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Pictures of migration: The invisible shock of misery photographs

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Social and digital media have enabled an unprecedented number and variety of photographs of refugees and forced migrants to circulate globally in recent years. Among them are shocking, even horrific images. The shock I present for consideration is associated with the technology of photography more so than the picture’s content. In this article, I claim that the invisible shock of misery photographs of refugees is related to the insidious and unresolved ongoing history of mass population movements and their visual representations. I contend there is an imperative to considering this invisible shock as it leads to foregrounding the miseries of refugeedom and to the patterns of its manufacture. Indeed, any photograph of refugee or migrant misery refers to the truth of discrimination, disparity and the willingness on the part of some humans to treat other humans as inferior. I conclude that this approach presents an opportunity to reconsider uses of photography for social change.
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Keywords: forced migration; humanitarian photography; refugees; visual culture; visual theory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Western University

Publication date: March 1, 2018

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