Spaces of Discomfort: Photographic Depictions of Domestic Violence in Visual Culture

Proceedings of The 3rd International Conference on Gender Studies and Sexuality

Year: 2023



Spaces of Discomfort: Photographic Depictions of Domestic Violence in Visual Culture

Caitlin O’Keeffe




Despite the prevalence of domestic violence in North America, photographic images of domestic violence are rarely represented, under-documented and largely exiled from critical discussion. Within visual culture the depictions of domestic violence available to us, most commonly include: court testimony and evidence, documentary photographs, public awareness campaigns and fictional media portrayals. As such photographic depictions of domestic violence visible within the public sphere often operate within a damage-centered framework, wherein victims of domestic violence are disempowered and primarily framed in a one-dimensional way as damaged or broken. Informed by scholar Eve Tuck’s text “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities”, this paper considers how desire-based methodologies offer alternative ways of viewing and responding to images of domestic violence. This study examines how domestic violence is represented within visual culture through an analysis of photojournalist Donna Ferrato’s photobook Living with the Enemy (1991) and artist Nan Goldin’s self-portrait Nan One Month After Being Battered (1984). I argue that Nan Goldin’s self-portrait interrupts singular damage-centered readings of violence to subvert existing conditions of visibility, opening up the possibility for alternative readings of domestic violence that empower photographic subjects. My paper asks; what factors contribute to the invisibility of domestic violence, and what political work do these images ask of us? Informed by the scholarship of Ariella Azoulay and Sharon Sliwinski, this research will frame acts of witnessing and photographic depictions of domestic violence within the visual field as important and necessary to understanding and combatting the pervasiveness of domestic violence.

keywords: feminism, women artists, violence, gender studies, popular culture