Visualizing Impunity: Photography and State Violence in Thailand

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Abstract

In this paper I discuss the challenge of visualising ongoing and repeated state violence and impunity in Thailand. Human rights activists commonly assume that photographs hold political power. This assumption can be doubted. Even if there are material traces of the violence, they cannot guarantee visibility, and, as Ariella Azoulay points out, photography of violence risks depoliticizing by equating the violation with the violated body rather than seeing the structures of violence. The very publicness of violence is part of the production of impunity in the Thai state through its modern history. This is an ongoing practice and there is no archive of a past authoritarian regime to expose in a historical trial. Often there are no photographs at all of what happened or the consequences of it. What can photography do in the absence of photography of an event of violence? In this paper I study a series of staged photographs produced by Thailand based photographer Luke Duggleby and the human rights NGO Protection International. The series is called “For those who died trying” and it covers thirty-five cases from all over Thailand of rights-activists that have been killed or forcibly disappeared, followed by impunity. I analyse the photographs in relation to global and Thai photographic practices and activist uses of photography, and investigate their role in the knowledge production about violence and impunity. Bordering the line between photography as a historical record and as a material basis for memory, I argue that through aesthetic repetition connections are created between the cases, between the persons in the photograph and the Thai state, and between the individual instances of violence and a history of impunity in Thailand.

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Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Cultural Studies
  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • History
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Trans Asia Photography Review
Volume10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Dec
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes

Related projects

Karin Zackari

2012/08/312018/12/30

Project: DissertationIndividual research project

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