“Flood of Rights” symposium reviewed in Journal of Visual Culture

by | Aug 31, 2014 | Photography | 0 comments

Last fall, I was fortunate to be able to attend “The Flood of Rights,” a conference in Arles, France, organized by Thomas Keenan, Suhail Malik and Tirdad Zolghadr that aimed to address “how technologies of image-capture and the channels of communication have in recent years transformed the very terms of human rights.” Featuring papers and talks by Amanda Beech, Rony Brauman, David Campbell, Olivia Custer, Rosalyn Deutsche,  Jackson Pollock Bar, Eric KluitenbergDavid Levine, Sohrab Mohebbi, Sharon SliwinskiHito Steyerl, and Bernard Stiegler, the symposium was the second such event to address the intersections between photography (and other lens-based practices) and human rights. (I highly recommend everyone watch David Levine’s fascinating reading of several filmic representations of spectatorial nausea).

As I wrote in my event review of the symposium for this month’s issue of the Journal of Visual Culture, one of the most thought-provoking outcomes of the three days’ worth of performances, talks and discussions was the ongoing difficulty in getting a hold on how streaming and crowd-sourced forms of image-making challenge our understanding of the relationship between images and human rights claims:

Although the ‘flood’ of the conference’s title called to mind the massive volume of photographic images being produced daily – underscored by Erik Kessels’s artwork, 24HRS of Photos (2011–), a mountainous installation of printed copies of all the photographs uploaded to Flickr in one day on view concurrently at the Les Rencontres d’Arles Photographies festival – it also suggested the unruliness of their directions. Without the newspaper front page or a photo editor to direct the viewer’s attention, how does the spectator make sense of these competing claims for rights from distant digital citizens? And how is the role of the viewer understood and evaluated in these networked forms of dissemination?


… [T]hese questions… point to an ongoing challenge facing visual culture theorists in the age of digital networked communication: how to picture a seemingly immaterial medium, or series of media, streaming between portable screens around the globe with no fixed point of production or reception. In many ways, ‘The Flood of Rights’ was an event in search of a common and consistent object of study, in itself an interesting and demanding project and one that I want to think about not as a shortcoming of the conference, but rather as a productive ambiguity that unsettles assumptions about ‘the event’ and ‘the image’, two foundational terms in recent photography theory.

Unfortunately, the review is only accessible if you have paid access to the journal (or one of the databases that archives it), but luckily video documentation of all of the talks have been archived on “The Flood of Rights” website and a book edition of the papers will be out this fall.