Grey Room

Counter-forensics and Photography

Thomas Keenan

Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, dirs. The Forgotten Space, 2010. Video still.


Tracing the account of “instrumental realism” developed across a number of Allan Sekula’s critical texts, Thomas Keenan examines “Sekula’s patient exploration of the relationship between photography, evidence, and humanism—and with it, the politics of human rights.” In the process of considering photography’s evidentiary function, Keenan points out that Sekula coins the term “counter–forensics” in “Photography and the Limits of National Identity,” which provides an alternate account of the photographic archive, one hinted at but undeveloped in Sekula’s other texts, especially “The Body and the Archive.” For Keenan, counter–forensics redeploys a notion of humanism different from the one Sekula had so thoroughly criticized earlier, engaging photographic archives not only as sites of abstract equivalence, leveling, or containment but also as sites for political struggle and the work of mourning.