Images surely need no introduction, yet that is all too often what we are inclined to give. So, what else might we afford images to say or show to us? The specific intellectual and cultural context for this conference has been referred to as the 'visual' or 'pictorial' turn, which raises the problematic of a purported shift away from a typographic or textual culture to a visual one. The recent trends in fields of image studies, visual culture, and visual rhetoric are important markers of just such a shift in intellectual focus. This interest has inspired a wealth of new and exciting research, as well as effecting a redefinition of theoretical concerns and (inter)disciplinary boundaries, which in turn has brought to light new positions, problems and dilemmas. What role, then, might images themselves play in relation to critical inquiry, and how are we to re-think the inheritance of 'textual' or linguistic modes of cultural and political analysis? In order to examine some of the key issues, and also to experiment with new ideas and modes of thinking and research, the conference brings together both distinguished theorists from across a number of disciplines, and innovative artists and practitioners whose work encompasses both images and text, so that we may develop our understanding and appreciation of the relationship between images and texts, as well as thinking further about the role they play in cultural and political critique.

The conference sessions are organised around four broad, and undoubtedly interlacing themes: (1) Visual literacy - an enquiry into what this mode is and who can lay claim to it, as well as, how such a mode of engagement can be understood to contribute to critical theoretical debates; (2) Placing the Visual - an consideration of relation of images to 'things', and the interface of images, texts and contexts; (3) Visual Rhetoric - questioning the role images and the 'visual' play in the understanding and use of critical and cultural theories, including how we might understand images in, and as the writing of philosophy and history; (4) Visual theory - to consider the status and efficacy of visual theories following the recent and rapid growth in teaching visual culture and critical art history. The conference will close with a Summary & Roundtable Debate in which all panellists will join for a final question and answer session to debate the themes and issues raised throughout the conference.

In addition, as part of a consideration of visual literacy, and using images as a 'practice of thought,' the conference includes a Practical Workshop, Figuring out Thinking, in which participants will experiment with image manipulation techniques to form critical images constellations, or Denkbilder (cf. Benjamin).




James Elkins
Gillian Rose
Barbie Zelizer
WJT Mitchell
Jean Baird
Derek Bunyard
Alan Schechner
Feride Cicekoglu
Kevin DeLuca
Jon Beller
Jessica Dubow
Marquard Smith

Sunil Manghani

With the kind support of:

The British Academy

Nottingham Institute for Research in Visual Culture

Postgraduate School of Critical Theory and Cultural Studies



Session One: Visual Literacy

What is Visual Literacy? And Who Has It?
James Elkins (School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA)

What should count as visual literacy – the equivalent to the ‘ordinary’ literacy that is universally taught in colleges – for every college student, whether their subject is arts, science, or medicine? What images should be known to everyone who claims to be an educated participant in contemporary society? What methodologies, what strategies of interpretation should comprise the lingua franca of a visually articulate culture? This lecture frames the problem historically and pedagogically and provides some tentative answers.

Magic! Writing and Transformation in Photography

Jean Baird (Artist,UK)

This presentation is an attempt to develop an idiomatic account of the development of technologies of illusion, and cultural forms of magic that culminate in the invention of photography, by way of Muybridge, Marey & their equestrian adventures as they chart movement in the spasm between the moment and the long slow gaze. The topic evolves in correspondence with a theme in my own artwork that has surfaced at various points over a period of about twelve years; the hieroglyphic trace of the object/image in the photograph, its transformation as it approaches the condition of writing. The paper is the site of conflicts of critical intention as they interpenetrate with photographic practice, as I foolishly try to recuperate the notion of ‘magic’ in a more positive way, as an unmasking of representation in the very temporary suspension of reality that sometimes occurs in the encounter between the spectator and the photograph when language has momentarily left the scene.

Wundtian Scissors and Kantian Glue
Derek Bunyard (King Alfred’s College, Winchester, UK)

This paper proposes two alternative figurations for critique’s relationship to its objects, other than that of gender, reflecting two different conceptions of the objects themselves and the nature of agency within critical reflection. In reaching towards these, the phenomenon of ekphrasis – the description of visual experience by means of words – is used to introduce issues relevant not only to this paper but to the general aims of this conference. Principal amongst these are questions of epistemology and the nature of critique itself. Even if critical thinking does not necessarily involve language, it is hard to understand how a linguistically-bound culture such as our own can sustain response to critical interventions outside of this verbal matrix. However, while this may be true of reception in general as currently understood, the production of critical interventions themselves – irrespective of medium – involves agents transacting the transfer of objects from the private to the public domain and vice versa. The two figurations developed in the paper suggest how this process might be articulated, and its epistemological consequences.

