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Visual Communication

Photographic and cinematic appropriation of atrocity images from Cambodia: auto-genocide in Western museum culture and /The Missing Picture/

by Keith B. Wagner & Michael A. Unger (2019)

- L'IMAGE MANQUANTE (aka THE MISSING PICTURE, KH/FR 2013, Rithy Panh, 1964-).
- Photographs from S-21: 1975–1979 (exhibition, MoMA, 1997).

Abstract:
As a harrowing sub-discipline of English and Comparative Literature, Trauma Studies is in need of geographical expansion beyond its moorings in European genocides of the 20th century. In this article, the authors chart the institutional and cinematic appropriation of atrocity images in relation to the Khmer Rouge’s auto-genocide from 1975–1979 in Cambodia. They analyse the cultural and scholarly value of these images in conjunction with genocide studies to reveal principles often overlooked, taken for granted, or pushed to the periphery in photography studies and film studies. Through grim appropriations of archival or news footage to more experimental approaches in documentary, such as the use of dioramas, the authors examine the commercial and artistic articulations of trauma, reconciliation and testimony in two case studies: The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibition /Photographs from S-21: 1975–1979/ (1997) and Pithy Panh’s documentary /The Missing Picture/ (2013). The authors first focus on the relatively obscure scholarship devoted to contextualizing images from international genocides outside the Euro-American canon for genocide study in order to build their critical formulations; they go on to explore whether these atrocity-themed still and moving images are capable of defying aspects of commodification and sensationalism to instead convey positive notions of commemoration and memory. Finally, their contribution to this debate regarding the merit of appropriating atrocity imagery is viewed from two perspectives: ‘commodified witnessing’ (a negative descriptor for the MoMA exhibition) and ‘commemorative witnessing’ (a positive term for the Cambodian film).

Keywords:
atrocity images, auto-genocide, Cambodia, commemorative witnessing, commodified witnessing, globalizing trauma studies, The Missing Picture, Photographs from S-21: 1975–1979, photography.

(Keith B Wagner, University College London, United Kingdom)
(Michael A Unger, Sogang University, Seoul, Republic of Korea)

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Wagner, Keith B. / Unger, Michael A.
Photographic and cinematic appropriation of atrocity images from Cambodia: auto-genocide in Western museum culture and /The Missing Picture/.
In: Visual Communication 18,1 (Feb 2019), pp. 83-106.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1470357217742333