Implied Viewers of Photographs, Seen or Unseen, in San Diego, the Lower Mainland and in Killing Women
The space of the museum presupposes a walking tour, an order in which the dioramas, exhibits, and panels are viewed and read. Thus it addresses an implied viewer—in narratological terms, a focalizer—whose tour produces the story of knowledge taken in and taken home. (Bal 1996a, 18)
Photographs imply viewers; they imply relations between photographers, viewers, and photographs; and (focalizing and vocalizing) relations between the vision narrated and the object, the subject, represented. Site-specific public art projects like nhi—No Humans Involved imply viewers by unexpectedly, carefully, cannily, locating artwork in public sites. For instance, by installing one nhi billboard so that it faced the San Diego County Administration Center, and the other near the San Diego Police Headquarters, where police likely would have had to engage with it regularly and would have been faced with their own term “nhi” being made public.
Photographs, seen or unseen, imply viewers. Widespread media coverage of nhi billboards was facilitated by the artists’ press release sent out on the day the billboards were launched; in it, they solved the mystery of the letters “nhi” and identified the woman pictured as Donna Gentile, whom the audience may have remembered having seen on television in a court appearance giving testimony against the San Diego police years before. This information would have been seen by anyone watching the evening news or reading the newspaper, who then may have gone to see the billboards for themselves, if they hadn’t seen them already. Thus the order in which the nhi artists’ works were viewed and read may have produced different “tours” and “stories” for many implied viewers.
Further, “implied viewers” includes anyone who participated in the nhi exhibition, such as families and donors who gave photographs; anyone who went to see the exhibition deliberately or by chance, who perhaps sat on the couch (like the two focalizers pictured in the documentary image on page 157), which implied their presence before they ever entered the space; and anyone who went to other nhi events at the gallery. And when the project’s documentary photographs are included in a videotape (No Humans Involved і993), presented to an audience, or printed or discussed in a newspaper,24 on a website (http://crca. ucsd. edu/~esisco/nhi), in a journal (Simonds 1994), or in a book (Pincus 1995), then implied viewers are readers like you, of books like this one, “whose tour produces the story of knowledge taken in and taken home” (Bal 1996a, 18).
The focalizer is an agent in the work who represents vision, and thereby offers positions of viewing to the real viewer….Such a reading mediates between sender and receiver by pausing at the sites of available viewing positions… .[T]he narrativization of the viewing process it entails inserts the mobility, the instability and the time-consuming process of reading sequentially. (Bal, quoted in Melville 1995,158, emphasis mine)
Installed in the nhi gallery, hung before many implied viewers, the photographs became figurations (“A figure collects up the people” [Haraway 1997, 23 ]) for the families and friends who turned the gallery into a place of respect and commiseration, as well as a space in which to contest the silence and invisibility of these murders and of social practices of violence against women. Cheryl Lindley, a performance artist who donated her photo for the exhibition, said:
The part about the project I liked the most was the gallery where all the photos were hung….The families of the victims started showing up and bringing flowers and having picnics. It took on its own life and the gallery became like a holy spot or something, and it was the only time for a lot of these families that their loved one had been treated with dignity and respect, and for a lot of people it was the first time they had some closure with it all.25
I imagine that the “implied viewers” of the nhi exhibition all had differently attenuated and inflected experiences: for instance, how might it have been for the slain women’s families and friends to see their picture in this exhibition, or to see another woman’s picture with their loved ones’ names?26 for nhi audiences to see images of women they knew?27 or for the donors to see their photos with the names of women who had been murdered? Correspondence between face and name, between image and text—especially inside a grid format that promises control of the order of things (Foucault 1994)— is usually, seamlessly, ideologically, secured by a textual function that Roland Barthes (1988, 39) calls “anchorage”: “Hence in every society various techniques are developed intended to fix the floating chain of signifieds in such a way as to counter the terror of uncertain signs: the linguistic message is one of these techniques.” (There were five “Jane Doe”s found murdered in San Diego between 1985 and 1992; and how much uncertainty in the Lower Mainland, how many more “Jane Doe”s?)
