Photographing the Past: the power of the photos in the public inscription of controversial events
Tota, Anna Lisa
Dept. of Communication and Performing Arts University Rome III, Faculty of Literature and Philosophy Rome, Italy
How shared meanings are attributed to controversial event? To what extent can the public meaning of cultural trauma being fixed through different kind of cultural artefacts? This paper explores the power of images - and especially that of photos - in framing and reframing the public knowledge of very contested events. Starting from the works by Barbie Zelizer on the role played by photos in the public framing of the Holocaust, the paper addresses specifically the case of two very important photos from the Vietnam war: 1) the photos from My Lai Massacre, the mass murder of 347 to 504 unarmed citizens in South Vietnam, entirely civilians and some of them women and children, conducted by U.S. Army forces on March 16, 1968.
2) The photo of Kim Phuc, a young girl at about age nine running naked on the street after being severely burned on her back by a South Vietnamese napalm attack. The photo was taken by AP photographer Nick Út on June 1972.
These photos are analysed in their textual characteristics and in the history of their reception, in order to understand how they have contributed to reframe the meaning of the Vietnam war in the American and in the European public discourse.