Mortevivum: Photography and the Politics of the Visual (On Seeing) (Paperback)

Mortevivum: Photography and the Politics of the Visual (On Seeing) By Kimberly Juanita Brown Cover Image

Mortevivum: Photography and the Politics of the Visual (On Seeing) (Paperback)


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A powerful examination of the unsettling history of photography and its fraught relationship to global antiblackness.

Since photography’s invention, black life has been presented as fraught, short, agonizingly filled with violence, and indifferent to intervention: living death—mortevivum—in a series of still frames that refuse a complex humanity. In Mortevivum, Kimberly Juanita Brown shows us how the visual logic of documentary photography and the cultural legacy of empire have come together to produce the understanding that blackness and suffering—and death—are inextricable. Brown traces this idea from the earliest images of the enslaved to the latest newspaper photographs of black bodies, from the United States and South Africa to Haiti and Rwanda, documenting the enduring, pernicious connection between photography and a global history of antiblackness.

Photography's history, inextricably linked to colonialism and white supremacy, is a catalog of othering, surveillance, and the violence of objectification. In the genocide in Rwanda, for instance, photographs after the fact tell viewers that blackness comes with a corresponding violence that no human intervention can abate. In Haiti, the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere, photographic “evidence” of its sovereign failure suggests that the formerly enslaved cannot overthrow their masters and survive to tell the tale. And in South Africa and the United States, a loop of racial violence reminds black subjects of their lower-class status mandated via the state. Illustrating the global nature of antiblackness that pervades photographic archives of the present and the past, Mortevivum reveals how we live in a repetition of imagery signaling who lives and who dies on a gelatin silver print—on a page in a book, on the cover of newspaper, and in the memory of millions.

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Kimberly Juanita Brown is the inaugural director of the Institute for Black Intellectual and Cultural Life at Dartmouth College where she is also an Associate Professor of English and creative writing. She is the author of The Repeating Body: Slavery's Visual Resonance in the Contemporary.
Product Details ISBN: 9780262547642
ISBN-10: 0262547643
Publisher: The MIT Press
Publication Date: February 6th, 2024
Pages: 184
Language: English
Series: On Seeing
Included in Publishers Weekly's Spring 2024 Announcements
included in Choice's list of forthcoming titles in art and architecture
Included in Aspire Design and Home Magazine's roundup of new and noteworthy titles celebrating Black art and design
Included in Print's Design and Culture Reads for Black History Month

"Mortevivum is a shock to the system delivered with incendiary grace. Brown makes visible the latency—or veiling—of the Black experience of photography and the disseminated image through media. Her critical perspective moves across the shared history of postcolonial Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. She writes about these moments and their reverberations in a way that conjures today’s realities. The book feels present, even when the photographs and histories tell us of well-trod pasts."