Session Two: Placing the Visual

Placing and Encounter: Visual Culture’s Geographies
Gillian Rose (The Open University, UK)

The literature on visual culture most often locates its claim to be critical in its exploration of the effects of an image. This paper takes that starting point seriously and argues that most discussions of visual culture do not follow through its implications. The paper argues that the effects of images are located in the people who see them, and that discussions of ‘our’ visual culture need to explore much more carefully the effects of particular images on particular people. Critical work also needs to explore more carefully the importance of where images are sited and seen, since spaces of display are also fundamental to the effects of visualisations. Specific spaces have their potentialities variously mobilised by the subjects who move through or inhabit them, and their geometries, and their power, are complex and overdetermined. The paper also argues that these demands apply to the work of those of us who write about visual culture as its critics. We need to think more carefully about how we write and to what effect, and part of that should entail a reflection on where we do various kinds of critical work.

Image, Text, Context and Controversy
Alan Schechner (Artist, USA).

Against the backdrop of what Norman G Finklestein has called a “Holocaust Industry” I have attempted to demythologize the Holocaust, thus making it again a living demon with which to struggle. My artwork, which deals largely with issues of Holocaust representation became the source of much controversy when it was exhibited at the exhibition Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art (2002), organized by The Jewish Museum in New York. In this paper I wish to address a number of issues brought up by these works in the context of that exhibition. In doing so I wish both to interrogate these artworks as a way of analysing how images work, as well as to justify my use or manipulation of Holocaust imagery as legitimate, specifically in relation to some of the attacks made about the work. Other issues I will address include: Issues of cultural ownership (who owns and may use Holocaust images and to what ends?); how images are ‘read’ specifically in relation to work that exists at the intersection of art, history and politics?; and the relationship between art, criticism, theory and practice in the context of my work.

Two Ways of Seeing - A Confrontation of ‘Word and Image’ in My Name is Red
Feride Çiçekoglu (Istanbul Bilgi University, Turkey)

* Full paper available in the Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol 37, No 3, 2003, p.1-20.*

This paper focuses on two ways of seeing, taking as its frame of reference the novel My Name is Red, by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. This book is important for visual culture since it highlights issues of representation in a comparative context. Pamuk’s anachronistically created characters confront each other on ways of seeing in sixteenth-century Istanbul, when it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The visual narratives of Ottoman miniature painting are elaborated in comparison with the contemporary Renaissance art, unfolding the differences in the depiction of faces in particular. My Name is Red, which appears to be a detective and love story, is interesting not only for the identity of the murderer but for the reason of murder, which is none other than what has come to be known as the confrontation of ‘word and image’. In this sense, the story is also a contemporary tale, dealing with the concepts of representation and resemblance, iconoclasm and fundamentalism in the context of ‘East and West’. Italy serves the pivot of the compass defining the scope of this presentation, joining Netherlandish painting and Ottoman miniature tradition at a common juncture. Both ways of seeing will be traced through the sixteenth century, from Hieronymus Bosch to Pieter Bruegel on the one hand and from Bihzad (the master of Persian miniature) to Nakkas Osman (the chief miniaturist of the Ottoman Palace during the second half of the second century) on the other. My Name is Red provides the framework for this journey, with implication

Session Three: Visual Rhetoric

The About to Die Image and Journalistic Subjunctivity
Barbie Zelizer (University of Pennsylvania, USA)

This paper examines the ways in which photographic images have instantiated themselves in Western journalism, both in its coverage of events as they happen and in the recycled knowledge that journalism provides in helping publics to remember events over time. Tracing the utilisation of one particular kind of photograph - photographs of individuals about to die - the paper shows how images of people facing their impending death have been imported from artistic representations of the crucifixion and other memorable deaths (among them Socrates and General Wolfe) to depict a wide range of contested and complicated news events in the public sphere. From the assassinations of U.S. presidents, the Holocaust, and Vietnam to the Intifada and September 11, the about-to-die moment has surfaced repeatedly in Western journalism, becoming one of the favored visual tropes by which journalists depict war, assassination, atrocity, and geo-political strife. It is argued that the intrusion of the about-to-die image in journalism illustrates a subjunctive voice of visual representation, and offers a space in which hypothesis, imagination, and conditionality work both against the photograph’s referential force and its symbolic meaning. It is an oppositional space to that of journalism, undermining news value by laundering, softening, and rendering contingent complicated events in the public sphere.

