Hiram College

Moving Pictures: Visual Culture/Visual Activism in the Health Humanities

“The whole world is watching.” –National Committee to End the War in Viet Nam, 1968 and Occupy Wall Street, 2011

In his recent book, How to See the World, Nicholas Mirzoeff opens with a snapshot of the visual world in which we live.  It is a world where one hundred hours of video are uploaded every minute to YouTube and where six billion hours are watched every month (that is one hour of video for every person on earth); where Americans take more photographs in two minutes than were made in the entire nineteenth century and where a total of one trillion were taken in 2014.  All of these images, Mirzoeff writes, are our way of trying to see and make sense of a world actually too big to see but crucially vital to imagine—this is now the study of visual culture. Moreover, many of these images such as the cellphone videos of police brutality in the US or the student protests in Hong Kong play a central role in rallying social and political response.  Such visual activism confronts deep-seated hegemonies like racism, encourages silenced voices to emerge, and works as a catalyst for reform.

In this session, we will explore visual culture and visual activism in the context of three health and human rights movements of the 20th century—breast cancer, AIDS, and disability rights—which foreground the critical practice and political strategy of producing visibility and deploying testimony in forms such as documentary, video, photography, and poster art.  We will consider the difference between looking and witnessing; how visual images influence attitudes towards patients and impact health policy; what is the balance between inciting moral outrage from exposure to images and inducing compassion fatigue from over-exposure to them.

Tess JonesTherese (Tess) Jones, Ph.D. is Associate Director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities (CBH) and Director of the Arts and Humanities in Healthcare Program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.  She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine.  She received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with major emphases in American literature, modern and contemporary drama, and gender studies and completed a three-year postdoctoral fellowship in medical humanities.  She has published and presented extensively on HIV/AIDS and the arts; literature, film and medicine; and medical education and is the editor of the Journal of Medical Humanities (Springer) and lead editor for the Health Humanities Reader published by Rutgers University Press.  Her teaching includes both required and elective courses in the humanities and arts for health professions students; co-directing the “Health Humanities Minor” for undergraduate students at the University of Colorado Denver; and directing the new Graduate Certificate in Health Humanities and Ethics at CBH, which debuts in fall 2017.  She is a member of the Academy of Medical Educators and received the Thomas Jefferson Award from CU in 2014 and the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation “Science, Medicine and Arts Award” in 2017.