Imagine Otherwise: Sandra Ristovska on Seeing Human Rights

Sep 2, 2021 | Podcast

Much of our daily lives is spent in the visual and virtual realm right now. Telehealth appointments, online teaching, Zoom court trials, and a heartbreaking deluge of photojournalism highlight just how central visuality is to our world.

We navigate that visuality with our particular bodily differences of race, gender, disability, and class, revealing the unevenness of that visual realm and the deep ethical and political issues it raises.

My guest on episode 140 of Imagine Otherwise is filmmaker and media studies scholar Sandra Ristovska, who has spent her career investigating the complex ethical, political, and legal relationship between imagery and human rights.

Drawing on her recent book Seeing Human Rights, Sandra explains the role of video evidence in simultaneously exposing and reproducing injustice, especially when such imagery circulates across national borders, social media platforms, and satellite feeds.

We talk about the uneasy relationship that courts have always had to visual evidence and the often life-and-death stakes of critical visual interpretation.

Finally, we close out our conversation with where we see the role of the visual going in the future and what it means to turn the act of seeing each other into a practice of human rights.

Sandra Ristovska wearing a white button-down shirt. Quote reads: Images are an opportunity to ask very important questions, just like with other types of evidence. If we assume that images say all or say nothing, we are missing an important opportunity to engage with evidence.
Sandra Ristovska wearing a white button-down shirt. Quote reads: I was young when I experienced some of the extreme consequences of what it means when society fails to respect, nurture, and promote the markers of difference that make us human. I study justice and human rights to figure out what kind of modes of seeing we need to look at and engage with each other as a form of human rights practice itself.

Sandra Ristovska

Sandra Ristovska is an assistant professor of media studies in the College of Media, Communication and Information at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Her research examines the interplay between images and human rights, particularly in institutional and legal contexts internationally and nationally. 

Her scholarship is informed by her documentary filmmaking and premised on the understanding that without systematic guidance and applications for treating images as evidence, human rights and civil liberties are differentially recognized. 

Sandra is the author of Seeing Human Rights: Video Activism as a Proxy Profession (MIT Press, 2021) and co-editor of Visual Imagery and Human Rights Practice (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), as well as a recipient of the 2021 Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society Fellowship.  

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