Poetics, Politics, and Possibilities: Visualizing Our Humanity

Monday, July 14, 2014: 4:00 PM
Room: 417
Oral Presentation
Tracy Xavia KARNER , Sociology, University of Houston, Houston, TX
At the turn of the 21st century, sociologist Robert Putnam warned that bedrock of community--our social connections to each other were disintegrating and leaving our lives and communities impoverished.   He found that we were losing touch with our humanity, our sense of belonging, and our ability to care about, and be cared for, by others.  Since this alarm was sounded there has been an explosion of research into the neurological basis of social connections.  In this quest, scientists have focused on the role of emotions, especially empathy, in moral thought and action.   This research into the workings of oxytocin, mirror neurons, and social cognition may also offer a means to understand the enduring power of photography to evoke an emotional response.  Moreover, it offers interesting interpretations as to why viewers respond strongly to some images and not to others.  As visual scholars, these findings can also point to possibilities for more self aware image making in our visual methods.  Photography can be a transformative act for the image maker, the viewer and the community.  As a medium of communication and connection, images rely on empathic impulses to go beyond social differences and engender understanding.  Empathy may be in the eye of the beholder but it can also be at the heart of the photographic act.  The camera, like Janus, looks both ways offering a glimpse of the maker as well as the subject.  In this way, every image can be seen as a self portrait, reflecting the values and vantage point of the photographer.  If the neurological research is sound, empathic photographers will create images more likely to resonate strongly with others, thus re-engaging those lost social connections -- one compelling image at a time.