Afterimage Vol. 45, Nos. 2 & 3

From the Issue

May Symposium: Media Literacy Highlights

Dolores Flamiano and Hillary Ostermiller

Media literacy is defined as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms. Depending on their disciplinary home, scholars take different approaches to media literacy, but most approaches are grounded in core principles that provide context for critical analysis:

1. Media messages are culturally constructed.
2. Different forms of media have different codes and conventions.
3. Audiences play a role in actively negotiating meanings.
4. Representation involves ideology and power.
5. In general, media are commercial and profit-making institutions.

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Becoming Literate in Communications Activism: Media Literacy and the US Movement for Media Justice and Media Reform

Lyell Davies

On July 12, 2017, the United States Congress and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) were flooded by calls and emails in support of net neutrality. Free Press, one of the nonprofit organizations behind the day of action, reports that the initiative fostered five million emails and 124,000 phone calls to Congress, with two million more emails sent to the FCC.1 As the summer progressed, the organizations behind the net neutrality campaign encouraged the public to engage in further actions, including “showing up at town halls, in-district meetings and rallies to talk to . . . senators and representatives about Net Neutrality,” and thereby ensure that elected representatives “hear from as many people as possible.”2 The popular campaign in support of net neutrality is an illustration of a mass mobilization targeting US media policy—the government rules that regulate the communications arena. Popular efforts to shape communications policy are not new to US life, and antecedents for current internet-themed activism can be found in the radio reform movement of the 1920s and ’30s, and in civil-rights era campaigns to make broadcasters accountable to communities of color. But the scale of the recent protest is remarkable, perhaps even unprecedented.

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Falsehood in Focus: Media and the Politics of Veracity

John Corner

The idea that we have now moved into an era of “post-truth,” currently the favored journalistic label for addressing shifts around the changing circumstances and uses of factuality, is calculatedly alarmist and self-consciously dramatic. This is so, however productive it might be as a call for current trends in the mediation of public life to be given sharper critical focus. Insofar as it is activities within civic culture that are the primary concern, a question or two about the supposed “truth” era is immediately prompted—when did we leave it, and what did it look and sound like within political space? Any attempt at answers here is likely to involve a move away from the idea of a definitive shift toward lower-level, if nevertheless significant, changes. This is because the historical record, confirmed in an extensive array of studies internationally, reveals that “truth” has long been a highly precarious notion in the guidance of political, public, and corporate affairs, and that what is called the “news” (a vast range of cultural products of very different types and functions) has a decidedly mixed record as a resource for attaining it. Examining the terms in which a perceived crisis in the production and circulation of knowledge is receiving widespread attention, I want to connect back to previous perspectives on the availability of truth and its public use.

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Bearing Witness in a Post-Factual Age: Documentary Shorts on the Syrian Crisis and Critical Media Literacy

Soumitree Gupta and Crystine Miller

This year’s Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Short Subject was Orlando von Einsiedel’s The White Helmets (2016, 41 min.), a film that bears witness to a volunteer group’s efforts to rescue civilians after air bombings in Syria. Of the other four films nominated in this category, two—Daphne Matziaraki’s 4.1 Miles (2016, 26 min.) and Marcel Mettelsiefen’s Watani: My Homeland (2016, 40 min.)—document the lived experiences of Syrian migrants. These nominations signal the increasing visibility of an emergent genre of documentary shorts that focus on the Syrian crisis and survivor stories. These documentary shorts, which we consider instances of activist media,1 are produced by independent filmmakers, non-mainstream media outlets such as Al Jazeera (based in Qatar), and nonprofit organizations in the West. Given their major exhibition sites in North America and Europe, these documentary shorts are targeted at primarily Western audiences. In addition, mainstream media organizations such the Guardian (UK), CBC (Canada), TIME magazine (US), BBC (UK), and ABC News (US) have produced several documentary shorts that examine the Syrian crisis from the perspectives of affected Syrian civilians and migrants. While these mainstream media productions may not be associated with activist media practices, we would argue that they occupy an in-between space between mainstream and activist media and, together with independent documentary shorts, demonstrate the important space that this genre has occupied in the Western cultural imaginary.

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Where We Are Now: A Conversation with Rita Leistner

Bill Kouwenhoven

Award-winning and internationally exhibited Canadian photographer Rita Leistner is a graduate of the International Center of Photography in New York and has an MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto. Her photography practice is based on first-hand engagement with the world, in particular on documenting communities in extreme conditions, such as soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, female patients at psychiatric hospitals during wartime, and First Nations communities in the Arctic.

