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A painful labour: responsibility and photography

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This paper considers the tension between photography and responsibility despite the avalanche of objections regarding documentary's false promise to awaken social conscience. By examining the encounter with images of suffering through a psychoanalytic register, the paper tries to articulate what Barthes describes as the 'painful labour' of responding to the photographic other - an encounter that illuminates the limit of the spectator's ability to respond. Photographs provide an occasion to register this limit, which, I argue, opens up the spectator's traditional notions of responsibility from a set of moral duties towards a questioning of the ethical relation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 October 2004

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