Beautiful Suffering: The Image of Catastrophe

Co-presented with the Power Institute at the University of Sydney and the National Institute for Experimental Arts, College of Fine Arts (COFA) at the University of New South Wales

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Image of bombed city of Dresden

25 October, 2011
Professor Emerita Abigail Solomon-Godeau, University of California, Santa Barbara


Professor Abigail Solomon-Godeau discussed the issues that arise when contemporary artists and photographers take as their subject the topic of catastrophe. Taking as examples the work of Walid Raad, Sophie Ristelheuber, Alfredo Jaar, and the 2006 exhibition “Beautiful Suffering: Photography and the Traffic in Pain,” Professor Solomon-Godeau considered some of the ethical and political complexities that attend the making of art – especially that which employs photography within it – from catastrophic historical events. Insofar as such practices appear to have become more frequent, there is reason to examine the complex problems they may raise. Such considerations require an awareness of the distinctions between the “need” to represent, and the “right” to represent.


Abigail Solomon-Godeau is Professor Emerita in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara. Her fields of research include photography, feminist theory and criticism, contemporary art and 19th-Century French visual culture. Her articles on these subjects have appeared in numerous journals, anthologies and exhibition catalogues. She is the author of the books Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institutions, and Practices (1991), Male Trouble: A Crisis in Representation (1997), Birgit Jurgenssen (co-authored with Gabriele Schor) (2010) and the forthcoming The Face of Difference: Gender,Race and the Politics of Self-Representation.

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