Between Two Earthquakes

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Abstract

As the number of natural and other disasters world-wide increases, so too does the variety of platforms that produce, distribute, and display images of catastrophe victims. Are compassion fatigue and disaster voyeurism inevitable consequences of the networked society or can a new understanding of art, aesthetics, and representation be employed to help shape a more ethical and engaged viewing self? Using the image of the earthquake in history, art and sacred text as the paradigmatic catastrophe, and drawing on the research of aesthetic theorists and theologians, this paper investigates the shortcomings of the West’s prevailing visual paradigm for representing victims of natural disaster, the Kantian sublime and its Romantic developments. As an alternative, it posits the framework of the “eschatological” as a more creative and productive lens. In doing so, it uses the work of Australian war artist George Gittoes as an exploratory case study.