“Ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks.”

in Camera Lucida, de Roland Barthes

By reflecting on the concept of subversion, I wonder about the possible existence of two points of view. On the one hand, the one of who makes the photograph and, on the other hand, of the one who sees it – the spectator. Photography becomes subversive to the viewer when he sees it and is encouraged to think and reflect before this “talking object.” The spectator thus assumes this role and becomes pensive before the image. On the other hand, the person who captured the moment may or may not have had the intention of provoking a reflection on what led to that circumstance.

Picture of the drowned Syrian boy, Ailan Kurdy by Nilüfer Demir

Barthes points out that photography is subversive “not when it frightens, disturbs, … but when it is thoughtful.” In fact, what frightens or disturbs us has little impact, for being something momentary. The same does not happen when we ask ourselves about the causes of a certain event. In this way, the act of thinking can lead to many different paths, from the taking of a position / opinion, to a simple reflection or even to propel future action. For instance, take as an example the photo taken by the Turkish photojournalist Nilüfer Demir of Aylan Kurdi. It can be said that this image is subversive, not only by the way Kurdi is immortalized, but more so by the debate that provoked. In this case, it would not be an attitude of compassion one would expect, but a critical stance.

So, can subversive photography (as a mode of reflection) lead to an awareness of what surrounds us and, consequently, by disrupting the spectator, lead him to act?


This post was originally written in Portuguese. Click here to read the Portuguese version.

BONUS: Roland Barthes was a French theorist and philosopher, who wrote several essays on 
multiplous subjects such as photography. Click here to get to know him better.
On September 2015, the photo taken by Nilüfer Demir to the Syrian boy drowned was on every 
newspaper's front page. Such as The Guardian,The Independent,Le Monde,The Times.