From the fundamental rights proclaimed in the American and French declarations of independence to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Hannah Arendt’s furious critiques, the definition of what it means to be human has been hotly debated. But the history of human rights—and their abuses—is also a richly illustrated one. Following this picture trail, Human Rights In Camera takes an innovative approach by examining the visual images that have accompanied human rights struggles and the passionate responses people have had to them.Sharon Sliwinski considers a series of historical events, including the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and the Holocaust, to illustrate that universal human rights have come to be imagined through aesthetic experience. The circulation of images of distant events, she argues, forms a virtual community between spectators and generates a sense of shared humanity. Joining a growing body of scholarship about the cultural forces at work in the construction of human rights, Human Rights In Camera is a novel take on this potent political ideal.
Sharon Sliwinski is assistant professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies and the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at the University of Western Ontario.