Owen Logan

Where Pathos Rules: The Resource Curse in Visual Culture

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Medium/DimensionsPhoto-essays on PVC banners
CreditsECONOMY commission

The theory of ‘the resource curse’ holds that countries rich in natural resources such as non-renewable fuels are inherently prone to violence, poverty and corruption. Delving into the politics of oil producing nations across the globe, the book Flammable Societies: Studies on the Socio-economics of Oil & Gas critically interrogates resource governance and demonstrates how the resource curse is a false theory used to replace the discussion of imperialism. Edited by Edinburgh-based photographer and researcher Owen Logan together with John Andrew McNeish, Flammable Societies compares the experiences of countries including Scotland, Norway, Russia, Nigeria and Venezuela, challenging the simplistic premise of the ‘curse’.

For the ECONOMY project, Logan was invited to build on his previous work and to illustrate the visual culture of the resource curse which he argues hinges on the orchestration of pathos (the attempt to get audiences to identify with a photographer’s viewpoint through his or her expression of pity). His photo-essay presents historical examples of photographers who employed radically different strategies, showing the ways in which image-making may subvert or re-assert political power relations. He contrasts pioneering imagery that was part of social movement trade unionism during the interwar period with the entrepreneurial practices associated with professional agencies like Magnum Photos after 1945.

Logan critiques the artistic ‘privatisation’ of documentary modes. In photography, the sort of photo-essays pioneered by workers’ photography – which represented societies holistically and could address the complexities of imperialism – was replaced by an industry of iconic images of suffering and fortitude. Connecting the rise of pathos with the rise of consumer sovereignty, Logan argues that consumerism thrives on synthetic forms of solidarity. It is a folly to separate the labour of visual representation from economy, society and environment.