Seminar 1 – 25th February 2013, Keele, UK
Summarising Seminar 1 – A few additional thoughts from Ronnie Lippens
‘Visual Criminology’, one could argue, includes a number of themes and topics. We can think of eight. Allow me to use art to illustrate them.
1. images as conduits for criminalization (or The Image, Accusing)
Think of Goya’s The Third of May 1808. One would have trouble to think of a painting that did a better job accusing or indeed criminalizing brutal power than this one. The theme of course is Napoleon Bonaparte’s siege of Madrid and its aftermath. But look at the colours. Look at the forms in this painting. The machine-like force of the firing squad on the right; the Christ-like features of the rebels on the left …
2. the criminalization of images (or The Image, Accused)
Remember Andres Serrano’s photograph ‘Piss Christ’? The artist took a picture of a crucifix immersed in what he claimed was his own urine. This picture caused quite a stir and the artist was accused among other things of blasphemy. The artwork itself was vandalized on a number of occasions.
3. the spatial travel of ‘deviant’ images
Think of graffiti art. Recently a number of ‘bigger than life’ graffiti artworks mysteriously materialised in the heart of Brussels. One of them represented a woman masturbating. It appeared on one of the gables in the Avenue Louise, one of Brussels’ shopping streets. The picture itself didn’t really shock the public. We seem to have arrived at a point when shoppers in top end shopping streets take such images in their stride. But the artwork could have been a clever comment on contemporary consumerism.
4. images of ‘deviant’ space
Google ‘Edward Hopper’. Click on his ‘Approaching a City’. Hopper painted this in 1946. The city is looming darkly. And we’ve even got to go through what seem to be the gates of hell to get to it. The city itself is the ‘deviant’ space here. I don’t know about you but I would have expected Hopper to have painted this work much earlier, say, in 1928, or in 1933 perhaps. But no, he painted it in 1946, at a time when most modern painters, emerging from the war years, were desperately trying to come up with something completely and utterly new. This tells us something about Hopper, I think.
5. images as explanation (of crime and deviance)
Hopper knew many of the painters who were members of early 20th century Ashcan group. That was a group of realist painters. One of those was Everett Shinn. He would paint street fights and so on. But he also painted ‘Eviction’ in 1904. This painting does a lot of explaining. It explains what life was like in the slums of New York around the turn of the 20th century … and why.
6. explaining the ‘deviant’ image & reactions to it
How to explain reactions to Marcus Harvey’s ‘Myra’, which he painted in 1995? Why has it been vandalized on a number of occasions? Where does this vehemence come from? Yes, this is Myra Hindley. And yes, Harvey used casts of an infant’s hand to daub the paint on the canvas. And yes, he said a number of things. But does that explain the almost obsessive reactions to the painting? Or is something else going on here?
7. the use of images in crime control and criminal justice
Images have their uses in all stages of the criminal justice process. This is of course well known. One of the emerging phenomena in criminal justice is the introduction, during trial proceedings, of FMRI imaging (brain scans, to you and me). Some of those scans, neuroscientists assure us, show sections of the brain ‘lighting up’ when suspects are, supposedly, lying. Now it’s one thing to say, during courtroom proceedings, that the suspect was lying when answering a particular question. But it’s quite another to produce FMRI images and ‘prove’ it. Images never lie …. or do they?
8. images of crime control and criminal justice
Throughout history artists have produced images of court proceedings, punishment and execution. One topic that has been ignored somewhat is art by prisoners. Prisoners themselves have of course lots to say about crime and justice. Some of them say it with art. Do Google e.g. ‘The Arthur Koestler Trust’.
The seminar on 25 February was all about the first two themes of course. Colin Sumner explored a variety of images of deviance and focussed in particular on how they form part of a politics of censure. Julian Petley explained how the British Board of Film Classification (and censorship, one might add) actually works in practice. Julian Stallabrass explored how war photography (e.g. in Vietnam and more recently in Iraq) takes place and is framed in particular contexts that do now allow us to ‘read’ them at face value. Wayne Morrison explored how imagery during the Nazi years expressed a political strategy that aimed to move beyond the sphere of legality altogether. The imagery mobilised during the post-war tribunals on the other hand aimed to restore assumptions and beliefs about state-based regulation and legality.
Visual criminology is not just for criminologists, sociologists and other art historians though. Visual artists are very welcome to join the debate. Indeed, their input is very much needed. This is why we invited Daniel Heyman to contribute to the seminar. Daniel is an artist who has done a lot of work on (criminal) justice. His use of testimonials and other statements by Iraqi detainees in his recent work has been noted internationally. We have recorded Daniel’s complete presentation on ‘The Image Accused, The Image Accusing’.
Daniel HEYMAN, Academic and visual artist, Philadephia – “The Image Accusing, The Image Accused”
Below is a Pdf of the slides for this presentation:
Daniel Heyman Keele 25 February 2013