events archive

How should we look at photographs?

7:00pm, Monday 9 March 2015, Room G24, Ground Floor, Foster Court, Malet Place, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

From the intimacies of family life and pleasures of the public square to the horrors of the battlefield, photography provides both a record and a way of reflecting on what it means to live in the modern world. For some, photography acts as a spur to identification, political and moral activism. For others, it represents little more than a reductive, mechanical process that flattens human experience to two dimensions and, in the words of Susan Sontag, ‘deadens conscience’. With its ability to capture and instantly fix ‘the moment’ within the flow of history, most agree that the camera is a uniquely modern invention. ‘When we talk about photography, we are talking about modernity’, writes critic Susie Linfield, ‘photography is a proxy for modern life and it’s discontents’.

How should we look at photographs? As imitations of reality, documents of the real, partial fragments of truth? Should we believe what we see, and why, increasingly, in an image saturated world, do we refuse to believe? And calling into question the ‘flexible nature’ of photography’s relationship to social reality, what can we learn about its claims to aesthetic, historical and political relevance?

Pauline Hadaway will explore key conversations around the ethics and aesthetics of photography, touching upon questions of representation, authenticity, truth and meaning.



Pauline Hadaway, writer, researcher and former director of Belfast Exposed Photography


The Cruel Radiance, Photography and Political Violence (2010), Susie Linfield, University of Chicago Press. (Chapter One, ‘A Little History of Photography Criticism’)

From Exception to the Norm: Representations of Urban Africa in Paul Seawright’s Invisible Cities. (Source 2006) Source Photography Review 2006

Why Art Photography?, Lucy Soutter