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Ethnopoetics of Reality: The Work of Sky Hopinka

Almudena Escobar López

Sky Hopinka’s videos have been shown at numerous festivals and art venues worldwide, including the Ann Arbor Film Festival in Michigan, the Images Festival and Wavelengths in Toronto, Projections in New York City, and the 2017 Whitney Biennial. Visions of an Island: Video Works by Sky Hopinka was part of the Spring Film Series curated by Tara Merenda Nelson at the Visual Studies Workshop in 2017.

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Real Men Do Textiles: A Conversation with Andrew Salomone

Alisia Chase

As an artist, teacher, and writer, Andrew Salomone converges traditional craft processes with modern technology and the unsettling demands of life spent online. A native of California, Salomone earned an MFA from the Burren College of Art at the National University of Ireland at Galway, concentrating in printmaking. After relocating to New York City in 2010, he lectured on internet art practice at Parsons School of Design, and also worked as a resident artist in the Artist Studios Program at the Museum of Arts and Design. The work he completed during a residency at the Project Space at the Visual Studies Workshop (VSW) culminated in the exhibition The Slow TV Crafting Cycle (January 30–March 4, 2017) and was the impetus for this interview.

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The Power of Protest Imagery Then and Now: Christian Schulz’s West Berlin

Sarah Goodrum

Christian Schulz’s photographs of 1980s West Berlin offer a dizzying mix of scenes and characters. He depicts the bystanders and peripheral details of protests, everyday scenes, and historical events as frequently as he does the protagonists. Schulz’s black–and–white images invite the viewer to stop and read deeply into the landscape of the crowd, or into the details of the city environment, for the stillpoints within conflict and rapid urban movement.

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Performing Skepticism through Parody: Re Made Company’s Media Critique

Rebekah Modrak and Jonathan Schroeder

This tableau of fetishized labor composed for an audience of affluent consumers is only part fiction. The quote is from a re-created, that is, fake, New York Times article that appeared on the Re Made Co. website as part of an elaborate parody of how lifestyle branding, “fake news,” and social media interact in the contemporary marketplace. Re Made Co. is a multimedia artistic intervention satirizing the brand narrative of Best Made Co., a New York City-based company that sells painted axes and a range of “outdoor” consumer products using calculated and dubious associations with manual labor. Best Made, a so-called lifestyle brand, gained attention for its hand-painted “designer axes” that have come to typify the ripe-for-parody “urban lumberjack” target market, as well as the wider discourses of contemporary branding.

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Second Reflection, Second Innocence: Linguistic-affect and Anti-debt Prefigurement in Corina Kennedy’s Tender for All

Thom Donovan

The fifth anniversary of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) went practically unobserved a year ago September. Asked to write about Corina Kennedy’s exhibition Tender for All, which appeared in October of 2016 at the Purchase College Center for Community and Culture (PC4) in Yonkers, New York, I returned to the moment of OWS, a nascent influence for the two installation works featured in Kennedy’s show. In returning, I had a chance to think again about why Occupy came about and about its legacy, including how it impacted aesthetic discourse in North America. If I can make a bold conjecture, I believe that three primary tendencies of aesthetic response to the debt economy ran through OWS. One I would like to call an activist tendency. This tendency is represented by artists who sought to use art as a platform for counteracting debt as a means of governance and subjugation, such as the artist Thomas Gokey, whom Chris Kraus profiles in her pamphlet, Lost Properties (2014). Groups such as Rolling Jubilee and Strike Debt, which emerged among OWS’s other working groups and which included Gokey and a handful of other artists, pioneered creative strategies for combatting governance through debt. One of the primary strategies of these groups was that of purchasing debt from collections agencies, a strategy that has since been adopted (or coopted, depending on who you ask) by John Oliver, the host of HBO’s satirical talk show Last Week Tonight, and other progressive media figures.

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Exhibition Reviews

Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media

Jody Zellen

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles
December 20, 2016–April 30, 2017

Breaking News: Turning the Lens on the Mass Media, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, was a timely and evocative, albeit traditional, look at how artists using the camera have responded to media culture. Arranged chronologically, the exhibition presented photographs and videos by seventeen artists whose work is inspired by or directly appropriates images from mass media, beginning with black-and-white photographs created between 1969 and 1970 by Donald Blumberg and ending with the installation of War Primer 2 (2011), a bookwork by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin.

