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Applying psychoanalytical theory to photo criticism, Baer (German, NYU) makes comparisons between the notion of the photograph's "arrested moment" and how the human psyche processes trauma. He draws from Freud, Barthes, Benjamin, and Charcot, as well as recent studies in trauma, to prove that images representing a traumatic history lack the concept of "future" and forward movement that characterizes conventional documentary photographs. Traumatic memory, like the camera, freezes the moment and removes it from the forward motion of linear time. Instead of sensational images, as the title might suggest, Baer uses seemingly commonplace photographs to illustrate his ideas, thus placing the viewer in the role of witness instead of innocent onlooker. Ultimately, Baer is able to support his premise by establishing the connection between the concept of trauma and the development of the photograph, making this research original as well as timely. Baer is the editor of No One Bears Witness for the Witness: The Culture of Memory and Historical Responsibility after the Shoah and the forthcoming 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11. The current volume contains an extensive bibliography and notes and is recommended for graduate and research collections. Shauna Frischkorn, Millersville Univ. Lib., PA
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In this remarkable contribution to photographic criticism and psychoanalytic literature, Ulrich Baer traces the hitherto overlooked connection between the experience of trauma and the photographic image. Instead of treating trauma as a photographic "theme," Baer examines the striking parallel between those moments arrested mechanically by photography and those arrested experientially by the traumatized psyche—moments that bypass normal cognition and memory. Taking as points of departure Charcot’s images of hysteria and Freud’s suggestion that the unconscious is structured like a camera, Baer shows how the invention of photography and the emergence of the modern category of "trauma" intersect. Drawing on recent work in the field of trauma studies, he shows how experiences that are inherently split between their occurrence and their remembrance might register in and as photographic images. In light of contemporary discussions of recovered memories and the limits of representing such catastrophes as the Holocaust, Baer examines photographs of artistic, medical, and historical subjects from the perspective of witnessing rather than merely viewing. He shows how historicist approaches to photography paradoxically overlook precisely those cataclysmic experiences that define our age. The photograph’s apparent immunity to time is seen as a call for a future response--a response that is prompted by the ghostly afterlife of every photograph’s subject. In a moving discussion of a rare collection of color slides taken by a Nazi official in the Lodz ghetto, Baer makes us aware that it is the viewer’s responsibility to account for the spectral evidence embedded in every image.