Listening to Images
Tina M. Campt is Claire Tow and Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Africana and Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women at Barnard College, and the author of Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe, also published by Duke University Press.
Striking Poses in a Tense Grammar: Stasis and the Frequency of Black Refusal
This chapter proceeds from the counterintuitive contention that stasis is a continual balancing of multiple forces in equilibrium, a temporal modality of diasporic motion held in suspension, hovering between stillness and movement. It juxtaposes late nineteenth-century ethnographic photos of rural Africans in the Eastern Cape with early twentieth-century studio portraits of African Christians in South African urban centers. These images visualize a tense grammar of colonization and black self-fashioning, and the tense relations of photographic subjects to the ethnographic gazes engendered by the history of colonial dispossession. Engaging these portraits as depictions of stasis rather than stillness means that what we see instead is an effortful equilibrium. The tense suspension of these images captures unvisible forms of motion, requiring us to do more than just see stasis. They demand that we listen to the infrasonic frequencies of images that register through feeling rather than vision or audible sound.