by Barbie Zelizer ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 1998
Media critic Zelizer, a columnist for the Nation who teaches at the Annenberg School of Communications at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, studies the effect of atrocity photos, paying particular attention to those taken at the liberation of Nazi concentration camps in WWII. Like so many writers on photography, Zelizer adopts as her starting point a line from Walter Benjamin: ""Every image of the past that is recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably."" According to her, the liberation photographs have become paradigmatic for the ways in which atrocities are depicted in the news media; they function as a series of markers for collective memory of the Holocaust and project that reality forward onto more recent acts of barbarism. At the same time, the Holocaust photos served to establish the photograph as the seemingly irrefutable documentation of an otherwise unimaginably horrible fact. Zelizer traces the historical status of reporting on the Holocaust from before the liberation through the present to illustrate the way in which the status of photojournalism was significantly improved by the later events. (The word ""photojournalism"" was not even coined until 1942.) She follows the trajectory of post-Holocaust collective memory from the flood of images in the immediate aftermath of the war through nearly three decades of silence until the late 1970s, when the Holocaust once more became a central part of sociopolitical discourse. Finally, she analyzes the ways in which contemporary reporting attempts to reproduce the effects of reporting on the Holocaust. Her final conclusion is a damning one, that the use of such agonizing images merely allows for ""atrocity's normalization."" Moreover, ""we may remember earlier atrocities so as to forget the contemporary ones."" Regrettably, she couches her findings in a dry academic style that makes for tedious reading. The overall effect of the volume is enervation. An important topic still in search of the right analyst.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998
Page Count: 258
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998
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