Between emptiness and superfluity: funeral photography and necropolitics in late-apartheid South Africa

Louise Bethlehem, Norma Musih

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Documentary photography has undergone a process of devaluation in post-apartheid South Africa. In response, Patricia Hayes has introduced the term “empty photographs” into the scholarly conversation, using it to designate images that have been derided as “‘bad,’ ‘boring,’ or repetitious” in post-apartheid settings (“The Uneven Citizenry,” 189). This article revisits a subset of such images to contest their seeming emptiness—pallbearers escorting dead activists to their graves during political funerals in late-apartheid South Africa. Focusing specifically on Afrapix photographer, Gille de Vlieg’s images of Themba Dlamini’s funeral in Driefontein in 1990, the paper restores their local history to view and unpacks the visual cultural and material cultural circuits of militant mourning in which they were embedded. It then uses various orders of metonymy in the visual field to comment on the “necropolitics” of the apartheid regime (Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics”). The paper concludes with a reflection on Ariella Azoulay’s notion of the “civil gaze” (Civil Imagination) and considers what unfolds when a reckoning with the differential distribution of death that characterizes necropower reorients this faculty away from the individual photograph towards series, genre or corpus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-77
Number of pages21
JournalPhotographies
Volume15
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts

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