The Speed of Immanent Images: The Dangers of Reading Photographs
Kevin DeLuca (University of Georgia)

As a field, rhetoric has yet to encounter images/photographs. Our studious gazes at images are always askew, filtered through the terministic screens of old habits, old practices, old concepts. Through recourse to historical context, morality, and transcendent theory we reduce the rhetorical force of images to meaning, domesticating them for our studies. As habits of reception and modes of perception are transformed, our habits of analysis are challenged. In a world moving at the speed of images, criticism premised on the gaze, sustained attention, focus, rationality, and depth of research is rendered archaic. Criticism seeking the rhetorical force of photographs oscillates/vibrates with two tasks—facing the intractable immanence of this photograph in its absolute particularity and describing the world called into being by this photograph as part of the public discourse of an image-centric media matrix. These tasks call on us to invent a rhetorical criticism of images that is imbued by images - a criticism premised on speed, distraction, and glances.

Session Four: Visual Theory

Cinema All the Way Down
Jon Beller (University of California, USA)

This paper places the social relation known as the image at the centre of contemporary metaphysics and epistemology. It argues that the intensification of image technologies underpins structuralism, psychoanalysis, post-structuralism and (post)modern political-economy. These discourses do not explain the image but rather can themselves be explained with reference to the image as the emergent interface between the material exigencies of late capitalist social organisation and human bodies.

Outside of Place and other than Optical
Jessica Dubow (University of Nottingham, UK)

* Full paper printed in the Journal of Visual Culture *

Schoenberg never completed his most famous opera, ‘Moses and Aaron’. For an important structural reason: the logic of the libretto could not be reconciled with the musical score. But this has a deeper implication. In the last minutes of the opera, Moses, the Hebrew patriarch, does not sing. Against a muted orchestration, he simply declares: ‘O word, Thou word that I lack’. If Moses is unable to find the means to convert affective substance into language and representation, it also hints – analogically – at the theoretical distinction between the perceptual and the specular, between the sensual, phenomenal body and its formal, abstractive fulfilments. This paper explores these distinctions in context of a Judaic philosophic tradition and its conceptual links to the notion of nomadic mobility. Looking at the itinerant figure of Walter Benjamin the question it poses is this: How may we see the anti-optical as an expression of the subject freed from the imperatives of territory and territorial identity? How does the Judaic injunction against visual presence relate to the perceptual discontinuities of the mobile body? In short, if we understand spatial mobility as an experience that cannot be incorporated by a simple adaptation of thought (or cognition and representation) how may we see a ‘Jewish eye’ as introducing a radically critical visual regime: one located outside a culture of specular presence as outside the site of the sedentary?

Addressing Media
W.J.T. Mitchell (University of Chicago, USA)

Paper available in Mitchell's book What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images (2005, University of Chicago Press)

Synopsis: Why do we have such extraordinarily powerful responses toward the images and pictures we see in everyday life? Why do we behave as if pictures were alive, possessing the power to influence us, to demand things from us, to persuade us, seduce us, or even lead us astray? According to W. J. T. Mitchell, we need to reckon with images not just as inert objects that convey meaning but as animated beings with desires, needs, appetites, demands, and drives of their own. What Do Pictures Want? explores this idea and highlights Mitchell's innovative and profoundly influential thinking on picture theory and the lives and loves of images. Ranging across the visual arts, literature, and mass media, Mitchell applies characteristically brilliant and wry analyses to Byzantine icons and cyberpunk films, racial stereotypes and public monuments, ancient idols and modern clones, offensive images and found objects, American photography and aboriginal painting. Opening new vistas in iconology and the emergent field of visual culture, he also considers the importance of Dolly the Sheep - who, as a clone, fulfills the ancient dream of creating a living image - and the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, which, among other things, signifies a new and virulent form of iconoclasm. What Do Pictures Want? offers an immensely rich and suggestive account of the interplay between the visible and the readable. A work by one of our leading theorists of visual representation, it will be a touchstone for art historians, literary critics, anthropologists, and philosophers alike.


Summary & Roundtable Debate
Chair: Marquard Smith (Kingston University, UK)

Practical Workshop: Figuring Thinking - an exercise in alternative pedagogy!

Session Leader: Derek Bunyard (King Alfred’s College, UK)

The workshop has been developed by a team from King Alfred’s College, and is based on a range of pedagogical interventions that seek to provide alternative media experiences from which one can manipulate and draft responses to academic work. Participants will receive several presentations explaining the nature and purpose of the work so far attempted at King Alfred’s, and they will be invited to take part in related activities and simulations. A review at the end of the workshop will provide participants with an opportunity to interrogate in a more formal way the purposes and methods featured in the workshop.