Demanding Images: Democracy, Mediation, and Image-events in Indonesia by Karen Strassler
Questions co-prepared with Anna Wynfield
General Questions for author
What would you say a methodological or theoretical difference, or both, between your previous book Refracted Visions and this book Demanding Images would be, if there is any?
How is your work in this book informing your future projects?
You write, “‘Watching’ images as moving targets that refuse to hold still restores to images ‘dimensions of time and movement,’ of eventfulness, that have been denied in our dominant models of thinking about them” (p. 15). In the era of COVID-19 where we have limited access to face-to-face human interactions, what is your advice and experience studying images as a focal point? Also, in the era of technology and the internet, are there any other cultural forms about which we anthropologists should also be rethinking in addition to images?
One of the central arguments in this book is that images do not just lament on the past but they, especially image-events, comment on the possibilities that may arise in the future, especially an example of money in Chapter 1. But you are also careful about not saying that images are agentive. So, how might we understand the interaction and relationship that images have with their environment in co-creating any version of temporality?
In the introduction, the author invites the reader to treat the book as “an extended series of commentaries on the images” (p. 27). In Chapter 2, the author also notes her decision not to include “the sensationally violent ‘false’ rape photographs” (p. 91). What does the process of writing and deciding the placement of the photos, or what Margret Steedly and Patricia Spyer (2013) calls “enframement,” in this book look like?
Introduction: The Eventfulness of Images
Strassler writes that “as images circulate among people from different interpretive communities, they accumulate ‘symbolic density’ and iconic value, becoming a tangible terrain on which people contest the boundaries and character of their communities” (13). Should we understand “symbolic density” as singular? How might we interpret “symbolic density” in the context of messages that are increasingly heterogeneous along socio-economic or political divides - and do such varying interpretations of value affect their (metaphorical) weight?
“Reverberating across space and time, [the image as event] is an open-ended ‘vibration’ that resonates with and gives rise to other, related images and texts, deepening certain tones and deafening others” (14-15). What kind of methods might be best suited to track these vibrations?
Chapter 1: Face Value
Strassler (2020) notes the process of “forgetting” (p. 37) is in place when the face of money is remediated, “that is, absorbed into other media forms, and in the process, ‘refashioned’” (p. 38), how might this process of “forgetting” work in organically mutating and proliferating image-events? In another word, is “forgetting” an inevitable procedure in image-events? If so, how might we think through the affective role of images in relations to forgetting any affective memories or sensories that an image might evoke or mediate?
Chapter 2: The Gender of Transparency
This chapter explores how image-events can also be defined by “the absence of...demanded images” revealing that the need for photographs and transparency also hinges on gendered fault lines (69). How does the demand to witness sexual crime through visual proof complicate the relationship between witnessing and judgement in the public sphere?
In what ways might we interpret authenticity as a claim to authority, and in the context of sexual violence, how does the demand for authenticity shape these relations of power? In the cases discussed in this chapter, is authority granted or recognized when rape victims submit to transparency about these crimes?
Chapter 3: The Scandal of Exposure
In this chapter, Strassler (2020) argues that the circulation of cynical humor and ludic images as being in conversation with the public’s desire for transparency in the New Order era. Instead of downplaying those ludic imagery as something reminiscent of the past authoritarian regime, she argues that they “suggest ‘a persistent attachment to the political as such and to...a sense of membership in the idea of polity’” (p. 130). How might this be another form of resistance and refusal? Or, can we theorize that any engagement or response--in this case, ludic and evidentiary images--is showing a sense of membership? Are there any scenarios where this might not be the case?
Chapter 4: Naked Effects
How does the installation Pinkswing Park complicate questions about the tensions or boundaries between public and private morality?
Chapter 5: Street Signs
This chapter examines, “the street as both a medium and a metamedium of public sphere” (p. 175). How can we understand the affective relationship that our environmental spatial infrastructures have with the public (think about Schwenkel and Navaro-Yashin’s works here)?
Conclusion: The Eye of the Crowd
How might this book help us understand and theorize connections between visualization and affect?