To Make See and to Let Die

Photography and testimony

  • Gustavo Racy University of Antwerp/CAPES Foundation, Antwerp, Belgium | Ministry of Education of Brazil, Brasília, Brazil.
Keywords: Photography, testimony, power, biopolitics, refugees, World War I


The focus of this article is a speculative argument on the relation between photography and testimony as one that situates the viewer on a particularly powerless, but responsibility-laden position. Articulating Nilufër Demir’s viral 2015 photograph of Aylan Kurdi, and Walter Kleinfeldt’s 1918 photograph of an unknown fallen soldier, as images bearing the marks of shifts in biopolitics, the article takes up on Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Georges Didi-Huberman and Giorgio Agamben, and reflects upon the possibility of addressing and responding to images beyond a moral level. As such, it inquires on the need to relate to images on a level that considers power relations. Ultimately showing that observers, or viewers, of photographs are necessarily tied to the unfolding of human history, no matter how distant they may be from its events, the article proposes a response to the need of assuming a political stance when facing images.