Familiar Faces

Photography, Memory, and Argentina's Disappeared

Piotr Cieplak


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Familiar Faces offers a diverse, theoretically rich, and empirically informed exploration of photography in Argentina's memorial, political, and artistic landscape. 

During the country's most recent civic-military dictatorship (1976–1983), 30,000 people were disappeared or killed by the state. Over the decades, vernacular and professional photographs have been central to the Argentine struggle for justice. They were used not only to protest the disappearances under the dictatorship and to denounce the authorities, but also as tools of political and social activism, and for remembering the disappeared.

With contributions from leading Argentina-based anthropologists, ethnographers, curators, art scholars, media researchers, and photographers, Familiar Faces moves beyond the traditional considerations of representation, focusing instead on the ways in which photography is continuously reimagined as a tool of memory, mourning, and political and judicial activism. In so doing, it considers the diverse uses of press photography; artistic practice; photographs of the disappeared in domestic rituals; photographs of the inmates of torture centers; the reclamation of images taken by the dictatorial state for memorial and activist purposes. 

Written and published at a crucial moment in Argentine memory politics, Familiar Faces offers a geographically and formally diverse selection of case studies, with international as well as regional resonance. While firmly rooted in this national context, the book contributes to wider, global debates about the increasingly pervasive role of the photographic image in relation to state-sponsored, large-scale violence.

From the very best writers on photography in Argentina, and brimming with insightful reflections, this elegant collection will doubtless generate and guide further discussions on the endlessly fascinating role of photography in the post-dictatorship period.

Professor Vikki Bell, author of The Art of Post-Dictatorship: Ethics and Aesthetics in Transitional Argentina

Familiar Faces is a stunning collection of essays and interviews about the role of photography in remembering, protesting and reimagining the forced disappearances in Argentina under the military dictatorship. From family photographs of the disappeared to press images of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, from artistic reworkings of family memories to insights into institutional memory work in Argentina, the collection assembles a vast range of perspectives and forms of photography in an imaginative, nuanced and generative manner. The volume is a huge achievement and makes an exciting contribution to the study of photography, protest and memorialization.

Dr Zoë Norridge, Reader in Comparative Literature and Visual Cultures, King’s College London

Piotr Cieplak

Piotr Cieplak is a filmmaker, writer, and academic. Prior to joining the University of Sussex as Senior Lecturer in Filmmaking, he held positions at SOAS, Africa Research Institute, and Brunel University London. Piotr's films have won awards and screened widely at international film festivals, conferences, and on television. His work combines academic research and creative practice and is concerned with the interaction between memory and the still and moving image, especially in the context of the depiction of genocide, political violence, mourning, and individual and collective trauma in film and professional and domestic photography. His focus is primarily, but not exclusively, on Africa and South America.