Smoke, Shadow, Light: Conflict, Photography and the Tamil Imagination in Postwar Sri Lanka

This project is an ethnographic exploration of the political work of photography in northern Sri Lanka.

Centred on the Tamil community in Jaffna and the Vanni, it extends from the everyday workings of photography studios embedded within citizenship registration projects as well as immigration regimes; the animated afterlives of state-necessitated identity photographs, memorial portraits, wedding and family albums, and visual ‘evidence’ of wartime atrocity and trauma captured by ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’; transient offline and online sites of protest and commemoration; to the efforts of amateur photographers and activists questioning and reclaiming visual narratives of identity and place through photography-oriented social media platforms.

The interconnections between these disparate ethnographic contexts illuminate the empirical disquiet between the theoretical positions on photography as ideological tool and emancipatory practice.

This research was undertaken to inform a wider European Research Council-funded project Photodemos | Citizens of Photography: The Camera and the Political Imagination‘ at UCL Anthropology.

Death and the Nation: Iconographies of War and Justice

This research inquires into the transnational visual economies of Tamil war death. During the Sri Lankan civil war, evocations of death framed articulations of nation, state-citizen relationships, and political risk and possibility.

Images of war death continue to be mobilized by victims and perpetrators in competing political claims and grievances. By undertaking ethnographic fieldwork among the dispersed northern Tamil community, I examine the perceived efficacy of these visual practices to explore questions of political threat and aspiration in the wake of mass atrocity.

This project aims to advance the conceptual and methodological possibilities for rethinking political life in post-conflict societies.

The images shown are re-photographed studio negatives from Jaffna from the 1970s-1980s (c) Vindhya Buthpitiya.

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