Posted by: phane20c | October 12, 2010

Phantasmagoric Aesthetic and the Perpetration of Racism

I thought the Phantasmagoric Aesthetic article from last week was very interesting. The author offers a profound look at a history of photography and its significance in the colonial world and beyond. I bring this article up now because some of the discussions I’ve been having in my Psychology of Racism course tie in with the racism aspects covered in the article- namely in the photographs Group of Five Young Andamanese Women and Juang Girls. In my class, we have been discussing how racist qualities like barbarianism and primitivism had been imposed on African slaves in America. The Phantasmagoric Aesthetic article makes a point of saying that the subjects in the aforementioned photos have had “foreignness imposed upon them.” The women in these photos are not wearing what they normally wear. They are posed to look more “authentic” and “primitive” than they are. We see the women in leaves and beads instead of the not-so-primitive white dress or saris the photographer admits he usually sees them wearing. Also noteworthy is in Andamanese Women, we see an upside-down barrel “with the primitive foot resting on it, as if to suggest a momentary refusal of labor.” This might seem like a small detail but it is actually very important in the perpetration of racist thinking. It labels the subject as rebellious and untamed. It suggests the need to be kept under control. Indeed, with the case of slaves in America, only the disobedient ones were pointed out so that negative stereotypes ensued. Colonists had the audacity to strip natives of their land and culture, and make them work hard with little or no pay then point out the natives’ understandable bitterness and suggest “they” need a lesson in civility and manners. By differentiating between “us” and “them,” colonizers, like slave owners, could justify violence toward foreigners without guilt. Photography in the 1800s aided the perpetration of racism by showing foreigners as primitive, thus leading to false truths and stereotyping. The phantasmagoric aesthetic can actually be responsible for justifications of violence and “us” and “them” thinking. When seen by the colonizer, the people in these photographs were just exotic items on display, thus detaching the observer from his/her senses.


  1. thank you for posting such an interesting article. I am citing from your article as an example perception management through photography.

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