Defying the Humanitarian Gaze: Visual Representation of Genocide Survivors in the Eastern Mediterranean

Abstract: This article is a critical encounter with the genre of humanitarian photography through the case study of images of women survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Viewing photographs taken as part of the American humanitarian campaign in the Eastern Mediterranean, the article exposes the universalizing modality of humanitarian photography while exposing mass atrocities as perpetuating the silencing of victims by reducing them to symbols of suffering. Through an indexical, forensic, and critical fabulatory engagement with the humanitarian photograph, the article aims to unsettle the universalized humanitarian body and explore the possibilities that lie at the boundaries of traditional historical methodologies. Firstly, it exposes the constraints of reading the image solely within the framework of the humanitarian index, highlighting the resulting silences. Secondly, the forensic reading, while placing the photograph in the context of the larger textual archive, provides glimpses into the local circumstances surrounding its creation but still violently mutes the photographed. Lastly, inspired by the method of critical fabulation, the article embraces a speculative reading to reimagine the lives and experiences of the women in the photograph based on imaginary possibilities. Deploying a method that attends equally to archival content and that which is impossible to discern allows us to shift the focus to those who are visible photographically but are nonetheless invisible in the archive and muted by being forced to perform as part of the humanitarian index.

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