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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Events in Modern Languages & Cultures

French Seminar Series: Cécile Bishop (NYU), "Photography, Race, and Invisibility: The Liberation of Paris, in Black and White"

31st January 2018, 17:00, A56, Elvet Riverside I, Durham University

Although colonial troops formed the majority of Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Army, the photographs of the liberation of Paris in 1944 feature mostly white-looking soldiers. This was no coincidence: France’s allies insisted that Paris should be liberated by white troops only. The absence of blackness is particularly significant because the liberation has been an iconic object of national collective memory since 1945. So far, the response to this erasure has consisted in unearthing alternative images demonstrating the contribution of black soldiers. Despite its obvious rhetorical value, this approach leaves intact the alignment between photographic indexicality and race that presided over the exclusion of blackness. This paper, by contrast, builds on recent reflections concerning photography and the ethics of spectatorship to question the forms of invisibility that are produced not just by leaving things out of the frame, but by race itself. By exploring the formal and aesthetic constructs that sustain the visuality of race, I explore the symbolic work performed by both blackness and whiteness in these photographs. Ultimately, I propose a form of criticism that is both interpretative and performative, in order to reveal not only the role of photographic representations in naturalizing race, but also the way race shapes photographic representations.

Co-sponsored by CVAC and the Bodies-Texts-Nations Research Group.

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