Josephine Sun

The Vicarious Victim

The photographic evidence of violence of the Nanking massacre in 1937 is astounding. It was perhaps one of the first times that war brutality, not just the aftermath of it, was captured so unapologetically on film. These images stand to document moments in history that we would otherwise never have access to. One who wishes to remember the event today can only bear witness through the viewing and feeling of these images. As a result, the gruesome executions, piles of dead bodies, and corpses of women who were raped have conveniently become the cultural representation of the Nanking massacre, and our modern day remembrance of the event has become a collective viewing of violence.

The Vicarious Victim is a response to photography’s role in capturing moments of crisis and turning them into spectacles of horror, the cultural representation of the event that is then established, and the resulting perpetuation of violence in the memories of the viewers. It is an exploration of the interconnections between photography, memory, and time; from the moment an image is captured, it evolves from the photographer’s memory into a wider collective memory, and eventually into a form of personal memory, where the viewer re-remembers an event according to what she sees. Thus, by capturing these moments of terror, the camera allows for the traumatic experiences in the photographs to continue to perpetuate.




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