Eamonn Carrabine (University of Essex) recently presented Seeing Things: Violence, Voyeurism and the Camera as part of the Centre for Criminology’s All Souls College seminar series. His presentation prefaces the publication of his forthcoming monograph The Iconography of Punishment and thematically follows two recent articles; ‘Images of Torture: Culture, Politics and Power’ in Crime, Media, Culture (Carrabine, 2011) and ‘Just Images: Aesthetics, Images and Visual Criminology’, in the British Journal of Criminology (Carrabine, 2012). The paper was far-reaching, consisting of a theoretical narrative that fuses the Left critique of the documentary photography tradition with Jürgen Habermas’ concept of the Bourgeois Public Sphere (Habermas, 1962) and its applied consequences (specifically in the context of extreme pornography and criminal justice). In this comment, I concentrate on the documentary aspects of Carrabine’s work in order to suggest how his intervention in this tradition might shape the development of visual and feminist criminologies.

On introducing his paper, Carrabine emphasises the proliferation of visual media technologies in the last decade. One example to highlight is within the context of criminal justice practice. The integration of visual media technologies has had profound affect on criminal justice to the extent that they no longer merely facilitate, but constitute the integrity of justice itself. It follows that there has been a recent theoretical shift to reinterpret criminal justice practice as, rather than through, art (Radul, 2011, 2012; see Fig 1.) to the extent that aesthetic jurisprudence has been assimilated by art theory (Paasche and Radul, 2011). In turn, the interpretation of the criminal court as art makes for its participatory elements, in the form of its actors, to be assimilated by the participatory art movement in the sociology of art.

The construction and constitution of, for example, justice, by and in the visual means that the inherently post and/or late modern notion of ‘mediation’ that takes place between individuals has undergone a qualitative shift. Carrabine’s turn to the notion of visual mediation is, then, clearly timeous. Yet, more than this, drawing criminology into the debate is particularly important. Criminology is well situated to answer questions about the psychological ‘violence’ inherent in any act of looking—voyeurism. When viewing physical violence as court-room evidence or, to use Carrabine’s example, (extreme) pornography[1], the psychological violence of voyeurism is heightened because our looking implicates us in the violence. In short criminology sits at the interface of voyeurism, as a psychologically violent pursuit, and physical violence.

Fig 2. Weegee (Arthur Fellig), DeadMan In Front of Funeral Parlor, 1941
In the substance of his paper, Carrabine makes an intervention in a debate present since the 1840s. Consistent with the critique of the documentary photography tradition proffered by the Left (Benjamin 1934/1982; Berger, 1980; Sontag, 1977), he problematises a distinction made between ‘the real’, as the preserve of documentary photography, and the ‘fantastical’, as the preserve of the art world. He demonstrates how the camera lens transfigures by drawing analogy between the documentary photography of violent crime-scenes by Arthur ‘Weegee’ Fellig (Fig. 2) and the silkscreen prints of portraiture by Andy Warhol (Fig. 3).[2]

Fig 3. Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987). Nine Jackies, 1964. Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 65 x 53 x 2 in. (165.1 x 134.6 x 5.1 cm) overall.
Carrabine highlights that Fellig, like Warhol, was a self-conscious voyeur. Fellig and Warhol’s work demonstrates that representation inherently facilitates a detached anonymity and thus objectifies its subject. Their work therefore shares a politic that motivates both the demand that we engage with the ethics of spectatorship in order to minimize the psychological violence inherent in any act of looking and to do so vicariously through engaging with the politics of representation. In relation to physical violence, these demands become stronger, and criminology is well situated to engage with them.

In the discussion that followed Carrabine's presentation, Mary Bosworth raised an interesting point about the potentially inherent feminist aspects of his work. Voyeurism as objectifying the body vis-à-vis the (male) gaze, and questions oriented around the notion of subjectivity, have long featured in post-structuralist feminist theory as well as in the feminist sociology of art (Pollock, 1949). This point is not justified simply by constructing (extreme) pornography as a feminist issue because of its gendered social construction, but because of the power of the lens to objectify any subject irrespective of the image’s content. As visual criminologists, and in order to develop the discipline in the direction ethical questions seem to be pushing us towards, one issue we ought to think about is what, if anything, in the theoretical substance of feminist literature suggests we should to maintain a distinction between visual and feminist criminologies? Perhaps it is the case that Carrabine’s work can regenerate an intellectual energy for a complimentary feminist visual criminology?

[1] This involves constructing (extreme) pornography as a physical harm and then, vicariously, the act of looking as a psychological harm.
[2] Although Carrabine does not address the gendered aspects of Warhol’s work, the premise that Warhol’s art form (theoretically) transcends social construction of gender are tempered by his invocation of the FBI’s twelve most wanted men that were installed by Warhol on the side of the New York Pavilion  at the 1964 Worlds Fair.

Benjamin, W. (1934/1982), ‘The Author as Producer’, in V. Burgin, ed., Thinking

Photography. London: Macmillan.

Berger, J. (1980), About Looking. New York: Vintage.

Carrabine, E. (2011a), ‘Images of Torture: Culture, Politics and Power’, Crime, Media, Culture, 7: 5–30.

Carrabine, E. (2012) ‘Just Images: Aesthetics, Images and Visual Criminology’, British Journal of Criminology, 52 (3): 463-489.

Habermas, J (1962) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, Massachussets: The MIT Press.

Pollack, G. (1949) Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and Histories of Art, London: Routledge.

Radul, J (2012) , in Marit Paasche and Judy Radul (Eds.) A Thousand Eyes: Media Technologies, Law and Aesthetics, Berlin, Sternberg Press.

Sontag, S. (1977), On Photography. London: Penguin.