Gesturality: An Ethico-Aesthetic of Anxiety in Late Photography


  • Ali Shobeiri



 By examining the iconised photographs of the COVID-19 pandemic, published under the heading of The Great Empty by the New York Times in March 2020, this article explores the aesthetic operations and ethical implications of representing anxiety through photographing desolate landscapes. To do so, it situates these images within the genre of late photography, also known as aftermath photography, to discuss how emptiness can function as a surrogate for anxiety. First, by foregrounding the unique temporality of the landscape genre in photography, it examines the aesthetic dimension of seeing deserted places in photographs. By shifting its focus from the image to its caption, it then discusses how the caption of such photographs can interpolate an ethical dimension onto them. Finally, by drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s philosophy of “gesture,” the article puts forward that the combination of aestheticized photographs with ethicised captions in The Great Empty expresses anxiety as a mode of gesturality: a sui generis communicational mode that simultaneously galvanizes and paralyzes the viewer.