“Tsunami Girl”: The Genesis of an Iconographic Picture

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal 13 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Ruth AYASS, University of Klagenfurt, Austria
Many historical events have imprinted themselves on the collective memory via one or only a few pictures. We all know images of this kind. Raising The Flag on Iwo Jima, Willy Brandt’s Warsaw Genuflection, Mahatma Gandhi sitting cross-legged at his spinning wheel, Martin Luther King in front of hundreds of thousands of listeners at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., etc. etc. In an iconographical way, these photos encapsulate an entire time period or a major event in one single image, many of them with a strong focus on a particular person or a particular symbol. But which features must a picture have to become such a key image?

The presentation analyses the photographs produced and circulated during the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake disaster in Japan, which show destroyed buildings, flooded landscapes and desperate people. Particularly one photo was printed again and again, the picture of a young woman wrapped in a blanket (sometimes referred to as “Tsunami Girl”).

The presentation provides a visual analysis of disaster photography. The analysis shows that the disastrousness of disaster is (also) created through the pictures of the disasters disseminated by the media. Disaster destroys existing order. The photographs of disaster depict the dissolution of such order, however, they do this in an orderly manner. Providing a qualitative analysis, I will demonstrate key features of this ordered structure. The presentation will discuss why and in what way certain pictures reveal themselves to be iconographic of disaster and how they enter the visual memory as its representatives.