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Art Critique Essay Humanities Nonfiction Photography Theory

Photographic Flashes: On Imaging Trans Violence in Heather Cassils’ Durational Art

By Eliza Steinbock, 2014

This article examines the aesthetic strategy of flash photography to visualize everyday violence against trans people in the visual art of Heather Cassils (2011–14). In addition to using photographic flashes to blind audiences, these works reference violence on multiple levels: institutional discrimination through the location in an empty archive room, killings through martial arts choreographies, and microaggressions in aesthetics of defacement. However, the rigorous physical training undergone for his body art also suggests a productive mode of violence in that muscles must fail in order to grow. I trace the recurrence of the spasm across these different forms of embodied violence to show its generative as well as destructive property. This body of work opens up questions about the historiography of photography: What is the temporality of photographic violence? How can the body’s resiliency be pictured? Does a trans body experienced as a punctum indicate queer anxieties?

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