The photographic convention of the text anchoring (otherwise uncertain) visual signs was “turned” when the nhi artists invited community women to contribute their photographs to go with the names of murdered women; in this way, they troubled separations between personal and collective selves— “me” and “we”—what’s imagined and what’s actual, between representation and reality, between the semiotic and the material. And placing these image – texts in a grid unsettles another photographic convention: the sense of security and certainty guaranteed by the orderly, ordering grid itself (“an order in which the dioramas, exhibits and panels are viewed and read” [Bal 1996a, 18]). In this way, the artists offered implied viewers, focalizers, a chance to re – or de – narrativize “the story of knowledge taken in and taken home” (Bal 1996a, 18).
Yet what if this non-correspondence between faces and names laid out in a grid, elsewhere and at another time, occurred “by mistake”? What narratives might arise? What could the implications be for subjects, for implied viewers and for (imagined) photographers of these images, and of images as yet unseen, as yet untaken? On 25 July 2002, the RCMP-Vancouver Police Department Joint Missing Women Task Force issued a press release on their website headed “Change of Order of Images,” which stated: “Please note the images of the missing women posted at 1:32 pm were posted with the incorrect corresponding names. The names corresponding to the photos were corrected at 1:55 pm.”28
In the meantime, for those twenty-three unaccounted for, unaccountable minutes, the women’s pictures became stand-ins for and with each other. Did any become Jane Doe while lending their names to other women? Who looks on this website—who are its implied viewers—and how frequently, apprehensively, hopefully do they check? For them, what happened during those twenty-three minutes? For viewers who looked at the website during that time and didn’t notice the oversight, how implicated are the grid layout and the practice of stereotyping women from the Downtown Eastside in this form of truth-claiming? How was the mistake, the misnaming of missing women, recognized—was it by an (imagined) photographer of one or more of the photographs? by everyone who took each of the pictures of each of the women in many genres, later labelled and arranged on this police website?
Focalization is the relation between the vision narrated and the object represented. The inflection the telling or showing subject brings to the perception of
the object. (Bal 1996a, 71)
Earlier, an implied viewer, prefigured before she arrived, walks into a (site – specific) public presentation on art about violence against women held in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, misrecognizes herself “as if” she’s in a photograph from another time and place, and shouts out “I’m in there! I’m one of the women in that picture!”29 Then a focalizer becomes a vocalizer who tells the audience about her own experiences with drug addiction and sex trade work—someone who could be, but one hopes never will be, classified by the disrespectful term “nhi”—yet by calling out “I’m in there!” she became a stand-in for the women in the nhi project and implicated herself with them. Megan’s best friend was the second woman “missing”: Donna Gentile was the second woman murdered during that time in San Diego, and her picture is projected on a slide screen in front of the presentation audience, right then, right now, and on page 156. The picture that Megan referred to when she called out “I’m one of the women in that picture!” is also, simultaneously in her mind’s eye (from the perspective of her [imagined] photographer), another photograph that is, as yet, unseen by implied viewers who are readers of Killing Women: The Visual Culture of Gender and Violence, who’ve not yet seen Megan, posed, pictured, and posted on “Heroines” photographer Lincoln Clarkes’s website—not named but listed by number—standing in front of a funeral chapel in the Downtown Eastside.30
Photographs imply viewers; they imply relations between photographers, viewers, and photographs; and (focalizing and vocalizing) relations between the vision narrated and the object, the subject, represented. Pausing at the site of viewing a (previously stable) documentary image of women from another place and time, Megan became a figure who “embodies shared meanings that inhabit their audiences” (Haraway 1997, 23). She voiced and interpellated the implicatedness, instability and mobility, and the partiality of implied viewers.
As discussed so far, figures of implicatedness—who see and say, focalize and vocalize, show and tell what we’re part of—amplify the epistemological and ontological relations between personal and collective selves, what’s imagined and what’s actual, between representation and reality, between the semiotic and the material. All this inflects “an implied viewer (in narratological terms, a focalizer) whose tour produces the story of knowledge taken in and taken home” (Bal 1996a, 18).