“Two assumptions inform the focus on the ethics of images. The first is that images do not simply have a representational power in depicting an external reality but that they possess a performative power upon this reality, simultaneously constituting it in meaning. It follows that, rather than interpretation being concerned with the witness’s ‘spontaneous’ faculty of empathy, it emerges instead at the interface between the witness and the object of his or her gaze precisely through those texts that produce meaning about vulnerability and violence.
The second key assumption, it follows, is that our moral and political response to images of vulnerability and violence is not only a question of personal convictions or intimate emotions, but primarily a product of the collective imaginations of the world, of self and other, that such imagery disseminates and legitimises in our (Western) societies. The ethics of images is, in this sense, a crucial aspect of the public cultures of the West as the primary mechanism of moral education through which the West becomes the witness of other people’s suffering. This is because the realities that images represent work not only to depict the world as it is but also to evoke emotions and visions about how the world might or should be.
The ‘as if’ or ‘subjunctive’ nature of images, thereby also mundanely reproduces specific dispositions towards engaging with this world: if the power of news images derives in part from the “as if” of what they show, then images can be used to simplify, soften, and render contingent the untenable features of the geopolitical realities that they depict". Chouliaraki, Blaagaard; Visual Communication, 2013, 12(3)Read less