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Even as the media environment has changed dramatically in recent years, one thing at least remains true: photographs are everywhere. From professional news photos to smartphone selfies, images have become part of the fabric of modern life. And that may be the problem. Even as photography bears witness, it provokes anxieties about fraudulent representation; even as it evokes compassion, it prompts anxieties about excessive exposure. Parents and pundits alike worry about the unprecedented media saturation that transforms society into an image world. And yet a great news photo can still stop us in our tracks, and the ever-expanding photographic archive documents an era of continuous change.
By confronting these conflicted reactions to photography, Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites make the case for a fundamental shift in understanding photography and public culture. In place of suspicions about the medium’s capacity for distraction, deception, and manipulation, they suggest how it can provide resources for democratic communication and thoughtful reflection about contemporary social problems.
The key to living well in the image world is to unlock photography from viewing habits that inhibit robust civic spectatorship. Through insightful interpretations of dozens of news images, The Public Image reveals how the artistry of the still image can inform, challenge, and guide reflection regarding endemic violence, environmental degradation, income inequity, and other chronic problems that will define the twenty-first century.
By shifting from conventional suspicions to a renewed encounter with the image, we are challenged to see more deeply on behalf of a richer life for all, and to acknowledge our obligations as spectators who are, crucially, also citizens.
About the Author
Robert Hariman is professor of communication at Northwestern University and the author of Political Style: The Artistry of Power.
Winner of the 2017 Bruce E. Gronbeck Political Communication Research Award — Carl Couch Center for Social and Internet Research
With intelligence and passion, Hariman and Lucaites challenge us to re-think what documentary photographs can and can't do, what they hide and reveal, and how we do and don't see them. Most of all, the authors make clear why these questions are of such great urgency to the violence-saturated world in which we live and to the future of modernity itself."
— Susie Linfield, author of The Cruel Radiance
"This is an original work of provocative scholarship that will help change how we think about photography. Reading photojournalism as a public art through which we exercise citizenship and engage problems of individual and collective life refigures the relationship between the visual and the political and provides a much more productive account of the role of the image." — David Campbell, World Press Photo Foundation
"In this important new book, Robert Hariman and John Lucaites take on old chestnuts of photography theory that criticize photojournalism for being misleading, encouraging voyeurism, or creating compassion fatigue. Instead, through elegantly nuanced readings of individual photographs, the authors demonstrate photojournalism’s ability to capture the surface textures and structures of the everyday, including conditions of violence, inequality, abundance and privilege. Quick to acknowledge the limitations of ascribing truth-value to any given photograph, Hariman and Lucaites push us to recognize how the 'radical plurality' of photographic meanings encourages engaged forms of civic spectatorship. In so doing, The Public Image make an invaluable contribution to debates about viewing practices by exploring spectatorship as a performative act and as a civic capability."
— Wendy Kozol, Oberlin College
"A timely treatise that takes stock of contemporary theory and attends to the undervalued ways in which photography helps us understand what it means to be modern in the twenty-first century." — Liam Kennedy, author of Afterimages
"What is photography's role in public life? In their latest book, Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites tackle this question with persuasive eloquence. . . . An important contribution to the study of rhetoric and public affairs." — Rhetoric and Public Affairs