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Gregory Sholette

Postmasters Gallery
June 17–July 29, 2017
New York City

When the tactical activist duo The Yes Men impersonated members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in order to infiltrate a 2001 business conference to deploy what they described as a “management leisure smartsuit,” or when they scammed the BBC in 2004 int o believing that Dow Chemical Company would finally compensate millions sickened by a toxic gas spill in Bhopal, India, twenty years earlier, their mimetic interventions practiced a self-described form of “intelligent sabotage.”1 Most of these tactics were aimed at “correcting”— as The Yes Men called their truth-to-power practice—the airbrushed identities of targeted corporate entities such as the WTO or Dow Chemical. By replacing the fictitious consumer-friendly images that businesses present to the public with a more accurate profile of their true, profit-directed motivations, The Yes Men’s projects relate to the tradition of politically engaged art that attempts to “demystify” ideology—for example, the work of Hans Haacke and Martha Rosler. Except that rather than counter ideological appearances with a form of media literacy including the use of sobering f acts and documents, The Yes Men hijack the very medium through which authority operates, turning it to their own ends, temporarily, before allowing their shrewd détournement of reality to be exposed by shocked newscasters, public officials, or corporate executives. In this sense, what they ultimately demystify is nothing less than their own cultural “hacktivist” practice.2

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Book Reviews

John Potter and Julian McDougall’s Digital Media, Culture
and Education: Theorising Third Space Literacies

By John Potter and Julian McDougall
Palgrave Macmillan, 2017
205 pp./$99.99 (hb), $79.99 (e-book)

Jacqueline Ryan Vickery’s Worried About the Wrong Things:
Youth, Risk, and Opportunity in the Digital World

By Jacqueline Ryan Vickery
MIT Press, 2017
360 pp./$35.00 (sb), $24.00 (e-book)

Renee Hobbs’s Create to Learn: Introduction to Digital Literacy

By Renee Hobbs
Wiley-Blackwell, 2017
285 pp./$89.95 (hb), $34.95 (sb)

Holly Willis

To read about critical digital literacy in the context of K-12 and undergraduate education in the United States and Great Britain in 2017 is to engage in an act that is profoundly disappointing, disheartening, and discouraging. This is not to say that current discussions lack compelling ideas, sophisticated solutions, or ethical considerations that deserve careful pondering. Nor is it to suggest that this realm of academic research and curriculum development has declined or dwindled. Quite the contrary. The discipline is home t o rigorous, provocative, and dedicated work by scholars who have steadily produced both sound and radical ideas about how best to educate young people for a digital world, with varied and abundant research studies as support. Further, the last decade has seen the evolution of a global perspective, careful attention to both formal and informal learning, and an awareness of generational differences that boasts a greater acuity than ever. So why the weary sense of despair?

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Pooja Rangan’s Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary

By Pooja Rangan
Duke University Press, 2017
264 pp./$94.95 (hb), $25.95 (sb)

Joel Neville Anderson

What does endangered life do for documentary? The question reverses assumptions concerning the work of participatory documentary, and it is posed in numerous innovative ways in this vital new text by Pooja Rangan, building a theoretical structure for the reader to scale and survey the urgent philosophical concerns of documentary media today. As Rangan demonstrates, the often unconsidered participatory gesture pervasive in humanitarian media—gifting a camera to a work’s subject—can participate in inventing the disenfranchised humanity the project claims to redeem. In various diverse examples throughout Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary, documentary forms are found to work to regulate what counts as human not in spite of, but because of, their humanitarian uses.

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 Double Exposure

Double Exposure: Silos

Andria Hickey and Matthew Chasney



Portfolio: Citizen

Michael Danner

View this portfolio

Portfolio: Shame

Elissa Levy

View this portfolio

Portfolio: An Empty Field

Elisabeth Tonnard

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Online Exclusive

Film as Verb: Documentary Imperfection in the Post-Factual Era

Gabrielle McNally


Media Received

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Current Issue, Vol. 45, no. 5

4 3 2 CRY: Fracking in Northern Colorado by Kathy T. Hettinga

Vol. 45, no.5

Xilunguine by Paul Castro


Image Text Ithaca Symposium

Film as Verb: Documentary Imperfection in the Post-Factual Era by Gabrielle McNally

Speculations and Inquiries on New Participatory Documentary Environments

Toward a Theory of Participatory New Media Documentary

Documentary Untethered, Documentary Becoming

Collaborative Documentary Practice: Histories, Theories, Practices


Silos by Andria Hickey and Matthew Chasney

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Vol. 45, nos. 2 & 3

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