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The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence Hardcover – 19 Oct 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (19 Oct 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226482502
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226482507
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 918,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"This is a magnificent book. Susie Linfield has a good eye for the photographs and a good head for the politics. And she has the moral strength to look at these images of mutilation, death, and destruction, explain their value, and demand that we look at them, too." - Michael Walzer"

About the Author

Susie Linfield is associate professor of journalism at New York University, where she directs the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program. She has been an editor for American Film, the Village Voice, and the Washington Post and has written for a wide range of publications, including the Los Angeles Times Book Review, New York Times, Bookforum, Rolling Stone, and the Nation.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By brainleek007 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 28 Sep 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book looks at the long and often uncomfortable history humanity has with images of suffering. It's an interesting book form both a visual studies / historical point of view. At it's core it supports the view that however harrowing the images produced by photojournalism are, we should continue to look at them (and ultimately they should continue to be made). It argues against the charges of pornography and exploitation often leveled at images of suffering and suggests we instead attempt to learn something from the images.

The chapters are case studies of sorts based around certain conflicts / events or places (Nazi death camps, China for example) or the work of particular photographers (Robert Capa, James Natchwey).

Overall I found Susie Linfield put together a good argument for the continued looking at images of suffering. It's a harrowing read and a lot of truly shocking images are referred to in the text but not printed. I found some on the internet so I could understand what was being talked about and it really chills the blood. At the end of the day I took a few powerful lessons from the book. Humans are capable of terrible atrocities against fellow humans; we all think we know this but by not engaging with images of these acts that work as evidence we're not truly engaging with the problems shown in them.

It's a valuable book for photographers, journalists & historians alike plus anyone with the general interest to read. It's not something to read before bed though.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Brauer on 10 April 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Susie Linfield offers an extremely helpful survey of the nature and history of photographic criticism in the early chapters of this book. For this work alone, the book is worth owning, however she also continues and offers poignant and insightful comments on the role of photography in the political violence of Warsaw, China, Sierra Leone and Abu Ghraib, and concludes with exceptional critical comments on some of the most important photographers of violence: Robert Capa, James Nacthwey, and Gilles Peress. This book will be of great help to those interested in the nature and role of photo-criticism, as well as those interested in the role photography has to play in communicating political violence.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Photos missing from the Kindle Edition 5 July 2012
By Jason N. Weddington - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I purchased the Kindle Edition, and was disappointed to find nearly all the photos missing. Instead there was only the text [To view this image, refer to the print version of this title.] Under this text was the caption for the original image. This is not an acceptable ebook experience. How can a book about photojournalism be missing all the photos?

I can't comment on the quality of the book itself, because I immediately returned the Kindle Edition for a refund.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Daring to look 3 Jun 2011
By Marcos Lopes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Linfield's book is well done account of photographs which represent things that, usually, we don't want to look at. The author brings into discussion the very ethics of looking, gazing and staring, criticizing opinions that affirm that to look at the pain of others is participate in the intentions of perpetrators of politic crimes, specially against human rights. The principal targets of her critics are Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, Alan Sekula and John Berger, as well as Benjamin and Krakauer. For Linfield, this authors are not essentially wrong, but we should place their writings in perspective and not make gospels of them. In reading this interesting book, we come to know that "to look or not to look" is not merely a question of transcendental ethics, but a political act regarding the suffering of human people. Linfield not only invites us to be daring to look at the pain of others, but also to look into it, its testimonies, its visual existence, and try to make of the gaze a means of amelioration of our chaotic world.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
the evil "postmoderns" 2 Mar 2013
By semper fidelis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Frances Richard's review of The Cruel Radiance in The Nation is very good, but is more generous than I am able to muster after having read the book, especially "A Little History of Photography Criticism" and related areas throughout the book where Linfield attempts to write on historical and critical topics. She is simply not up to the task. She tries to critique Susan Sontag but effectively ignores her main book on the topic, Regarding the Pain of Others, and critiques Bertolt Brecht but effectively ignores his photographic book, Kriegsfibel (translated as War Primer). She rails on these and other "haters of photography" by cherry picking quotes, ignoring wildly different historical and discursive contexts, and trying to mask the fact that she has not done her homework with "passionate argument". For a book on representation, her representations of other writers are cartoonish; if the same standard were held for photographs she would be talking about the suffering of stick figures. Her varied oppositions between thinking and feeling begs the age old question of whether people can walk and chew gum at the same time. It will probably surprise many people that John Berger is counted among the photography haters and is, moreover, "postmodern" and that clashing art world denizens like Richard Prince against atrocity photos is supposed to produce valuable insight. I find it disheartening that a reputable enterprise like University of Chicago Press would let such sloppy work through.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A painful but GREATLY needed book! 1 Feb 2011
By Peter Kobs - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
What happens to the victims of genocide, torture and mass murder? Do they just disappear from memory over time or do we have a responsibility to confront their suffering? Is it "pornographic" to display photos of political violence or is it our duty to see them?

If you're in the second group, as I am, this heart-wrenching new book by photography critic Susie Linfield is a MUST read.

WARNING: The subject matter (text and photos) is deeply disturbing and not appropriate for sensitive minds or young people (under age 16).

Almost since the invention of the camera in the early 19th century, photography has been used to capture both the beautiful "nice stuff" and the ugly horrifying stuff. Photos from the American Civil War and the brutal Belgian occupation of the Congo are prime examples. In the 20th century, photos were used both by activists and perpetrators to document the very worst cases of human cruelty -- from the slaughterhouse of Ardennes in World War I to the gas chambers of Auschwitz and the execution rooms of Stalin's Russia. Sadly, this body of evidence keeps growing in our time.

As the book so aptly explains, many art critics of the post-War period (e.g., Susan Sontag) have denounced these photos calling them another form of "victimization" or even "the pornography of mass violence." We shouldn't look at those images, they say, it only makes their suffering worse.

Linfield deftly and completely demolishes that argument, both from an aesthetic standpoint and in terms of basic human morality. She uses real-world examples to demonstrate the vital role that documentary photography has played in exposing political violence over the last 150 years. Moreover, she does so while teaching us about the often difficult intersection of photography, art, journalism, history and human rights activism. Even Mark Twain makes an appearance.

I am not an art critic but I am an historian of sorts. The first chapter -- a discussion of the squabbles among specific art critics -- didn't appeal to me personally. I'd suggest reading the preface and then skipping directly to chapter 2 or 3 where the deeper narrative begins.

As I said in a letter to Linfield after reading her book: "The real value of these photographs is indeed their shock value. This is the world we live in, folks -- let's stop pretending otherwise."

BOTTOM LINE: We have a responsibility to our fellow human beings, especially vulnerable children and other victims of mass violence. The first step is to look that horror directly in the eye and say: "Never again. Never again."

Thank you, Susie Linfield, for writing this amazing work of non-fiction.
AMAZING 6 Oct 2014
By elin o'Hara slavick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Amazing! While arguing against my cultural heroes - John Berger, Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag - Linfield manages to respect their genius while reinstilling belief and hope into the photographic practice of documenting this world - in all its beauty and horror. A great and painful read, post-Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others. I plan to use this book in my Conceptual Photography Seminar at UNC, Chapel Hill.
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