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Killing for Show


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About the Author

Julian Stallabrass is a writer, photographer, curator and lecturer. He is Professor of art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and is the author of Art Incorporated, Oxford University Press 2006 (updated edition forthcoming), Internet Art: The Online Clash Between Culture and Commerce, Tate Publishing, London 2003; Paris Pictured, Royal Academy of Arts, London 2002; High Art Lite: British Art in the 1990s, Verso, London 1999 and Gargantua: Manufactured Mass Culture, Verso, London 1996. On a senior fellowship from the Paul Mellon Foundation, he is currently researching a book about the relations between cultural and political populism.

He is the co-editor of Ground Control: Technology and Utopia, Black Dog Publishing, London 1997, Occupational Hazard: Critical Writing on Recent British Art, Black Dog Publishing, London 1998, and Locus Solus: Technology, Identity and Site in Contemporary Art, Black Dog Publishing, London 1999, and Red Art: New Utopias in Data Capitalism, Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 2014. He has written art criticism regularly for publications including the London Review of Books, Art Monthly and the New Statesman.

Killing for Show has its origins in Stallabrass’ curation of the Brighton Photo Biennial in 2008, Memory of Fire: Images of War and the War of Images’, and has been over ten years in the making. He has published extensively in the area over this time, in forms ranging from reviews to catalogue essays, and has edited two books (both 2013) that bear on the subject: Documentary for the MIT/ Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art; and Memory of Fire, published by Photoworks, Brighton. He has also been teaching these subjects at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, including the supervision of PhDs.


A huge achievement, equal to the subject. This illuminating book recognises the full diversity of photographic material to emerge from the conflicts and provides a more balanced account than any previously available. As a guide to these terrible events, Stallabrass is consistently attentive, judicious, and humane. There are memorable discussions of everything from the formal qualities of North Vietnamese photography to the politics and aesthetics of amateur photography in Iraq.

In the main Stallabrass does what he sets out to do: to show how images are woven into the very fabric of war and the institutions that support it[.]

In this incisive and insightful examination of the role of visual culture in the depiction of war and violence in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, Stallabrass delivers a devastating critique of the various ways in which photography is implicated, consciously or not, in the neo-imperial machinations of America and its allies. He draws out the crucial similarities and connections but also the significant differences in how American administrations attempted to manipulate and control the media in the conflicts in Vietnam and South East Asia and those in Iraq and the Middle East as 'force multipliers' to enhance their combat capabilities into the wider geopolitical arena and to try to garner support domestically. But he also explores how dissenting voices of independent photographers, artists and citizen journalists have found cracks in the armour of the monolith of state power, and the vital role that these alternative viewpoints play in defending the core values of civic society.

Julian Stallabrass's lucid and quietly angry publication...traces complex forms of power and counter-power across the two major US wars of the past half-century.... This book builds on years of work to offer a complex and nuanced historical understanding of its subjects.

Julian Stallabrass's Killing for Show is an exacting, meticulous encyclopedia of war photography. Spanning the decades of the Vietnam War and the so-called War on Terror, the book is a gruesomely detailed analysis of war photography's double act: both as art and testimony, subject to aesthetic as well as--at least potentially--ethical evaluation. The range of examples covered is breathtaking. It includes the most varied types of photography, from Magnum-type shots to propaganda items, memes and amateur pictures, from leaked footage to pr releases, from embedded collaborator to partisan perspective. It catalogues its developments as a series of relentless horrors hoping for moments of redemption--which remain few and far between.

Killing for Show is an urgent contribution to photographic and war history. Drawing together the barbarous histories of America's wars in Vietnam and Iraq through an unflinching analysis of the photographic images they produced (and those they didn't), Stallabrass manages the exceptional feat of writing reasonably and perceptively about a catalogue of mindless cruelty. His incisive readings of a vast, and largely neglected, archive of photographs underpins a persuasive and chilling account of how images of war are used to wage war. Arguing that to resist the ever-expanding reach of our militarism of the image requires a detailed understanding of how killing and showing (and not-showing) interact, Stallabrass provides an agile and uncompromising model of activist looking.

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