Susie Linfield is the author of The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. Her new book, The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky, will be published by Yale University Press in March. (February 2019)

NYR DAILY

Syria’s Torture Photos: Witness to Atrocity

A woman looking at images of dead bodies taken in Syria by the former military police photographer

Caesar thought, or at least hoped, that the photographs showing Syrian torture victims would lead to the toppling of Assad. But the Caesar photographs—like countless others, including that of little Alan Kurdi lying face-down on a Turkish beach—didn’t do that because they couldn’t. Photographs cannot overthrow dictators; photographs can only bolster a political awareness that already exists, even if only among a minority. “Photographs cannot create a moral position, but they can reinforce one—and can help build a nascent one,” Sontag wrote in On Photography. “What determines the possibility of being affected morally by photographs is the existence of a relevant political consciousness.”