President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war in the Philippines has exacted an enormous toll in human lives and suffering. This essay looks into one of the earliest and most graphic responses to this war: the work of photojournalists and the plurality of responses to their images. How does photojournalism become a kind of witnessing linked to the work of mourning? How are trauma and grieving braided together in the experience of photographers covering war? What is the role of the camera, and what are the ambivalent effects of the technical and aesthetic imaging of the dead and their survivors? How has the drug war, by instilling a biopolitics of fear, transformed the latter’s ways of seeing and being? What becomes of justice amid images of injustice? For example, how do returning spirits of the dead that appear in dreams of their families stimulate phantasms of revenge? How is revenge imagined as a form of justice that reinforces rather than detracts from the brutal logic of the drug war?
Photography and the Biopolitics of Fear: Witnessing the Philippine Drug War
Vicente L. Rafael is the Giovanni and Amne Costigan professor of history at the University of Washington, in Seattle. He is the author of numerous works on the cultural politics of the colonial and postcolonial Philippines, including Contracting Colonialism; White Love and Other Events in Filipino Histories; The Promise of the Foreign; and Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation. He has also edited Discrepant Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Cultures (1995); Figures of Criminality in Indonesia, the Philip-pines, and Colonial Vietnam (1999); and Nick Joaquin’s The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic (2017).
Vicente L. Rafael; Photography and the Biopolitics of Fear: Witnessing the Philippine Drug War. positions 1 November 2020; 28 (4): 905–933. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-8606621
Download citation file: