Art and Architecture, Reviews

American icons

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Images have become an indelible part of our daily lives with the power to radically transform the way we view the world around us. The summer 2007 edition of Bookforum is running an interesting discussion of two new books that explore the tremendous social power of the image and the various ways they have shaped our modern culture.
Reviewer David Levi Strauss notes the essays in Beautiful Suffering: Photography and the Traffic in Pain for offering an insightful critique of the public impact of depictions of suffering. With a special focus on the popular media during 9/11 and its aftermath, these essays explore the inherently problematic issue confronted by many artists and photojournalists who seek to produce aesthetic beauty in their art, even as they document the most painful of human suffering.
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Strauss’s article places this insightful critique of our visual culture side by side with that of another book, Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites’s recently published No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy. According to Strauss, Hariman and Lucaites’s No Caption Needed “‘[challenges] the presumption that visual media categorically degrade public rationality.'” The review continues:

[The authors] approach photojournalism as “an important technology of liberal democratic citizenship.…” Their close readings of… iconic images employ multiple strategies and tools to investigate how they create a “public culture that lies somewhere between hegemony and resistance.…” They look hard at the images themselves and the way that they are used, appropriated, parodied, and celebrated.

Pick up a copy of Bookforum to read the rest of this stimulating review. In the meantime, check out an excerpt from No Caption Needed.