Performing Togetherness: Tourist-Like Photography from Abu Ghraib

Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis

Authors

  • Paulius Petraitis Lithuanian Culture Research Institute, Vilnius, Lithuania

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.37522/aaav.99.2020.16

Keywords:

Abu Ghraib, photography, performativity, abuse, tourist photography

Abstract

The article explores the infamous photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison that circulated and were made public in 2004. It specifically looks at how the sense of togetherness was enacted by the U.S. military personnel stationed in the site, and the way cameras were instrumental in this process. It argues that the resultant photographs can be seen as tou- rist-like in several respects. A notable aspect of the photographic images is that the soldiers who took them repeatedly appear in the frame themselves. Appearing in and photographing the abusive acts was not only a form of structuring and reinforcing power relations at the prison, but also an attempt to portray a fun-having personnel group. The visual signifiers – thumbs up, smiles, pointed fingers – authenticate the images, lending them some of the qualities of tourist photography. At Abu Ghraib, the soldiers’ photographic practice also partly served as a sense-making mechanism, allowing a symbolic distance between the camera-wielder and unforeseen emergent events. It promised a wishful alternative to the grim realities of the prison: an overcrowded and undersupplied facility with a lack of on-site leadership. The scars of resultant violence – and the notorious photographs that document it – remain relevant, and continue to resurface in recent so- cial and political contexts.

Published

05/07/2021

How to Cite

Petraitis, P. (2021). Performing Togetherness: Tourist-Like Photography from Abu Ghraib: Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis. Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis, (99), 99–125. https://doi.org/10.37522/aaav.99.2020.16