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In: Contesting Religious Identities
In: Contesting Religious Identities


How do photographs and videos of suffering human bodies shock, appeal and move, and how do they shape understandings of violence and conflict? This chapter studies how we look at photographs and explores the argument that in western contexts, humanitarian and atrocity photography are deeply influenced by Christian iconographies of meaningful suffering. With ‘Christian iconographies’ this chapter refers to visual images that are symbolically ‘possessed’ by artistic and narrative Christian traditions. Using critical notions on photography and visual culture, iconic trajectories of meaningful suffering are identified in binary frames between fully imaged ‘innocent’ victims in need of rescue and absent ‘violent’ perpetrators in need of judgment. The gendered style of humanitarian and atrocity photography intensifies the soteriological message that tempt viewers to be touched. However, precisely this visual ‘message’ also suggests an interpretation of conflict and violence. This way, humanitarian photography can reflect a deeply rooted rescue-narrative that can be linked to Christian soteriological trajectories of suffering, guilt, and moral response but encourages at the same time specific, often simplifying interpretations of conflict and violence.

Open Access
In: Material Perspectives on Religion, Conflict, and Violence
in Christian Muslim Relations Online II