Accepted paper:

Bureaucratically missing: capital punishment, exhumations, and the afterlives of state photographs


Bianca van Laun (University of the Western Cape)

Paper short abstract:

The paper investigates the afterlives of prison identification photographs of individuals hanged by the apartheid state in South Africa during the 1960s. It considers the materiality, mobility and temporalities of these photographs, recovered and reinterpreted through a memorialisation project.

Paper long abstract:

For many of the families of those hanged by the apartheid state in South Africa during the 1960s, their bodies remained invisible and missing. Judicial executions, and the corpses they produced, were hidden entirely from the scrutiny of the public and press. As the apartheid state claimed and maintained control over the bodies of these condemned prisoners- both in life and death- families were prohibited from viewing the corpse or attending the burial. This paper examines the ways in which the prisoner files, documents, and photographs in particular, produced through the bureaucratic procedures that processed prisoners to death on the gallows, have been reclaimed and repurposed by post-apartheid nation building and memorialisation projects. Under the auspices of the Gallows Memorialisation Project, bureaucratic records and photographs have been recovered from the apartheid state archives, reinterpreted and placed into different and new 'presentational circumstances' that desires to overturn their original oppressive logic. However, as the photographs and documents are used to fix the identities of particular individuals that the Project seeks to commemorate, the logic that drives their reproduction in the new configurations and contexts seems to replicate the bureaucratic rationality that produced them. In replicating the bureaucratic rationality that produced them, the biographical subject is unable to escape this logic of the prison photograph and remains missing.

panel Art03
Diversifying the visual library: photographic presentations and representations of the African continent