architecture made proudly to be displayed, offered precisely to make something more obvious (ob + via, there in the way), or to convert symbolic systems into things to be seen, admired, or intimately inhabited. Yet these disciplines also equip us with skepticism: there is nothing “self-evident” about the image. Historical contingency plays a large role in what is “there to be seen,” and reception is often determined by power configuring the seeable and sayable. Such insights were sharpened in the 20th century by the works of Michel Foucault: enunciations and silences, the official pronouncement and the whispered confession, are all adopted by the subject as “technologies of the self.” In parallel to statements, visibilities are also structured: the seeable is shadowed by systematic occlusions, “ground” makes figuration possible. Yet these relations can be undone by thought in the critical practices of the humanist, philosopher, and historian. Contested Visibilities and the Anthropogenic Image – to be written by Caroline A Jones in collaboration with historian of science Peter L. Galison – proposes to examine historical cases that show contested moments of picturing human-generated ecological catastrophe.

For this project, Jones and Gallison are National Humanities Center Fellows for 2017-18.